“We won ugly.” It’s a comment you’ll hear from fans, and sometimes even from players and coaches, after a hot favourite struggles to eke out a win against a team they are expected to demolish.
And there were plenty of Swans’ fans saying that as they filed out of a sodden SCG on Sunday afternoon.
Morning rain, and the forecast of more, may have kept the crowd down, but 23,782 fans still made their way to the SCG, where the Swans were the hottest of favourites, with the home ground advantage against a struggling Richmond side coming off the bye.
And the Tigers suffered an early setback when David Astbury was stretchered off in the opening minutes, forcing them to use their sub and restricting their interchange options. But, against all expectations, the Tigers got too close for comfort, and could have even stolen an unlikely win.
It certainly wasn’t what the majority of the patrons at the ground wanted or expected. There was a group of Tiger fans in the concourse area in front of the Bradman Stand, and the odd smattering around the rest of the ground.
But most of the stadium, and the vast majority around the O’Reilly Stand where I was, were supporting the red and white.
A sponsor had given out cardboard clappers, producing a percussion reverberation around the stadium. The cheer squad, with the big flags behind the southern goal, also had a set of Aboriginal style wood-blocks to initiate the “Sydney” clapping chant.
But their optimism was turning to frustration as the Swans wasted chance after chance.
The Swans had 3.8 at quarter time, and another run of behinds started the second quarter. Ironically, after his noted battle to post his first AFL goal last season, it was Lewis Jetta who finally broke the goal drought.
The Swans had clearly dominated, hadn’t received full reward for effort, but still looked on top late in the quarter. Even when a strong run by Rhys Shaw saw him pass to Sam Reid, but the siren sound before Reid could complete the mark, it didn’t seem to matter too much.
The Swans were 13 points clear, and would be going to the MA Noble Stand end in the third quarter. The skies were closing in, and a southerly buster was beginning to blow harder. Surely the premiership quarter would put the issue beyond doubt.
But it didn’t.
Tyrone Vickery goaled early for the Tigers to cut the margin in half. The Swans looked clearly superior, peppering the goals but unable to find the big sticks. All the stats were favouring the Swans, the Swans were getting the better of the umpiring; but goals were not forthcoming.
And the Richmond fans found their voice deep in time-on, when Jack Riewoldt went up for a spectacular mark and calmly converted the goal. Against the run of play, the margin was back to six points at the last change.
During the three-quarter time break the lights were turned up, and it began to drizzle. In the opening minute of the last quarter, Dustin Martin landed a checkside goal to level the scores, then scored a behind to give the Tigers the lead.
The noise around the ground was coming from the Richmond fan group.
But Richmond’s lead would be short lived. Local Sydney junior Kieran Jack, a crowd favourite, in his first game back from injury, dodged the Tiger tacklers and offloaded to Ryan O’Keefe, who slammed through a goal to restore Sydney’s advantage.
A minute later, Josh Kennedy soccered a goal off the ground; and a minute after that, Sam Reid played on after a free kick to score another.
By now, the drizzle had become a downpour, and when Lewis Jetta added his second goal, the game was safe for the Swans. The Tigers fought all the way, and managed two late goals, but their hopes had been washed away.
Some fans left early, wishing to escape the elements and beat the traffic. But the majority stayed to the end, to celebrate the moment of victory and sing the team song. The rain was even heavier, but not too much thunder had been shaken from the sky by that performance.
It was four competition points for the Swans, but nothing that they would be excited about.
Swans fans would call that game “winning ugly”, but at least could console themselves that winning ugly beats losing. When it comes to premiership points, it’s not how, but how many.
But it was another day of doom for Tigers’ fans – who would leave the SCG feeling cold, wet and living another tale of misery.
For those who had come up from Melbourne for the game, their flights home were cancelled. And after just two finals appearances in 28 years, and looking down the barrel of their tenth season in a row away from the playoff action, they were left wondering when, or if, anything would ever go right.