The Sydney Swans have taken out the first Sydney derby by 63 points in front of more than 38,000 fans.
The Greater Western Sydney Giants put up a spirited performance in their first ever AFL premiership game, and competed well across the field – just not on the scoreboard.
The pre-game welcome of the AFL’s newest team saw all manner-of orange-clad people take to the ground and construct a giant G in the middle, before fireworks ushered in the club’s mascot “G-Man” – imagine Fry from Futurma, but with Josh Hunt’s arms.
In the game itself, the Swans – who’s banner read “this is our town” – put up a typically workman-like performance, notching the century on the scoreboard with a behind after the final siren to take the match 14.16 100 to the Giants’ 5.7 37 and claim the inaugural White Ribbon Trophy.
Kieran Jack kicked the Swans’ opening goal within 80 seconds, yet the Giants were intense early, providing plenty of physical pressure – with both Gary Rohan and Luke Parker having to leave the field after heavy knocks.
Curtly Hampton became the first GWS name ever on an AFL scoresheet with a minor score after five minutes. Co-Captain Callan Ward would become an historical footnote by kicking the Giants’ first ever goal midway through the first-quarter.
GWS were getting plenty of the ball, but tellingly, the Swans had taken 37 marks to the Giants’ 18 for the quarter, with Ted Richards regularly out-positioning the league convert Foulau and along with the ever-improving Alex Johnson, causing numerous spoils and launching rebounding attacks at will.
Two goals from Craig Bird, and one from eventual Brett Kirk medallist Josh Kennedy saw the Swans lead by 17 at quarter-time.
The Swans started the second-quarter with two quick goals, and the game was poised for a blowout.
“Leave the witches hats alone” was yelled from the stands, as GWS players were moved away from the mark at one point.
But the Giants dug in and finally found some link-up runners and hit forward targets to kick back-to-back goals and breathe some life into the crowd and the contest.
A great pack mark to Sam Reid, helped lift his team to close out the quarter though with the next two goals to take a five-goal lead into half-time.
Jarred McVeigh’s goal 1:41 into the third quarter effectively ended the contest, and the Swans would kick five goals for the quarter to a solitary behind to the Giants to take a 10-goal lead into the final term.
A spirited fourth quarter – and some inaccuracy in front of the sticks for the Swans – saw the Giants actually win the last quarter 2.3 to 1.8, with the only real interest late on whether the Swans would reach three figures as the younger GWS bodies wilted.
The Giants, it should be noted, took 17 AFL debutants and 14 teenagers into the side tonight and were missing the experienced trio of Dean Brogan, Luke Power and Setanta o’Hailpin.
The general possession stats were pretty much equal for most of the night, the Swans gathering 388 to the Giants’ 367 for the game.
GWS were even leading the clearances at half-time. Yet while they usually hit one or two handballs, it was their lack of composure under pressure and their poor decision-making that kept them from making any meaningful penetration – the Swans keeping the Giants to just 28 inside 50s, while serving their forwards with 71 of their own.
The Giants’ experienced players, Rhys Palmer, Chad Cornes and Ward were prominent, but reduced largely to nullified roles.
Defender Tim Mohr was solid down back, helping keep Adam Goodes to a clean sheet, Thomas Bugg impressed and found lots of the footy, and Hampton was dangerous, and flashy up forward, yet only returned four behinds for the night.
Israel Folau was well held by the experienced Ted Richards up forward, but managed seven hit-outs in the ruck.
In one piece of play destined for the highlight reel, ‘Izzy’ earned a holding the ball decision with a crunching tackle from the blindside of Daniel Hannebery, then followed up to give a handball, and lay a shepherd showing repeat efforts and some good game sense.
For the Swans, the spread of eleven different goal kickers was encouraging, even covering the fact neither Reid – who took six marks yet missed two quite gettable shots – nor Goodes scored any goals.
Kennedy was a worthy winner of the Kirky medal, and Jack and Craig Bird contributed 57 touches and three goals between them. Shane Mumford came out on top in a willing ruck duel with Jonathan Giles and the pace of Lewis Jetta and Gary Rohan at ground level threatened regularly.
The AFL should be chuffed with the 38,203 crowd, which in Sydney terms compared favourably to the crowds of 18,278 and 29,641 for the two NRL games played at the venue so far this season and 32, 071 for round one of the Super 15 Rugby in Sydney.
Importantly, the historic match bought a crowd that comprised many newcomers to the game. The announcement on the big screen that “there would be no kick-to-kick tonight” bought boos from the crowd and one call of “I don’t know what kick-to-kick is, but boo!”
Votes: 3 Josh Kennedy (SYD), 2 Craig Bird (SYD), 1 Kieran Jack (SYD).