FOOTBALL can be all about being in the right place at the right time and so it proved for Aliir Aliir, who booted the match-winning goal for Sydney in Sunday's thrilling six-point victory over North Melbourne.
With two minutes left in the entertaining clash at Etihad Stadium and scores level, the Swans backman drifted forward as his side pressed for victory with under two minutes remaining.
After a big marking contest, the ball was knocked to a waiting Aliir at the back of the pack and he rammed home the shot to hand his side the crucial 16.8 (104) to 15.8 (98) win on the road.
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Few would have predicted him as the game-winner having spent most of the day parked in the backline against Roos opponent Majak Daw, who kicked four goals and got the honours in their battle.
It was the last goal of nine in a frantic final quarter that saw North start the term leading by 11 points, the Swans get 12 points up, North get seven points ahead and the Swans snatch the lead when it mattered.
Swans coach John Longmire said the game was important experience for his younger group.
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"It's not very often you have wins that stick in your mind. It's important for the younger players and I said to them after the game, 'You've got to be able to use experiences like that to be able to become the players you need to become'," he said.
North coach Brad Scott was proud of his side's effort across the day and said structurally there wasn't much more the team could have done to prevent the final goal.
"When the game's so tight it's the bounce of the ball either way. We were just a fraction off in the last Aliir goal, but I didn't think we did too much wrong," he said post-game.
Aliir was the last-gasp hero but the Swans had many who deserved the credit, particularly after losing captain Josh Kennedy to a back injury in the second term.
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Ben Ronke showed he is no one-game wonder by booting five goals (including the second-last of the game), while Lance Franklin was superb with 19 disposals and three majors. Midfielder Isaac Heeney (28 disposals, two goals) was excellent, while Dane Rampe (28 disposals) and Aliir (23) gave good rebound out of the back half.
The win cements the Swans' position as a top-four contender but leaves the Roos outside of the top-eight on percentage, however it wasn't through lack of effort.
Captain Jack Ziebell's move to be a near-permanent forward again proved a winner after booting five goals from 22 disposals in a brilliant showing, while Ben Brown, like Daw, kicked four goals as key targets in attack. Shaun Higgins finished with 33 disposals.
The early advantage was North's, with the Roos hopping to a 12-point lead at the first break. They were more efficient by foot and made the most of their chances in attack, with Ziebell kicking two important majors in the opening quarter.
Higgins' influence was obvious, with the North midfield jet gathering 11 disposals in the first term and registering five inside-50s.
The Swans took control in the second quarter, booting five goals to one to lead by 13 points at the half-time break. With Franklin roaming further up the ground, the Swans took different avenues to goal and found them in their smalls.
Ronke, who burst onto the scene with seven goals against Hawthorn earlier this season in his third AFL game, booted three in the first half and Will Hayward chipped in with two in the second term. Emerging tall Tom McCartin presented as a target and Franklin had an influence outside the forward 50, but their system worked.
North was more reliant on its tried and true scoring path –Brown – and the Coleman Medal leader had two on the board at the main break. But the Roos managed just two marks inside-50 for the half compared to the Swans' 11.
Variety, of the red and white description, was winning out.
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But the Roos came out after half-time energised and ready for the fight. The Roos kicked three goals in the opening seven minutes of the third term as they dominated the centre clearances with Kennedy off the field for the Swans.
Sydney took its time before meeting the challenge, steadying with two quick goals for the term – another to Ronke on the run after a handball from Franklin, and then one to Franklin himself from outside 50 for his first of the day (and 900th of his career).
But they were to be the only two for the Swans all quarter, with the Roos slamming on the next three goals to take an 11-point lead into the final quarter.
Given the seesawing nature of the contest, anything was possible in the final term. And that's what we got, right until the final moments.
North Melbourne: The Roos lost forward Kayne Turner to concussion in the opening minutes of the game. After a heavy collision in a marking contest he was ruled out of the rest of the match.
Sydney: Captain Josh Kennedy left the field in the second quarter and received treatment on his back on the interchange bench. Kennedy played no further part in the match. Impressive young midfielder Ollie Florent needed some work on his foot in the third quarter but returned to the field.
North Melbourne takes on Collingwood next Saturday at the MCG in what shapes as a pivotal battle for their top-eight chances. Sydney will be expected to have a strong win over Gold Coast when the sides meet next Saturday at the SCG.
NORTH MELBOURNE 5.1 6.2 12.5 15.8 (98)
SYDNEY 3.1 8.3 10.6 16.8 (104)
North Melbourne: Ziebell 5, Brown 4, Daw 4, Macmillan, Hrovat
Sydney: Ronke 5, Franklin 3, Hayward 2, Heeney 2, Papley, Cunningham, Fox, Aliir
North Melbourne: Ziebell, Higgins, Brown, Anderson, Goldstein, Daw
Sydney: Ronke, Franklin, Heeney, Lloyd, O'Riordan, Sinclair
North Melbourne: Jacobs (concussion symptoms and neck soreness) replaced in selected side by Davies-Uniacke, Turner (concussion)
Sydney: Grundy (managed) replaced in selection side by Marsh, Kennedy (back)
Umpires: Donlon, Rosebury, Harris
Official attendance: 25,633