Having now had a little over forty-eight hours to ponder the above question, one that has tormented many a footy pundit since the final siren of 2014 sounded, I think we might usefully split the search for answers into two areas: the general, covering any overall theme that may have affected Sydney; and the specific; players, coaches, injuries etc .
I believe that in this case it is the general theme that might bear the most fruit. Specifically, in the qualifying rounds the Swans were too good for their own good, leaving them in a situation five weeks ago where they were already guaranteed of a home final. Apart from the epic game against Hawthorn at the MCG in round 18 which they LOST by 10 points, the Swans were hardly extended in the last 9 weeks of the season. Hawthorn on the other hand were biting and scratching against Freo and Geelong to ensure they did not have to travel. The Swans rested five top-line players in their round 23 home defeat by Richmond but still finished on top. They then met an undermanned Fremantle who pressed them for a half, had a week off, and played the sixth ranked team, North to make the GF.
When they duly walloped North there was a lot of media focus on the young players like Cunningham, Rohan and Luke Parker, there was a lot of talk of people “playing their roles” but the fact was it was five to six weeks since this team had to play for their lives. They played liked they had forgotten how hard it is to beat a good team, like a batsman’s first hit out in a test after a bunch of 20-20 games, like a team who thought it was more important to ‘play their role’ than win the ball.
Nobody should have been surprised Hawthorn won. The fact they started 6/4 underdogs was ludicrous. I’ll admit I backed them myself. Since the 2012 GF the Swans had played Hawthorn at the MCG three times losing all three times, and perhaps significantly they lost by 54 points in last year’s qualifying final. They almost lost to Richmond at the MCG this year. So it is no surprise Hawthorn won – it was after all a HOME GAME for Hawthorn, not just a home-state game but a game played on their actual home ground. Make no mistake the system that allows a Victorian team to always play the Grand Final on their home ground irrespective of their season ranking, is a corrupt and deficient system. David King surprised many of us some weeks ago when he came up with a stat that showed that among the top five teams playing each other interstate, only 1 game in about 20 had been won by the visiting team – Swans v Port. In the finals Port doubled this number by beating a depleted Fremantle but the stark fact is that in 2014 playing at home was a significant advantage for good sides against other good sides from interstate. In fact the Hawks themselves were unable to beat either Fremantle or Sydney on THEIR home turf. King seemed to forget all this when he tipped the Swans to win by 10 goals.
So I think it is fair to ask, had the Swans and Hawks played in Sydney would the result have been the same? Well the Hawks were good enough to beat Sydney in round 23 of 2013 in Sydney so there’s a fair chance they would have won but would there have been such a blowout?
Perhaps that is where we can go to the specifics of the game and ask would Jetta and Rohan have played as appallingly as they did at the MCG? Probably. Rohan is starting from a long way back and making progress week by week but I doubt he was ready for the pressure of the occasion. Jetta copped a couple of whacks but whether that was why he looked like he was in the pre-game warm-up who knows. The Swans would still have lacked muscle in the ruck, Longmire would still have reacted too slowly as he habitually does, Grundy would still have looked like he was playing with an injury and McVeigh would have played as he had for the last month; in the worst form of his career, whether by injury or mental exhaustion who knows. On the other hand I can’t believe Jack, McGlynn and Parker would have been as poor had they been allowed to prepare under the same routine as the previous month.
The point of course is moot, we will never know because the game was played in Melbourne on the home ground of last year’s premiers who, by the way, got that flag by beating another interstate team in the GF – at least last year they qualified higher.
Yes there will be those who point out that the Swans beat the Hawks in 2012 on the MCG but that is beginning to look like the anomaly not the rule. The Hawks got the Eagles in 91 at Waverly, Geelong in 08, Fremantle in 13 and now the Swans in 14 so 4 out of 5 ain’t bad.
Here’s my conclusion to the question I posed at the outset. The Swans lost because they weren’t good enough to beat a champion team on their home turf. They lost by ten goals instead of three because they were softened up by their own success. Footy to be frank is not about “playing one’s role” so much as winning the ball. But no matter how well Hawthorn played, it in no way justifies the current system. Non-Victorian clubs should not just lay down and accept the nonsense churned out every year by those ex-players and media personalities with their snout in the AFL trough who blithely announce “The MCG is the home of the football and the grand final should always be played there.” David Parkin and Dermot Brereton trotted out this tired old gelding on League Teams, the two ex-Hawks agreeing with one another that there was no advantage to their team in having a home GF. What a surprise! It smacks of the America’s Cup and those who thought it should always be sailed at Newport.
At least the issue was raised on League Teams in a mumble as a passing aside.
Eddie McGuire, the self-appointed champion of fairness and equalisation in football has had plenty to say on everything from COLA to the Swans’ academy but I have yet to hear him once raise the question as to why Victorian teams who finish behind their counterparts over the course of a season should be granted such an advantage as home ground grand final. Oh that’s right, he’s president of Collingwood and that’s their home ground too.
It is possible for non-Vic teams to win grand-finals against Victorian teams but that is not the point. In a season where home ground advantage was shown to be everything the Hawks should have been given the opportunity to prove themselves to truly be the team of the century by beating Sydney in Sydney. Maybe then we all would have had a lot more satisfying game.