Following yesterday's comeback victory against the GWS Giants, Peter Blucher takes a look back at some of Sydney's greatest comeback victories.
If Isaac Heeney took a moment to check the scoreboard at its worst in Sunday’s extraordinary Sydney derby against GWS on the Gold Coast he could quite justifiably have thought to himself ‘no worries – we’ve done this before’.
Likewise Josh Kennedy, Lance Franklin, Luke Parker and Jake Lloyd, plus coach John Longmire.
All could draw inspiration and reassurance from Round 1 2015, when they were part of a stunning Swans comeback win from 34 points down at three-quarter time against Essendon at Stadium Australia.
It was Longmire’s 100th game as coach but the man with the most vivid memory will be Heeney. It was his AFL debut. And at the tender age of 18 the mop-haired blonde snapped a brilliant goal on his left 1min 54sec from time to clinch a miraculous 12-point Swans win.
It remains one of the Swans’ all-time great comeback wins and jumped quickly to mind after Sunday’s superb 26-point win in a derby the likes of which we’ve never seen before and will probably never see again.
And while the 2015 comeback sizzler against Essendon didn’t have the bizarre back story of two venue changes and three extra late team changes due to Covid protocols amid a world-wide pandemic, it is well worth recounting.
The final quarter was unbelievable. Or as Fox Footy commentator Dwayne Russell said “this is phenomenal – they’ve got off the canvas to steal it”.
The Swans trailed 3-8 (26) to 9-6 (60) at three-quarter time, and that was after they’d kicked two goals in the third term. They had 0-1 on the board at quarter time and 1-7 at halftime.
Just to make things worse, the heavens opened as the fourth quarter started, and it rained for the duration. The ball was heavy and slippery, which made scoring difficult.
The Swans’ task also got much harder three minutes into the final term when Franklin and Parker, eyes only for the ball, collided heavily in a marking contest. Franklin got up to play a key role thereafter. A concussed Parker, blood coming from his mouth, took no further part.
The 2014 Skilton Medallist, Parker was easily the best player on the ground at that point with a then career-best 35 possessions, 10 clearances and six tackles. The then 22-year-old was 13 possessions ahead of the next best in his 83rd game.
As he was helped onto the medicab Russell, doing some of his best work, said in commentary: “That’s a massive blow because he (Parker) was the most improved player in the competition last year. He went from a good player to an absolute superstar”.
Worse, still, the Swans had already used their substitute, with 22nd-gamer Lloyd replacing the injured Adam Goodes late in the second term. The home side was one player down in the second half.
But moments later Franklin converted a free kick from 35m to cut the deficit to 27 points. A rushed behind made it 26, before Kurt Tippett stepped up in a powerhouse final quarter contribution as good as any.
First Tippett snapped brilliantly on his left from 30m and then, after a diving chest mark, he converted from much the same spot on his right to make it 14 points.
Franklin had been working overtime to get into the final term after the Parker clash. Covering an enormous amount of territory, it was like he felt that he owed his team something special.
With 11 minutes on the clock he pulled off a match-saving defensive play. As his Essendon opposite Joe Daniher ran inside 50m and steadied to kick on goal he was run down by a rampaging Franklin from behind. “That was nearly game over but for Buddy,” said Russell.
As the clock showed eight minutes to play it was still 13 points to Essendon even though they hadn’t scored since Brownlow Medallist Adam Cooney, in his first game for the Bombers, put them 41 points up 19min 56sec into the third term. And it was still raining.
Bombers coach James Hird, in his first game back in charge after the drugs scandal, deployed seven and then eight men in defence as the Swans went forward again.
Tippett gathered at ground level and found Dean Towers by hand. He went quickly by hand to a running Dan Hannebery. He broke two tackles and found Kieren Jack, who ran to 35 on his favored left but couldn’t quite pull it back enough. A point. Thirteen points the difference.
But it became like a seven-point play when Brendon Goddard’s kick-in for Essendon went out of bounds untouched. Lewis Jetta sent it back inside deep 50 where Craig Bird crumbed it expertly and snapped majestically over his right shoulder. “Never in your wildest dreams,” said Russell.
Essendon won the centre bounce but Nick Smith cleared from deep in defensive 50. He kicked to space and who was there to gather? Franklin. The Swans went forward again.
Brendon Goddard won the ball at ground level but Jack, reading the play like a book, incepted it and sent it inside 50 again. An ever-threatening Tippett was spoiled in the marking contest but Hannebery was first to it. A diving handpass found Jack and when he snuck his hurried snap just inside the right goal post Russell screamed “this is a freak show”.
Scores were level but most of the Essendon players, who had bypassed the pre-season competition, were out on their feet in their first hit-out of the season.
Inside the last six minutes the pressure was hot. The crowd of 23,274 was chanting like it was 100,000-plus. Inside 50s were 17-7 to the Swans for the final term as Hird moved down to the bench. His side hadn’t scored in 45 minutes against a resolute home defence.
Heeney went long, Towers crumbed it and found Franklin steaming past. From 25m he made no mistake. Sydney were in front with 3min50sec to play.
