SYDNEY had a five-goal hero. It just wasn't Lance Franklin.
With 'Buddy' mania at fever pitch ahead of Saturday night's season-opener against Greater Western Sydney as the champion forward entered the game five goals short of his 1000th, few would have predicted a five-goal performance from any other Swan.
But Luke Parker, Sydney’s co-captain and star midfielder, went on a goalkicking blitz in the second half of the Accor Stadium derby to spearhead his side to a 20-point comeback win.
If the Swans generally shake down the thunder from the sky, then Parker simply stole it off Franklin, who was well held by Giants defender Phil Davis and kicked one goal in a quiet night to edge within four majors of the magical milestone. Attention now turns to next Friday night's clash with Geelong at the SCG.
Parker picked up where he left off after his best and fairest 2021 season, with his goals coming in the second half as the Swans stared down some battles in attack. At one stage, he had kicked five of the Swans' most recent goals before they ran away with the 17.10 (112) to 13.14 (92) victory. He claimed his fourth Brett Kirk Medal as the best player in the derby.
In an entertaining, high-scoring clash, the New South Wales rivalry produced another exciting contest stacked of highlights and brilliance. The first-half goal fest saw the Swans and Giants one-up each other with end-to-end run, but Sydney had the stamina to keep it up by kicking eight goals to three after half-time.
Isaac Heeney kicked three goals as did Ollie Florent, who was superb throughout including two terrific goals – one straight out of the centre bounce and another after spinning out of a tackle and breaking clear.
Sydney kicked three of the first four goals of the game, but the Giants' response was swift. As Tom Green (31 disposals, two goals) controlled the midfield with his bullocking and contested strength, Harrison Himmelberg and Daniel Lloyd feasted in attack, both booting two goals for the term.
Franklin didn't register a disposal in the opening quarter – his tackle on Xavier O'Halloran near the goal square was close to being awarded holding the ball – but it was the Giants' new-look forward set up that was having the bigger say to set up a 15-point lead at the first break.
The superstar Swan got involved in the second term, kicking his first goal for the day and setting up another, as his side kicked six goals for the quarter. Sydney started to run the ball well out of defence and got into its groove, but the Giants' efficiency when they went forward – they kicked five goals from 10 inside-50 entries – kept them at a nine-point advantage at half-time.
GIANTS v SWANS Full match coverage and stats
The clubs continued to trade goals – and good ones, too. Stephen Coniglio's quick feet saw him break open and slot an on-the-run special, while new teammate Jarrod Brander's off-the-ground soccer from long range hit the sweet spot.
But the Swans were making their own highlight reel, with Braeden Campbell's left-foot bomb and Parker's snap matching their efforts.
Parker's third for the term – and fourth for the game – saw the Swans take a six-point lead into the final quarter with momentum on their side. They didn't lose it from there.
Buddy watch to go on for at least another week
All eyes were on Franklin's every move from the first bounce. But it was a quiet start for the champion forward who didn't get a touch in the first term. He came into the game more in the second quarter with three disposals, including his first goal of the game and he had another shot at goal that didn't make the distance. In the third quarter he collected three more disposals, including a mark just outside his kicking range, leading him to pop up a pass closer to the Swans' goal line. His last-quarter shot also faded and he finished with eight disposals. Davis has a strong record against Franklin and added to that in their most anticipated match-up, with his focus and concentration at a high level in an excellent defensive performance.
Somewhat overshadowed by Franklin's potential milestone this week was the news of Paddy McCartin's return to the top level for his first AFL game in four years. Presented his jumper before the game by his youngest brother Tom, the McCartin pair lined up alongside each other in defence and were important for the Swans. Paddy took a strong intercept mark in the first quarter to get settled in and was collected in a marking contest in the second term but shrugged off the impact. After a terrible run of concussion issues that ultimately ended his career at St Kilda, McCartin is already one of the best stories of 2022. However, judging by round one we might be talking about his football more than his back story soon.
Giants missing Toby
When the Swans needed a hero, Parker stepped up. When the Giants really needed that player in the second half, they might have thought about not having Toby Greene out there as he remains suspended for umpire contact in last year’s elimination final. Greene is fit, training hard and will be ready to go in round six, but the Giants will certainly be even more threatening when their talisman and Jesse Hogan, who missed after suffering some soreness in recent weeks, are back.
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY 5.3 10.7 12.10 13.14 (92)
SYDNEY 3.0 9.4 13.9 17.10 (112)
Greater Western Sydney: Himmelberg 3, Green 2, Hill 2, Lloyd 2, Brander, Coniglio, Taranto, Ward
Sydney: Parker 5, Florent 3, Heeney 3, McLean 2, Campbell, Franklin, Gulden, Hayward
Greater Western Sydney: Green, Davis, Taranto, Ward, Coniglio
Sydney: Parker, Florent, Heeney, Mills, Blakey
Greater Western Sydney: Nil
Sydney: McInerney (leg)
Greater Western Sydney: Tanner Bruhn (unused)
Sydney: Colin O'Riordan (unused)
Crowd: 25,572 at Accor Stadium