AFL: Sydney crowned premiers after thrilling Grand Final

A brave and courageous Sydney side has been crowned the 2012 AFL premiers, defeating Hawthorn by 10 points in a thrilling Grand Final yesterday.

In front of 99,683 people, the Swans won their fifth flag 14.7 (91) to 11.15 (81), with Ryan O’Keefe taking home the Norm Smith Medal.

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It was a pulsating and seesawing clash from start to finish. The Hawks held a 19-point lead at quarter time, only for the Swans to kick eight unanswered goals to open up a 28-point buffer. Hawthorn then battled their way back into the match and went 11 points ahead early in the final term, yet Sydney revived the South Melbourne spirit to kick the last four goals of the match and hold on by 10 points.

The game was ultimately decided by an amazing Nick Malceski snap shot with just 34 seconds remaining. Up until that point, the margin was within a kick.

O’Keefe was awarded the Norm Smith Medal, however such was the team performance and team unity within the Sydney side, more than a handful of their players could have taken home the best on ground honours.

O’Keefe collected 28 disposals, seven clearances and laid an incredible 15 tackles in the win. His desperation around the large scrums that engulfed the match was evident throughout the four quarters. He also limited the effectiveness of Hawthorn midfielder Sam Mitchell.

Dan Hannebery was also outstanding for the Swans. Time after time the small onballer courageously crashed back into packs. His fantastic mark in the first quarter, dropping into the whole in front of Hawthorn ruckman David Hale, highlighted Sydney’s gritty desire to do whatever it took to get over the line.

The Sydney courage was made more evident after the final siren, when it was revealed both 300-gamers Jude Bolton and Adam Goodes had played the match with partially torn ACL’s in their knee. Meanwhile ruckman Shane Mumford had battled a hamstring strain throughout the match, which eventually sidelined him in the third quarter.

Xavier Ellis had put through the game’s first goal, before Malceski quickly responded with a flukish banana around the body.

The first term had embodied what Grand Final football is all about. Hawthorn was pressing forward, Sydney was holding on for dear life.

Football purists got the battle they had all hoped for late in the first quarter. Lewis Jetta took off from half back, but quickly in pursuit was Cyril Rioli. Fans in the AFL members were up off their seats as Jetta’s immense pace was on show for all to see. The Swan took four bounces, burning off Rioli before launching the ball inside fifty.

Rioli not only lost the footrace with Jetta, but he also lost a crucial battle with Sydney defender Nick Smith. The All-Australian forward was held to just 14 disposals and no goals, making virtually no impact on the match.

The quarter ended ominously for Sydney. Three goals in the final six minutes from Lance Franklin, Luke Breust and Jack Gunston had Hawthorn 19 points in front at the first change.

Breust’s goal came off the back of some brilliant work from Paul Puopolo, however it happened to be the small forward’s only impact on the match. He was brilliantly held by Sydney’s Rhyce Shaw, who wiped away memories of his horrible performance in the 2002 Grand Final for Collingwood with a magnificent display.

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Yet John Longmire’s quarter time address seemed to work wonders on his side, as they put on six unanswered goals in the second term.

Former-Hawk Josh Kennedy drilled the first with a long set shot from outside fifty.

Kieren Jack and Jarrad McVeigh then put the Swans within a point with two simple set shots from the goal square.

Sam Reid then put the Swans in front when he nailed a long bomb following a superb flowing move that had started at half back.

Maligned forward Mitch Morton then proved his worth in just his fifth game of the season, booting the final two goals of the term with quick feet and some nice skill around the body.

The Swans had piled on six goals straight to Hawthorn’s one behind in the second quarter, which saw them ahead by 16 points at the main change.

Kennedy was quick to punish his former side early in the third quarter as well. He ran to 40-meters out before drilling a goal on the run for his second of the afternoon. The grandson of John Kennedy Sr. and son of John Kennedy Jr. was part of a family that had already seen premiership glory seven times, all at Hawthorn. Josh was keen to add to that success in Sydney colours, and did so with 26 disposals, five clearances and two goals.

