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The Sydney Morning Herald

Sorry Swans fail to crack Saints' wall

Author: Richard Hinds
Date: 29/04/2002
Words: 895
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Sport
Page: 20
Immediately after a drawn match, the players usually don't know how to react. No-one has won. No-one has lost. There is no cause for celebration, but all is not gloom and doom.

However, after the Swans had stolen two points from St Kilda despite one of their worst and most dispiriting performances of the past eight years, it was quite clear which team deserved to leave the ground smiling.

Although Daniel Wulf had missed a shot from just 10metres that would have given St Kilda victory, the Saints had much to celebrate. Having lost eight first-choice players to injury before the game, and two more during it, their collection of journeymen and kids came within inches of a victory that would have been a minor footballing miracle.

On the other hand, despite their two ill-gotten premiership points, the Swans walked off with their heads down and their pride badly dented after the 8.8 (56) to 8.8 (56) draw.

Brad Seymour, whose errant pass in the dying seconds had handed Wulf the chance to win the game, will be the fall guy when this game is remembered. But Seymour has almost an entire team to help shoulder the blame. Captain Paul Kelly, who was again his team's best despite spending part of the week in hospital, was one of the few Swans to walk away with any credit.

Only in the final 10 minutes, when they trailed by 17 points and the game was seemingly lost, did the Swans play with anything like the intensity and discipline required to beat the Saints' ultra-defensive tactics.

Sydney kicked three goals in five minutes, the last by Daryn Cresswell who seemed set to be the hero again. But, as coach Rodney Eade was to acknowledge, justice would not have been done if the Swans had won.

More appropriately, two errors a chip kick from Ben Mathews to Seymour and Seymour's subsequent kick that was intercepted by Wulf were to gift Wulf his chance to win the game. And, providing a fitting conclusion to one of the worst games most observers could remember, he didn't take it.

Given the Swans kicked just one goal in the first half and were held by spirited but deplorable opposition, the result will have immediate ramifications. In the past three weeks Sydney have been jumped by the Adelaide Crows, saved by a controversial free kick against the Kangaroos and flattered by Wulf's error on Saturday night.

They have gained six points of a possible 12, but it could easily have been none. Other than Kelly's heroics, a number of the Swans' top-flight players are struggling to make an impact. It was a night on which the experience and skill of Wayne Schwass, Paul Williams and Stuart Maxfield should have been crucial in setting up scoring chances. However, while Schwass got plenty of the ball early and Williams kicked a couple of goals, none was able to put his stamp on the game.

Released from his role as a key forward by the acquisition of Barry Hall, this was also supposed to be a year in which the exquisite talent of Michael O'Loughlin was showcased. Right now, he is struggling.

But perhaps the most disappointing part of the Swans' performance was that they knew exactly what to expect from their depleted opposition. The Saints had changed the time of their Wednesday training session without alerting the media. Yet, despite the secrecy, their tactics were no mystery to a Swans team who have used them to good effect in the past stack the backline, create stoppages and force the opposition to find a way through.

The Swans had trained to counter such tactics. They were well aware their supposed edge in class and skill would not be reflected on the scoreboard. Three goals to nil at half-time would do nicely.

In the early stages, the Swans defenders kept their positions and were not drawn into the Saints' defensive swamp. However, while the Sydney backmen continually gathered the ball after St Kilda bombed it into their abandoned forward line, they had neither the patience or precision to find a way forward. It did not help that neither of their marking forwards, Hall or Adam Goodes, was able to take a contested mark.

By half-time, the message was simple. Belt the ball forward, don't allow the Saints to close the game down and, in the final quarter, kick long to a forward line stacked with tall options including erstwhile defenders Jason Saddington and Andrew Dunkley.

It was not the most sophisticated game plan but, for all except those final 10 minutes, it was one they failed to execute.

Rather than keep the ball moving, Brett Kirk, Jude Bolton and others dragged it back into contests. Instead of moving forward at all costs, at one point O'Loughlin spun 180 degrees and chipped backwards. Which is why Eade was equally furious with those fundamental mistakes as he was with Seymour's calamitous turnover.

Now, after what will be a searching week, the Swans must overcome a confident and near full-strength Melbourne. The only comforting thought is that they could not play any worse.

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