Swans pull off great escape
THIS was a finals-like showdown between North Melbourne and Sydney that showed footy ain't broken yet.
In a 31-goal shootout at Etihad Stadium, it was the Swans who won against the odds to run out six-point winners in one of the games of the season.
The consequences were always huge for the loser, with no guarantees for either side of a chance to contend in September.
When Lance Franklin slotted career goal No. 902 in the final term, the game looked all but done, with the Swans taking a 12-point lead.
But the Roos, for the upteenth time in the game, found a way back into the contest with goals to Ben Brown and Majak Daw drawing the scores level.
In fact the sea-sawing last quarter saw the scores change hands multiple times a truly incredible game of football.
It took a composed kick and goal from Aliir Aliir - remarkably, the first in his career - to give the Swans back the lead and, eventually, the win.
The injury-ravaged Swans are far from fielding their best 22, with injuries to key talls Lewis Melican (hamstring) and Sam Reid (Achilles), alongside experienced trio Dan Hannebery, Jarrad McVeigh and Kieren Jack.
And their chances to contend for finals were seemingly further compounded when midfielder Josh Kennedy suffered back spasms and didn't take part in the game after half-time.
But the Swans - like they always do - held on.
And the win keeps their finals hopes alive and give them a big confidence boost if they want to cause some September chaos.
The Swans' rebound work from defensive 50 was impressive, with Jake Lloyd and Dane Rampe finishing in their top five possession getters. On AFL debut, Irishman Colin O'Riordan didn't look out of place with 17 disposals and five rebound 50s.
For all the Swans' injury concerns, the Roos lost tagger Ben Jacobs before the bounce, still suffering the effects of concussion and a sore neck. They then lost Kayne Turner just minutes into game, suffering concussion in a clash with Swans defender Dane Rampe's knee.
North midfielder Shaun Higgins continued to do his All-Australian chances no harm, with an "outstanding" display through the midfield, according to Swans premiership coach Paul Roos.
Higgins finished the match with 33 disposals and seven clearances, likely gaining more Brownlow Medal votes in what has been a career-best year.
Midfielder turned forward Jack Ziebell booted five goals for the Roos, with injured teammate Jarrad Waite full of praise for the North Melbourne captain.
"You know exactly what you are going to get with Jack with his attack on the ball," Waite said.
"He's really added a string to his bow going forward this year and I think it has really helped the team.
"(But) he can still play in the midfield … attacks the ball and really strong vice grip when he gets the opportunity."
Four-time premiership player Luke Hodge suggested Ziebell wasn't a player that you "want to go one-on-one with in the forward 50".
It was an eye-catching battle inside the North Melbourne forward 50 with Allir going head-to-head with Roos tall Majak Daw in the first three quarters of the match.
The pair both had their impressive moments, marking well overhead. Daw finished the match with four goals, while Allir had 23 disposals, 10 marks and booted the match-winning goal in what was a fierce contest throughout the match.
"This has got to be nearly the best game I've seen Allir play," Channel 7 commentator Brian Taylor suggested.
Franklin began the contest with 899 career AFL goals and it took until the 16-minute mark of the third quarter for Buddy to get the ball between the big sticks, winning a 'chopping the arms' free kick right on the 50m mark.
"You'd back him in from here," Roos said before going back and slotting the shot on goal.
"I remember his tape as a young kid in the (Under 18) championships, it's been an amazing career, he's an exceptional athlete."
Franklin now moves to ninth on the all-time AFL goal kicking charts, with Leigh Matthews (915) and Matthew Lloyd (926) in Buddy's sights before seasons end.
Inside 50 it was lively small forward Ben Ronke who booted five eye-catching goals, while Will Hayward slotted two majors.
It was a finals like contest and if fans get dished up a game like Sunday afternoon's come September, there won't be any calls for change.
Football ain't broken yet.