It only counts for four premiership points, just like every other game, and by season’s end it will be just another game, often forgotten in the wake of all the other games that follow. But there’s always something special about Round 1 of a new season.
It’s the end of a six month wait, or longer, and the culmination of untold hours of preparation and planning, hard work and discipline.
Whenever the season fixture is announced, everyone looks immediately to Round 1. Where do we start? Who do we play first?
Also, there is a special brand of excitement and anticipation as players, new and old, await selection.
Round 1 has always been special, but since travel became such a massive part of the Swans world in 1982, and the competition took on more of a national look, it has been even more so.
This week, for just the second time in 37 years since the club has been based at the SCG, the Swans will open their new campaign on the opposite side of the country in Perth.
In 1997, when the Swans travelled to Subiaco in Perth under coach Rodney Eade and captain Paul Kelly to meet the West Coast Eagles, they lost by 41 points.
Paul Roos played his 315th game, Mark Bayes his 222nd, and, at the other end of the scale, Paul Licuria made his AFL debut and Shannon Corcoran, Mark Orchard and Ben Wilson played their first match in red and white. A 20-year-old Michael O’Loughlin played his 37th game.
The Swans trailed at every change as an 18-year-old Ben Cousins, in his 21st game for the Eagles, had 22 possessions and kicked a game-high three goals to figure in the Brownlow Medal votes with Peter Matera (31 disposals, two goals) and ex-Footscray ruckman Ilija Grgic in his first game for West Coast. Kelly had 33 possessions for the Swans in a 5.7 (37) to 12.6 (78) loss.
Statistics on Round 1 matches in this era show just how tough it is to win travelling interstate, especially early in the season.
The Swans have a 17-1-18 record overall in Round 1 in this period, but have won 11 of 18 in the NSW capital, going 7-4 at the SCG, 4-2 at Stadium Australia and 0-1 at Sydney Showgrounds, and had only six wins and a draw from 18 games interstate.
They had one win and one draw from two Round 1 games at the MCG, and among other current venues they are 1-3 at Docklands and 0-2 at the Gabba.
The Swans have played every opposition club except Geelong, Gold Coast and Fremantle in the season opener from 1982-2017, and have beaten every side except Brisbane and the Bulldogs.
Adam Goodes heads the list of Round 1 games for the Swans from 1982-2017 with 16, followed by Jude Bolton (13), Mark Bayes (11), Leo Barry (11), Jarrad McVeigh (11), Stephen Wright (10), Daryn Cresswell (10), Heath Grundy (10), Paul Kelly (10), Brett Kirk (10), Michael O’Loughlin (10) and Ted Richards (10).
Among current players, Grundy has played the first game of the season 10 years in a row from 2008, while Josh Kennedy has played in Round 1 in each of his eight years at the club and Lance Franklin is four from four in Swans colors after he played seven of a possible nine at Hawthorn.
Kieren Jack has played nine of the last 10 Round 1 games, Dan Hannebery and Nick Smith the last seven, Luke Parker the last six, Sam Reid six of the last seven, and Dane Rampe the last five.
Twelve months ago Oliver Florent made his AFL debut in Round 1.
There will be at least three changes to the Round 1 side from last year, with Kurt Tippett and Jeremy Laidler having retired, and Sam Naismith unavailable due to injury.
Regardless, there is sure to be something special come out of it, as has so often been the case in Round 1. Highlights in the national competition era have included:
A Big Win
The Swans beat St Kilda by 110 points at Moorabbin in Round 1, 1985. Rover-cum-small forward Bernie Evans, in his 130th game at 27, was an unlikely hero with 26 possessions and a career-best nine goals as the Swans won 26.20 (176) to 8.18 (66).
Evans picked up the three Brownlow Medal votes, as, stunningly, John Ironmonger (12 possessions, 16 hit-outs) and Darren McAsey (10 possessions) received the two votes and one vote on debut. Ironmonger and McAsey, known for wearing four different numbers (46, 12, 33 and 50) in 36 games for the club, were among four Swans first-gamers, alongside Jamie Duursma and Mark Russell. Andrew Smith played his first game for the Swans after crossing from Collingwood.
It was John Northey’s first game in charge of the Swans, and the club’s highest Round 1 score in the era of the national competition, and the biggest win.
Warwick Capper twice stamped his own special mark on Round 1 in the Tommy Hafey era. He kicked eight goals against North Melbourne at the MCG in 1986, and nine goals in a 91-point win over Collingwood at Victoria Park in 1987.
Capper has been the Swans’ all-time leading goal-kicker in Round 1 over the past 37 years with 23 goals in four games at 5.75 per game. Ball Hall kicked 22 goals in eight Round 1 matches for the Swans, including seven in a losing side against Essendon at Docklands in 2006.