Twice Essendon repelled the home side but inside the last two minutes David Zaharakis’ desperate long handpass from the goalsquare handed Heeney the opportunity of a lifetime. He ran onto his left and snapped truly from 20m and was mobbed by his teammates.
There was time if Essendon were perfect. But not after Towers pulled off a brilliant chase-down tackle to win a free kick. And definitely not after a brilliant diving spoil from Ted Richards.
The Swans won 10.12 (72) to 9.6 (60). They’d had the last 13 scoring shots and almost trebled their score when they out-pointed the Bombers 7-4 to 0-0 in the final term.
Curiously, in a losing side Essendon’s Ben Howlett took three Brownlow Medal votes for his 19 possessions, 12 tackles and seven clearances. Jack’s 29 possessions and his crucial goal earned him two votes and Tippett, with 10 possessions, two goals, three contested marks and 22 hit-outs, picked up one vote.
Parker and Kennedy (30 possessions, 24 contested possessions, six tackles and nine clearances) were stiff but the Swans got what they wanted. A win for the ages that still ranks as the biggest fourth-quarter comeback for a win in club history.
OTHER RECORD-BREAKING WINS .. FROM QUARTER-TIME
The biggest quarter-time deficit the Swans have turned into a win was 45 points against Geelong at Kardinia Park in Round 9 1974, when the scoreboard was an ugly 1-1 to 8-4 as coach Graeme John approached his troops at the first change.
With captain Peter Bedford missing it was a young and inexperienced South Melbourne side, with 27-year-old Greg Lambert (102 games) and 26-year-old Russell Cook (133 games) the only players older than 24 and the only pair with 100 games behind them.
Geelong, coached by Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer, had found two winners up forward. Rex Hunt, in his second game for Geelong after moving from Richmond, kicked five goals in his first ‘home’ game, and Tim Evans, originally from Penguin in Tasmania and later to become a Port Adelaide champion in the SANFL, kicked a career-best four goals in his 54th and sixth-last AFL game.
Although play-by-play details are not available, South slowly worked their way back into it. Six goals in the second quarter cut the margin to 29 point at half time, and five in third quarter made it eight points. Another five goals in the final quarter saw the visitors home 17-7 (109) to 16-12 (108).
Norm Goss (34 possessions and three goals) and Cook (31 possessions and one goal) were prolific as always with Steve Hoffman (27 possessions) and David McLeish (20 possessions). They had multiple goal-kickers in Ian Thomson (3), Stewart Gull (2) and Neville Stibbard (2), but the unlikely hero in his eighth game was 20-year-old Graeme Wilson.
A utility player from the University Blues, he would play only 14 games over three years for14 goals, but this was his moment. He kicked four goals – twice as many as his next best effort – in his second and last AFL win.
AND FROM HALF-TIME
The biggest half-time deficit Sydney have turned into a win was also 45 points against Carlton at Princes Park in Round 1 1990. It was 3-6 to 10-9 to the Blues at the long break, but after the Swans pulled it back to 24 points at three-quarter time the home side reclaimed the upper hand.
The Swans, though, kicked the last five goals in a barnstorming finish as the club fielded four debutants to start Col Kinnear’s second year as coach – a 20-year-old Paul Kelly in jumper #45, a 22-year-old Shane Fell, a 23-year-old Jim West and 26-year-old Brad Tunbridge.
Bernard Toohey started the charge before Barry Mitchell snapped truly to take maximum advantage from a would-be free kick to teammate Gerard Healy.
In an inspired burst in his 33rd game, young Queenslander Craig Potter found Mark Bayes by hand before Mitchell snapped truly on the run and it was nine points with eight minutes to play.
With Stevie Wright sharing the igniter in his 199th game Potter marked at half forward and picked out Fell beautifully. The high-flyer kicked truly from 35m for his fifth. It was two points with 4min33sec on the clock.
Wayne Henwood received a free kick in a marking contest in defence and ex-Swan David Rhys-Jones got up close and personal with umpire Denis Rich. He wasn’t happy. Right in the umpire’s face but no further penalty.
Mitchell marked at half forward but, realising he was out of range, handed it off to David Murphy. His long bomb went right to the line but was touched. One point.
Terry Thripp marked the kick-in strongly and sent it back. It spilled off hands and Greg Williams, later to pick up three Brownlow votes for 43 possessions and two goals, grabbed a stat even more telling. His fourth tackle on David Kernahan.
The ball spilled loose. Potter picked it up brilliantly at ground level and went by hand to Bayes, who cleverly resisted the temptation to have a ping and instead found Mitchell. On his left Mitchell snapped truly from 35m for his 150th career goal. He’d finish with 31 possessions and three goals.
With 34sec to play the Swans were home 15-14 (104) to 14-1-5 (99).
Fell, originally signed by Geelong before being picked up by Sydney in the 1989 Draft, kicked 5-1 from five marks and seven possessions in a brilliant debut. It was an equal club record for a first-gamer but his career would last only 15 games and one season for 30 goals.