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Jim Main's Classic Matches - R17, 1987

The scoreboard attendants had to work hard on this Sunday in 1987
In the latest of his Classic Matches series, Jim Main looks at a day where the Sydney Swans made the goal umpires earn their keep.

Sydney Swans v Essendon
Round 17, July 26, 1987

It was the day the goal umpires developed cricks in their necks from following the flight of the ball through the goalposts.

Football fans had rarely seen anything like it, even though the Sydney Swans the previous week had given a hint of just how devastatingly effective their run-on play could be.

The Swans the previous week had scored a club record 30.21 (201) in defeated West Coast by 130 points at the SCG.

No club in VFL/AFL history had scored 200 or more points in consecutive rounds and not even the most optimistic Swan supporter would have expected the newly-minted 201-point record score would be crushed against Essendon at the SCG just seven days after the Eagle demolition.

The Bombers might have been struggling to stay in touch with the top five, but had stars of the calibre of Terry Daniher, Mark Thompson, Simon Madden and Paul Salmon.

The Swans led by just two points at the first break and no one would have guessed the events of the following three quarters.

With centreman Greg Williams missing, the Swans had Brett Scott winning possession almost at will in his place, with fellow on-ballers Barry Mitchell, Stephen Wright and Gerard Healy gorging themselves at the stoppages.

The supply to the forward line was almost unstoppable, with the forwards gorging in chances.

The Swans kicked 10 goals in the second quarter to lead by 66 points at halt-time and there now was high expectation that the 200-point mark again would be broken.

The rampage continued in the third quarter with the Swans kicking eight goals to two and, with a total to that stage of 23.13 (161), the Swans needed just 40 more points to break their newly-set record.

In normal circumstances this might have proved a bridge too far, but the Swans had never played such devastating football and there was no stopping them.

They passed the 200-point mark halfway through the final quarter and went on to amass a total of 36.20 (236) in defeated Essendon by a whopping 163 points.

This total bettered the previous record by 35 points, but the winning margin was only the second best in club history as the red and white, as South Melbourne, had defeated St Kilda by 171 points in 1919.

Even Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy was in awe of the Swans’ ability to move the ball at breakneck speed and kick goals with almost ridiculous ease.

He said years later that he could still hear the thumping of “Up there for Sydney” being played after every goal, with the Swanettes worn to a frazzle in dancing and twirling in celebration.   

The media raved about the Swans’ scintillating performance and suggested they could top 200 points again the following week in a third consecutive match at the SCG, against lowly Richmond.

And they almost achieved this near-impossible dream, scoring 31.12 (198) to defeat the Tigers by 91 points.

The Swans’ 236-point total against Essendon at that time was the second highest score in VFL/AFL history, behind Fitzroy’s 36.22 (238) in defeating Melbourne by 190 points at Waverley Park in 1979.

Geelong broke this record in 1992 when it scored 37.17 (239) in defeating the Brisbane Bears by 163 points at Cararra.

There have been just 30 scores of 200 or more points since the competition was formed in 1897, which makes the Swans’ effort of consecutive double-centuries all the more remarkable.

SYDNEY SWANS     5.4     15.8     23.13     36.20 (236)
ESSENDON              5.2      8.2      10.5       11.7 (73)

GOALS: Capper 6, Wright 5, Healy 4, Mitchell 3, Scott 3, Bayes 3, Neagle 3, Hawke 2, Browning 2, Thripp 2, Morwood 2, Bolton

• Peter Quirk, recruited from Narrandera (NSW) played just seven games for the Swans, all in 1987, but at least can boast he played a part in one of the club’s most remarkable victories.