Main content
Proudly Sydney

From the Outer: Until next year

Longmire post match - EF, 2018 Coach John Longmire speaks to media after the Swans loss to the Giants.

The August buds of the cherry blossoms herald springtime each year in Sydney. They seem to colour up and burst open within days. But there’s been another time-of-year sign in this town for over a decade now. You see one on a guy on the escalator at Martin Place, a woman guiding her trolley back to her car. Sydney Swans caps start blooming in late August too.

It’s been a wary build up this year. Low key. Their chances of progressing feel mysterious. And, unfortunately, the early spring has retreated by the first weekend of September. We’ve had a freak storm overnight, with falls of hail that are still on the ground on Saturday morning. ‘Final day’ is cool and grey. My Cob and I won’t get to the Mini G for twilight - logistics and a hunch on my part that I might need some distance on this one.

A fidgety readiness takes hold in the living room. The commentators are talking of a manufactured rivalry turned real. As if any game doesn’t inherently have one built in. Would they be calling it any differently if we were playing West Coast or Hawthorn? They can keep their sudden slogans about the ‘Sydney football landscape’. We live its small accumulations, week by week, season by season. I wriggle into the corner of the couch. The flags are limp above the Members Stand. The green roofs and ready turf look vibrant with damp.

It’s comforting when Macca makes the first forward movement of the game and the Swans appear tuned from the outset, choosing targets and threading the movement carefully forward. Papley seizes at the sort of goal he loves but it’s Ronke who gets first points. Hannebery is available early but hangs his own shot left and a suspect free against him gifts Coniglio the first Giant points. Aliir is hoarding intercept marks but Toby back-snaps one through – he’s a Greene we don’t want looking vivid tonight! The bumps and tackles are heavy. The snatching is real. Josh Kelly peg legs off.

At quarter time we hop in the car to drop our Cygnet to trapeze training. It’s raining in the inner west. J Crouch and N Davis are calling it on the ABC with the Josh Kelly fitness test as background music. The doc assessing his right knee looked at our Cygnet’s left one after a trampoline wall-running accident. We drop him at the hangar in St Peters and wind our way through the back streets of Enmore to the Warren View Hotel. Crouch is ‘enthrilled’ with a one-handed mark from Aliir, Papley spins one through and it’s 2.4.16 apiece when we walk in the door to a targeted hoof from de Boer. 

The pub is bedecked in Swans balloons and jersey bunting. It’s a full house - scarves and beanies on most of the room, every table full, the staff filling schooners with craft beers and bowls with chilli pork crackling. Heeney’s on his toes, triggering around a forward stoppage. The mood in the room is high. It’s good to be in the collective, a makeshift family who know each other only by our shared investment. It’s hacking, wet-weather footy, like a kid’s party game of Twister with added slime. ‘C’mon!’ releases the guy in the flannel beside me as Parker pulls down a mark. Evening sun lights the greyest sky along Enmore Road and the room takes on an eerie gold by storm light. K Jack gives us his old school magic with two speedy forward movements and a clean tackle but none of it adds to the score. ‘We just can’t get any clean entry,’ says the guy at the bar in the red parka.

The queues are long at half time and the Saturday folk pour in, all the faces coming and going, the jolly mill and seethe of this old hotel on an intersection between east and west. The telecast hovers on an orange sign: ‘Sydney created not relocated’. I wonder at this landscape where we ask which Sydney is more real instead of just sharing the fence.

Kelly will play no further part. The news makes it over the din as the premiership quarter launches. The Giants move it while the Swans continue with fumblestiltskin, failing to make anything golden. The flannel is yelling gentle obscenities over the free against Harry C. But the Giants are one step ahead, one decision ahead, dominating the middle, compromising every forward thrust we attempt and converting the bulk of theirs. The pub builds behind Robinson’s run up the wing and unleashes a collective ‘Uuurrrrgh’ as Papley makes do with a point. There’s raucous applause for Lance’s first mark inside 50. But at 53-18, we have fallen quiet around the bar, ailing now.

Sometimes the signs of spring arrive pre-emptively but it’s not yet time to burst. The Swans have had that kind of season. I’m calling it the pilot light season, a season during which they’ve worked hard just to keep the potential alight. It’s been a season that never felt like igniting. After 19 years of membership, I don’t need the shiny club veneer of ‘we’ll win every match and we’ve let you down if we don’t’. Who can live like that? We can’t always be ‘enthrilled’. We know from the turning of our own seasons that some weeks, some months, some years, what we can manage is to guard the flame.

Part of that flame is McCartin with length in stride and span, and a ripening read of the game. It’s Hayward with his balance and precision who looks like he might be special. It’s Florent with his barrel chest and pressing runs, a puppy to be tuned into power. It’s Papley with his bandy-legged X, Y and Z factor and Ronke with his snappy smarts. My wish is that the club lets them blossom and ignite and doesn’t consign them too soon to a system that might be retreating to winter.

A girl alone at a bar table has her fingers over her mouth, eyes wide as Himmelberg takes a shot. His miss doesn’t even bend a smile. I look up to see the red and white dissipating. A new shift is moving in. A frayed cheer goes up for Parker’s last gasp. An exhalation for Papley’s finish. 

Thanks for 2018, Swans. Until next year.