Others to have kicked 10 or more Swans goals in Round 1 matches in this era have been Adam Goodes (19), Michael O’Loughlin (17), Tony Lockett (15), Tony Morwood (14), Nick Davis (14), Evans (13), Lance Franklin (12), Jude Bolton (10) and Stephen Wright (10).
Grand Final Replay
One of the most memorable Round 1 games of recent times was the 2007 clash with West Coast.
It was a continuation of an extraordinary run in which five games in a row between the 2006 and 2007 grand finalists had been decided by less than a kick.
The margin was four points to the Eagles in the 2005 qualifying final and four points to the Swans in the 2005 grand final, and then two points to the Eagles in round 10 2006, one point to the Swans in the 2006 qualifying final, and one point to the Eagles in the 2006 grand final.
Almost predictably, the 2007 season opener at Stadium Australia was another thriller. The Eagles led 10.2 to 3.8 at halftime and hung on by a solitary point (again) despite being out-scored 1.6 to 7.5 in the second half.
So Many New Faces
Coach Gary Buckenara could almost have been excused for making introductions when an entirely new-look Swans outfit began their 1993 season with a 57-point loss to Hawthorn at the SCG.
It was Round 2 after the club had a bye in Round 1. Nathan Irvan played his first and only AFL game, and no less than nine others wore red and white for the first time – Scott Watters, Richard Osborne, Dean McRae, Paul Bryce, Jayson Daniels, John Hutton, Tony Malakellis, Ed Considine and Michael Werner.
The only time when something similar occurred was in 1984, when six imports debuted for the Swans together in a 25-point win over North Melbourne at the MCG – Greg Williams, Gerard Healy, Jim Edmond, Merv Neagle, David Bolton and Bernard Toohey. Williams had 37 possessions, two goals and three Brownlow votes as Warwick Capper kicked eight goals without getting a vote.
In 2010, five Swans imports debuted together in an eight-point Round 1 loss to StKilda at Stadium Australia – Josh Kennedy, Ben McGlynn, Daniel Bradshaw, Mark Seeby and Shane Mumford. Lewis Jetta made his AFL debut on the same day.
Like Irvan, Byron Summer played his first and only AFL game in Round 1 in this era. That was in the 2011 draw with Melbourne at the MCG, when the Swans trailed by two points in time-on in the fourth quarter before a rushed behind and then a Ryan O’Keefe minor score locked it up.
Michael Talia played his only Swans game in Round 1 2016, when they beat Collingwood by 80 points at the SCG. Callum Sinclair played his first game for the Swans the same day, while Callum Mills, Tom Papley and George Hewett debuted.
Round 1 Debutants
It has almost become a regular event for the Swans to unearth a fine young player in Round 1 in recent years. It was Oliver Florent in 2017 after Mills, Papley and Hewett in 2016, Isaac Heeney in 2015, Dane Rampe in 2013, Harry Cunningham in 2012, Lewis Jetta in 2010 and Craig Bird in 2008.
Jarrad McVeigh and Paul Bevan debuted in the season-opener in 2004 after Adam Schneider did likewise in 2003, Ricky Mott and Scott Stevens did so in 2002, Ryan Fitzgerald kicked five goals on debut in 2000 and Adam Goodes first graced the AFL field in Round 1 1999.
Earlier, Jason Saddington debuted in Round 1, 1998 after Paul Licuria had done so in 1997, Shannon Grant likewise in 1995, and Brad Seymour and Damien Lang in 1994, Paul Kelly, Brad Tunbridge, Shane Fell and Jim West in 1990, and John Brinkhotter in 1988.
There’s nothing like a big game to start the season … just ask Luke Parker, Kieren Jack and Jake Lloyd. Parker had a career-best 40 possessions in Round 1, 2016 against Collingwood, while Jack and Lloyd each had a career-high 35.
Thirty-four years earlier Mark Browning did likewise in Round 1, 1982. He had 35 possessions in a 29-point Round 1 win over Melbourne in the Swans’ first game as a regular SCG tenant.
The biggest Round 1 possession haul by a Swans player in this era was Greg Williams’ 43 in 1990, when Paul Kelly, Brad Tunbridge, Shane Fell and Jim West debuted in the 25-point MCG win over North Melbourne in which Capper kicked eight goals.
Goodes heads the aggregate possession count in this area with 263 at 16.4 possessions per game, followed by Jude Bolton (226 at 17.4), Ryan O’Keefe (213 at 19.4), Kieren Jack (209 at 23.2), Paul Kelly (199 at 19.9), Daryn Cresswell (193 at 19.3), Josh Kennedy (193 at 24.1), Jarrad McVeigh (191 at 17.4), Dennis Carroll (170 at 18.9), Heath Grundy (170 at 17.0), Brett Kirk (168 at 16.8), Dale Lewis (168 at 21.0), Michael O’Loughlin (165 at 16.5), Greg Williams (165 at 33.0), Leo Barry (161 at 14.6), Stephen Wright (160 at 16.0) and Luke Parker (160 at 26.7).