Neil Diamond's 'Sweet Caroline' echoed around the Sydney Cricket Ground as the fans teemed in. You know you're at a Sydney Swans game when men in red and white scarves unashamedly butcher a Diamond classic in front of embarrassed girlfriends and the rest of us. Which is exactly what happened on our way in.
Entering from the western end, you take the gravelly footpath around the perimeter of the stadium feeding on the white-light, electricity and gut-turning nighttime anticipation. It's over 100 years old, the SCG, and the weight of history comes down on you via the old Member's Pavilion and the Don Bradman stand. Bradman's father, George, was actually one of the carpenters who helped build the formwork for a cycling track that lined the oval in 1896.
We take our seat behind a father and his five year old son. The boy clutches a ream of player cards from an inner-city newsagent, with the Lance 'Buddy' Franklin's card resting happily on top. Every time Buddy lays his hands on the ball, the boy stands up and screams his little lungs out, much to the joy of his old boy.
It was to be a big night for the Noongar man. He was huge against the Crows, recovering from a goalless outing against Greater Western Sydney (GWS) the week prior to kick four goals. Small forward Tom Papley also kicked four, but it was second-year sensation Isaac Heeney that stole the limelight for the Swans. The 20-year-old Heeney, who arguably has the best hair in the AFL, finished with 32 disposals and nine marks to be a force in both attack and defence.
After being taught a lesson in intensity by GWS last week, the Sydney Swans responded in front of 38,136 fans at the SCG, belting Adelaide by 36 points. The Swans kicked away in the first quarter, booting seven goals to Adelaide's three. On several occasions, the Crows courageously fought their way into the Swans' periphery, but the home side eventually cruised to an 18.10 (118) to 12.10 (82) win.
It was a war of attrition, with players dropping like dominoes. Adelaide's progress was stunted with defenders Daniel Talia (groin) and Jake Lever (ankle) going down limp. Sydney's co-captain Jarrad McVeigh clambered around with a sore calf, while Gary Rohan was stretchered off at the end of the second term after suffering a painful knee injury.
Rohan's injury was particularly numbing. As he fell awkwardly in a contest, the crowd fell into a hush. Rohan laid on the turf as trainers and referees bickered around him, trying to assess his predicament. Many in the crowd thought it was a repeat of Rohan's shocking injury in 2012, when he suffered a compound break in his leg. An emergency buggy came towards Rohan across the wet grass and took the 25-year-old into the sheds, as the crowd applauded.
The Swans only have four days to regroup before they tackle Geelong at the MCG in Friday night's preliminary final. With so many injury concerns, the quick turnaround won't help their cause.
The night before, the Hawthorn Hawks were knocked out of the finals by a resurgent Western Bulldogs outfit. The Bulldogs ended Hawthorn's quest for four straight AFL premierships with an upset 23-point win. The Dogs tore the Hawks apart in the second half at the MCG, kicking 10 goals to five and eventually winning 16.11 (107) to 12.12 (84). Hawthorn, one of the great teams of the 21st century, looked battle-worn as they were booted from the finals in straight sets for the first time since 1977 in front of a massive crowd of 87,823 - the biggest crowd to ever witness a Bulldogs victory.
The Bulldogs moved into a grand-final qualifier against Greater Western Sydney at the Sydney Showgrounds on Saturday, which will settle the battle between the AFL's most exciting young sides. A win for GWS and the Swans in the preliminary finals, meanwhile, would also set-up and groundbreaking first ever all-Sydney AFL grand final. What a mindblower that would be. AFL has come a long way in this city since the mid-nineties when Tony 'Plugger' Lockett first pulled on the Red and White. What a servant he was.
Three rows behind us, a group of twenty-somethings clutch their beers and lambast some guy in a Hawthorn jumper for "showing up to the wrong game." The niggle wasn't great but it was necessary. I've always wondered why people show up in their team's colours when they're not playing. Seems a little proud to me. If you're Hawks fan - a team that's gluttonously devoured premierships like George Christensen at a Sizzler Desert Bar - you deserve everything you get:
"Your dad's your mum!"
"Your mum's your mum"
"Your dog's your cat!"
That's how it went for most of the game. The Hawks fan answered with a sarcastic smile and mouthed the words: "Piss off." He started the first quarter looking 40 but looked 60 by the end of the full 80; his face tightening into a permanent grimace, his arms folded, his remaining tuft of hair frizzled from constantly grabbing at it and turning around. When the game ended, the twenty-somethings ran for the closest entrance, giggling with glee after a satisfying four-quarter performance for the Swans.