As the bus crawls up Albion St towards the SCG I’m wondering if we’re going to make it. Just like the game plan last week the vehicle is straining; a grinding misfiring engine that can’t generate enough forward motion. The driver stalls halfway up the hill. Maybe we should get out and push?
Speaking of making it to the top we need to win this one. The last thing we need is another slow start to the season. Our cross-town rivals are a formidable side, fast movers of the ball and hard runners. They might be missing pest/goal sneak Greene but all week I’ve been thinking about how they’d want to make amends for a somewhat lacklustre win against the Pies.
Having Reid back in the side is cause for optimism though. There’s something satisfying about seeing him take a strong grab. At the very least it could create space for our smaller forwards. Maybe even another haul for Buddy?
It’s an uneven first quarter. Opportunities galore but progress is all behinds and lapses in concentration. The Enemy move the ball into attack too easily although they’re also missing the big sticks. Mills gets smashed into the boundary fence and the mood gets momentarily ugly. Papley dishes off to Buddy who scores. No, it’s called back. They repeat the move but Buddy’s well off-line. Maybe lightning doesn’t strike twice? Stat wise we’re winning but the scoreboard doesn’t reflect it. The teams are like a couple of cagey boxers, flicking out jabs but no body blows.
The Enemy slip ahead early in the second quarter. Sinclair’s ruck work looks solid but The Enemy are clearing it out of the centre and into the forward fifty smoothly. McVeigh stuffs up and takes himself off the ground temporarily. Our skills and decision-making are frustrating to watch. Finally, the tide turns with Papley getting a favourable goal review and Reid taking two great marks to kick majors.
Prime Minister Turnbull appears on the big screen and gets a rousing reception. A post-Canberra career in umpiring awaits.
We gift The Enemy a late goal courtesy of some defensive stuff up. A lucky bounce that takes the wind out of the sails. At half time it’s neck and neck. We’re playing well in bursts but there’s too many dropped marks and turnovers.
It’s a similar story in the early parts of the third quarter. Heeney’s working his guts out in the middle but The Enemy get a two-goal run on. Momentum then swings back with Papley, Sinclair and Heyward converting to steady the ship. Hanner’s looks done in. Plodding along after The Enemy down the O’Reilly wing he has to call in help from Rohan. Still there’s now a bigger scoreboard gap which gets increases as Sinclair calmly slots one on the siren.
At three quarter time there’s a distance kicking competition, land a ball in a cement mixer for cash. Cement mixer contestant stuffs all three attempts with his final handball careering off the mixer’s lip. I can’t imagine I’d do any better.
Cement mixer contestant must now be our skills coach as the final term starts with dropped sitters and coughing up possession with misplaced handballs. Our defence is under pressure with seemingly only Smith back there, making a goal-saving dive. Buddy’s frustration is palpable; he’s trying to bulldoze his way through traffic. The game is too close for comfort. Please don’t let us run out of legs. Inspired Parker and Kennedy goals are shot to pieces as The Enemy get two back. Buddy spots Reid lurking out the back but Reid fluffs what should’ve been the game sealer. Back down the other end we punch it straight to The Enemy giving up an easy goal.
Umpire # 10 has now overtaken our PM in the approval ratings. Both make unpopular decisions, depending on your viewpoint. Two bewildering calls send our section of the O’Reilly into meltdown.
Buddy’s had enough. Fending off incoming Enemy he coolly slots a seventy-metre bomb that feels like the game-winner. Hayward’s clearly inspired, evading would-be tacklers with ease. Jack, reading the bounce, steals The Enemy’s ball sending it back to Buddy who scores off a set shot. The Enemy aren’t done with though and put our defence under pressure to grab one last goal just before the siren.
We belt out the club song and leave the ground happy. It’s been an exasperating and exhilarating spectacle. Possibly what you want out of a derby and compared to last week a significant improvement on many fronts, the new guard Melican, Florent, Hayward and Heeney in particular showing what they can bring to the game.
There’s every chance we’re cresting that hill, getting ready for a straight run.
Tom Bally has been a passionate Swan since he arrived in Australia from the Old dart a decade ago. Head to www.footyalmanac.com for more Sydney Swans' Almanac stories from other fans.