SYDNEY 7.3 11.5 17.7 20.10 (130) WESTERN BULLDOGS 1.2 5.5 7.10 9.13 (67)
Goals: Sydney: L Franklin 6 K Tippett 4 A Goodes 2 J Lloyd 2 N Malceski 2 D Hannebery D Towers L Jetta L Parker. Western Bulldogs: J Stringer 2 A Cooney J Johannissen M Bontempelli M Boyd N Hrovat R Griffen T Liberatore.
BEST Sydney: Parker, Franklin, Tippett, McVeigh, Pyke, Malceski, Hannebery, Rampe, Goodes, Lloyd Western Bulldogs: Liberatore, Hrovat, Murphy, Boyd, Macrae, Dahlhaus, Stringer.
Umpires: Ben Ryan, Scott Jeffery, Jason Armstrong.
Official Crowd: 22,430 at Etihad Stadium.
The Western Bulldogs were six goals down, but doing their best to get back into a game that already looked lost. Jake Stringer kicked a goal from just inside the 50-metre line. Nathan Hrovat barely missed a kick. Tom Liberatore threaded handpasses through space that only he could see, Marcus Bontempelli made sure the spots he got into were the right spots, and Adam Cooney did too.
The Bulldogs kicked one goal. Then two. Then three. They fought for the ball, they held onto it longer and they stopped giving it back to the Swans as easily as they had been. Fifteen minutes into the second quarter, they had kicked four of the game's last six goals, allowed the Swans to score just one and cut the margin back to 23 points. Problem was, they were still playing Sydney.
From there, Lance Franklin kicked his third goal. Then Kurt Tippett got in front of Mark Austin, had his arms chopped, and kicked his third. A free kick to Franklin, late in the quarter, was iffy. But it happened,it happened 20 metres from goal, he was never going to miss from there and his fourth meant the Swans led by just one point less at half-time than they had at the end of the first quarter.
Three more goals, kicked as the second half was just getting started, made it feel like the second quarter had never actually happened. They also emphasised something we already knew about this Sydney side: it's incredibly hard to play against when it's playing well, and it's pretty hard to worry or unsettle even when not doing things as perfectly as it would like. The Swans were able to continue applying pressure at the same time that they were busy absorbing - or maybe managing - the pressure placed on them.
When Sydney was in charge, Mike Pyke was winning the ruck contests, Luke Parker, Jarrad McVeigh, Dan Hannebery, Kieren Jack and others were getting to the ball and kicking it towards Tippett and Franklin. Shane Biggs wasn't letting Ryan Griffen get away, and Jake Lloyd, Harry Cunningham and Tom Mitchell were playing like they never, ever want to hand their spots back.
When the Bulldogs had the ball they found themselves stuck in the Swans' half, often handing it back before they could even start to think about moving it back towards their end, let alone do it. Sydney never let them play without some sort of pressure, and that first quarter remained the crucial one.
If you looked only at the numbers, there wasn't too much in it. Seventeen minutes in, the Bulldogs had had plenty of the ball, even if less-than-perfect positions. They trailed by just a few kicks, handballs, contested possessions, by just one clearance and by only two inside-50s. The score, though, was five goals to none.
It helped the Swans that they had Tippett and Franklin to kick to. It didn't help the Dogs that Stewart Crameri didn't get a kick in the first half, that Ayce Cordy had just two playing either forward or in the ruck, and that Tom Campbell was subbed off early with an eye injury. As the Swans took over the inside-50 count (it was 5-11 just three minutes later) that problem became a much bigger one.
Everything that looked like it would happen, through the first quarter, did happen. The Swans won, easily. They were hard, strong and relentless, but for that short and (what turned out to be) meaningless lapse. Tippett and Franklin scored 10 goals between them. Franklin's six goals took him to an unassailable lead in the race for the Coleman Medal. Their anticipation of teammates up the field still seems to be getting better by the week, and was so good on Sunday their opponents kept getting caught a few steps behind them and giving away free kicks.
Parker starred, again. McVeigh, Hannebery, Jack and others gave him more than enough help. Malceski cleared the ball from defence with the sort of of space and precision the more frazzled Dogs (but for Bob Murphy) were never able to replicate for more than a moment here or there. Adam Goodes looked light on his feet, and the kids kept going. The top-of-the-ladder team looked like a top-of-the-ladder team should, and like it wants to keep getting even better. The other got another reminder of how much work it still has to do.