Sydney v Melbourne – Swans save their best till last

March 15, 2024 by
Filed under: AFLM, NSW Demons 

Round Zero – Sydney V Melbourne

Liam Chambers

Welcome to Ground Zero

It’s the 2024 season and Round zero has been introduced to confuse the fans. We still play twenty three games, after Gather Round was introduced in 2023, but now there will be eight bye rounds, instead of four. Simples!

Anyway, we were back at the SCG for the opening game of the season; co-incidentally the venue for our closing game last year. That time we showed a clean pair of heels. This time we were facing a side boasting two former Melbourne team mates in the guise of Brody Grundy and James Jordon. Is it just me or do we always struggle when playing erstwhile Demons?

When Max Gawn scores a goal, they are often spectacular. He almost had the opener of the season when his kick form a stoppage soared high and just inside the uprights. Unfortunately it was not to be, as the post got in the way.

Two minutes later, Oliver Florent took the honours with a running kick from 50m.

Alex Neal-Bullen looked to have secured a free kick in front of goal, but the Umpire was otherwise engaged and missed the incident. It didn’t matter though, as Jack Viney kicked the Demons’ first a minute later, after using his body as a battering ram, smashing through the Swans’ defence. Melbourne’s continuing pressure was intense, but they couldn’t make it pay on the score board. 

Then it was Sydney’s turning up the heat with they’re repeated incursions inside 50; culminating in Isaac Heeney marking the ball 45m from goal. His kicking was spot on, and the Swans took the lead.

The Dees response was admirable, but they failed to make good use of the space available; allowing Sydney to return towards their own goal end. It may have been a case of first night jitters, but Melbourne was missing shots we would normally have expected to easily put away. The minor scores were racking up, but a second goal was proving elusive.

Up the other end, the goal mouth was much more accommodating. Tom Papley’s running kick from 60m bounced favourably in the right direction before crossing the line.


Dew drops the fluidity of play

There were chances early on in term two for the Dees, but sloppy passing and marking meant they went a-begging. Luckily the Swans were playing in a similar vein, so the sides evened each other out.

As the quarter progressed however, the game began to favour Sydney, with the home side making the most of their opportunities. This was typified by Justin McInerney’s turn and snap from 15m, which flew through the uprights.

Trailing by fifteen points, the Dees started to up the ante by stringing together some flowing runs of play.

Sydney was up to the task though, playing creatively in defensive and sneaking past the attacking Demons. Midway through the term, it was evident that the Swans were generating the better chances inside 50. Melbourne seemed to be relying too much on the long ball in the hope of taking an advantageous mark close to goal.

The Dees did finally make their mark, but it was an opportunistic round the corner snap form Alex Neal-Bullen. The ball had been tapped down from a stoppage 30m out and the nifty forward immediately pounced to open his ledger for 2024.

But wait, the automatic review cruelly snatched back the goal and instead leaving Neal-Bullen pointless. I’ve watched the reply of the alleged incident several times and can only surmise that the reviewer was wearing a red and white jersey.

The lack of goals continued with Christian Petracca’s effort from the pocket hitting the post, giving Melbourne only its second point of the quarter.

With just over three minutes to go, half time couldn’t come quickly enough for the Dees. The Swans however, were pushing hard to head into the main break with a three goal advantage, but luckily the slippery conditions were hindering their efforts.

Then, right at the end, the tables flipped when Ed Langdon marked the ball with ten seconds left on the clock. Langdon didn’t disappoint and the teams headed down to the rooms with a comfortable seven points separating them.

Thrills, spills and injuries

Melbourne desperately needed a great start to the second half, and they got it when Christian Petracca controlled the incoming ball on the 50m arc. His quick handpass to Bailey Fritsch, gave the high scoring forward the chance to run on, then turn and snap the ball off his left boot. The sherrin sailed high before bending through the uprights. The margin couldn’t have been tighter.

Ten minutes into the half however and the momentum was slowly creeping back the Swans’ way, despite Hayden McLean missing an absolute sitter. A few minutes later, McLean had another chance, courtesy of a very generous 50m penalty (more like 65m in reality). Perhaps the Umpire is a relative of the goal reviewer? Either way, it was another Sydney goal.

Thankfully, Bailey Fritsch kept Melbourne in the game with his second goal of the quarter, after marking a beautifully weighted kick from the up and coming Judd McVee.

It was all Melbourne when Fritsch got his hat trick, after collecting the loose ball 35m out, then turning and snapping to give his club back the lead. The visiting fans joy was short lived, as first Jake Bowey left the field with a suspected shoulder injury, then a mix up in defence, gifted Hayden McLean a second goal; this time from close quarters.

Back in front, the Swans tried to turn it up, but Melbourne was equal to the task. In fact, they were more than equal, as Jack Viney proved by nailing a 50m set shot. The game was all square. Sadly, Will Hayward then returned the margin to seven points with his own 35m set shot.

Petracca pinged it back to one point when he collected the ball on the run, then kept running through inside 50, before launching from 30m.

Swans hammer home their advantage

With a miserly two points separating the sides, the smart money would have been on the team who won eighteen of their fourth quarters in 2023. This is 2024 however so all bets were off.
Sydney spent the first ten minutes corralling the Dees in their defensive 50. The pressure eventually paid off when Chad Warner struck from just outside 50 to increase the Swans’ lead to ten points.

Sydney continue to press home their advantage, giving Demon fans little reprieve as Will Hayward side stepped several Melbourne defenders to snap another. The screws were slowly turning on their opponents. The prospect of a Dees’ win continued to fade as Sam Wicks marked 45m out and converted and extend his sides’ lead to twenty two points.

Melbourne were in a world of pain and there was no relief in sight.

The Swans’ fourth was an exercise in chaos with Robbie Fox and Sam Wicks both scrambling the sherrin across the line. Fox claimed the goal.

After the bounce, the Dees finally made some headway in the right direction, eventually arriving inside 50. Christian Petracca grabbed hold of the loose ball, turned and snapped towards goal where Jacob Van Rooyen attempted to mark in the goal square. His attempt was unsuccessful but as he fell back his leg connected with the ball, sending it over his head and through the uprights. The review ruled that it was a goal, albeit by accident rather than design. A desperately needed reprieve but would it be enough to inspire a comeback?

As the clock ticked down, Sydney appeared steadfast, and they continued to attack and defend with the same determination that they’d displayed all quarter.

It was still a case of don’t die wondering for Melbourne but when Logan McDonald marked the ball 15m in front of goal, there was no coming back for the Demons.

Bailey Fritsch kicked a late goal from a set shot but overall a disappointing start to the season for the Dees.

We face the Bulldogs on St Patrick’s Day so I’m hoping the luck of the Irish is on our side.

Go the Mighty Dees!!!


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