Lewis Roberts-Thompson then made it eight in a row for Sydney, which had opened up a 28-point lead early in the third term.

However Hawthorn hit back with the next five goals. A fortunate free kick and goal to Hale steadied the ship, before Franklin struck a set shot from outside fifty to get the Hawks within striking distance.

Gunston kicked his set shot, before Buddy whipped the crowd into a frenzy by wheeling around onto his left foot and bombing home from close to 60-meters out.

Franklin was inspirational and looked unstoppable. He finished the match with 24 disposals, seven inside 50s, six tackles and three goals. Had it not been for his wayward kicking, which saw him boot four behinds and one out-on-the-full, it could have been a different story for the Hawks.

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Brad Sewell was also influential in Hawthorn’s revival. He amassed a game-high 33 disposals, as well as racking up 11 clearances, six inside 50s and 11 tackles.

Less than a minute after Buddy’s long bomb, Isaac Smith ran in on goal and put the Hawks back in front.

It was a titanic battle that was set to take more twists as the game wore on.

With hardly any time left on the clock, Mitchell gave away a needless 50-meter penalty that put McVeigh within scoring distance. The Swans skipper made no mistake, slotting through his second to put Sydney a point up going into the final quarter.

McVeigh’s goal was the first of two. The Sydney co-captain also managed 21 disposals, four clearances and nine tackles in a fantastic display.

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Both sides activated their substitutions. Shane Savage replaced Ellis for the Hawks, while Mumford hamstring injury forced him off the ground for Luke Parker.

Mumford’s niggling injury had meant Canadian Mike Pyke would do the majority of the ruckwork throughout the day, and the former rugby union international wouldn’t let his teammates down. He managed 16 disposals, took six marks, led Sydney’s contested marks and won 29 hitouts.

Hawthorn looked to run away with the match early in the final quarter, kicking the first two goals within three minutes.

Breust put the Hawks back in front, before Hale snapped through another to open up a handy 11-point margin.

However Sydney’s never say die attitude came to the fore yet again. Their nuggety midfielders Hannebury and Jack both goaled from open play to level the scores at the 20-minute mark.

Just when a draw looked the likely result, Goodes stood tall. The inspirational co-captain roved a pack and snuck the ball through from close range to put the Swans a goal to the good.

Hawthorn tried their hearts out to get back into the match. Gunston hit the post form a set shot before Sewell twice kicked behinds to narrow the margin to just four points.

Then came the game’s most telling moment. When it seemed Sydney were camped inside their defensive fifty, they somehow managed to clear it forward. They locked it inside their attacking half, before a stoppage resulted with just 40 seconds remaining.

Hannebury, as he had throughout the match, bustled his way to the bottom of the pack before feeding the ball out to Malceski. The defender, who had only kicked four goals for the season prior to the match, then threw the ball onto his boot and watched it sail high over the goal umpire’s head for his second.

Pandemonium ensued as Malceski galloped away on a celebratory run resembling a soccer player who had just scored. His teammates attempted to chase after him, but there seemed to be no catching the half back.

In a Swans side packed full of amazing stories, Malceski had his own unique journey to the last Saturday in September. In 2008 he became the first AFL footballer to undergo the controversial LARS knee reconstruction surgery. In 2010 he underwent the same procedure yet again after injuring his knee for a second time. From all the hype surrounding his quick comeback to football, Malceski will now be remembered for a different moment in his career.

The siren sounded to amazing jubilation around the ground. The Swans had won by 10 points.

As their players and fans celebrated, Hawthorn was left to slump to the ground, wondering what could have been.

A battle-hardened Luke Hodge promised to be back again next year, before the Swans’ party began.

As the squad of Sydney champions paraded their prized trophy around the ground, the country was left to salute an amazing team full of amazing stories.

Riley Beveridge is a first-year Bachelor of Sports Journalism student at La Trobe. You can follow him on Twitter: @RileyBev.

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