Sydney will meet Geelong in the 2022 AFL grand final, after the Swans held off a courageous Collingwood comeback by one point to win a thrilling preliminary final 14.11.95 to 14.10.94 before an ecstatic 45,608 fans at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Having waited 72 years for their iconic 2005 premiership, the Swans will now look for their second AFL flag in a decade as they prepare to take on the Cats, who purred into the decider with a 71-point obliteration of Brisbane at the MCG on Friday night. But Sydney went within a whisker of blowing it, as Collingwood overcame a four-goal deficit to close within a kick. In the end, a brave Bloods outfit did enough to hold on.
In front of a heaving home crowd, Sydney scored the game’s first four goals. The first came from a smart pass from Isaac Heeney that found Luke Parker on the fly. Dylan Stephens seized on an error for the second, rushing the goal square and getting a boot on a tumbling ball. Ryan Clarke kicked the third after Buddy Franklin made a contest. When Tom Papley, the little big man with the rip to back up his lip, kicked Sydney’s fourth from 50-metres out, the old Members Pavilion shook with the roar from the crowd.
Despite being blown away on the scoreboard, Collingwood kept calm, knowing they had kicked goals in fast batches all season. The Magpies hadn’t scored from their first eleven inside-50s but slowly they settled. Mason Cox marked strongly on the arc and dinked infield where Will Hoskin Elliott snapped over his left shoulder. Cox won another contest minutes later and this time Darcy Elliott found Jamie Elliott who banked back-to-back majors for the visitors and narrow the margin to 14 points.
But Sydney were in a mood and on a 10-game tear. Their ferocious pressure snuffed every Magpies raid before it got started. Even when the Pies made a rare incursion inside-50, Sydney’s back men Dane Rampe and the McCartin Brothers, Paddy and Tom, had it covered, diffusing and clearing for a fresh Swans raid downfield.
Both sides upped the tempo, going end to end, and goal for goal. Sydney swept downfield and fast interplay between Isaac Heeney and Lance Franklin gave Chad Warner a safety pin of space to kick Sydney’s fifth of the game. Collingwood counter-punched with a long goal from the centre-bounce. The Swans reply was swift though as Sam Reid marked uncontested and extended the margin back to 20.
Franklin had sprayed a shot on the siren but he didn’t miss a chance to respond to Jamie Elliott’s second quarter starter, the big No 23 banging through his 73rd goal in AFL finals. Darcy Cameron hit back for Collingwood to keep the Magpies in touch. And then a smart chip from Jack Ginnivan set up Beau McCreery’s goal to get the visitors within touching distance.
Franklin snatched back the advantage for the home side, imperiously marking over Brayden Maynard to grab his second goal and get level with Barry Hall on 467 for the Swans. When Mills bombed it long and Franklin brought it to ground, James Rowbottom pinned back his ears, flew onto his tap down and snared Sydney’s ninth.
With 6.0 and four goals from seven entries, Collingwood were nailing their chances but not creating enough of them. Sydney’s ferocity at the contest had them rattled. Maynard tried to rub the oil off Franklin’s arms. Jordan De Goey started to snarl, muscling out of contact. Collingwood kept charging into the corridor and smart work from Josh Daicos rewarded McCreery with his second six-pointer of the match.
Sydney were missing shots but still slotting enough to stay ascendent. At 10.7 the Swans’ inaccuracy in front of goal didn’t match their efficiency around the park. But they were still out-scoring Collingwood and Heeney’s goal in the shadows of halftime – the Swans’ third from a centre clearance – took the lead to a match-high 31.
Yet the fact the umpires were still putting out spot fires between wrestling players hollering threats at each other as they went to the sheds showed there was still heat in the contest. Sydney were five goals out but Collingwood were close enough for hope.
Both teams missed easy goals to start the second half before Sydney’s Logan McDonald soared over the pack and iced it to make the margin 36 points. But again Jamie Elliott replied. And Nick Daicos soon after made it a 1-2 punch. As they had all season, the men in black-and-white found a will and a way to stay in the arm wrestle.
Jack Ginnivan tried to be the difference. As Mason Cox left the field for the Magpies and Sam Reid hobbled off for Sydney, the game swung and Ginnivin stepped up. His goal gifted Collingwood swagger and the follow-up by Josh Daicos gave them momentum. But even with a sniff of a comeback ripening, the Swans looked in control and kept their three goal buffer unbreached at the end of the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter Collingwood came out blazing. Trent Bianco’s running goal cut the lead to 16 points. Suddenly Sydney were running on heavy legs and the home crowd’s maelstrom of noise became a murmur of disquiet. The Magpies were running at full-tilt and smashing into every contest but for all the revs the goals didn’t follow. With 10 minutes left, the red tide turned and Tom Papley, in a two-on-one, shoved, shimmied, bobbled the ball and, finally marked. His vital goal got the SCG crowd daring to dream.
But the Swans muffed their next two shots and Collingwood smelt Blood in the water. They goaled, then goaled again, to get within nine-points. And when Sydney panicked in goal and failed to clear, the veteran Steele Sidebottom’s bald head swooped like a raptor and sent the crowd into raptures to make it a three-point game.
Sydney’s spark was gone but their nerve held. Two crucial marks from Franklin and Hickey settled things until the black mass came again through De Goey. With seconds to go both teams were camped in the red zone of the Sydney goal. But it was too late. As the siren sang, the Magpies’ comeback and their season-long Cinderella story was snuffed and Sydney celebrated a victory that sends them into the 2022 grand final.