NORTH Melbourne has won through to its second preliminary final in a row and sent the Sydney Swans crashing out of the finals in straight sets with a gritty 26-point win at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
The Kangaroos, led brilliantly by midfield stars Ben Cunnington, Shaun Higgins and Nick Dal Santo, had too much run for the injury-hit home side, winning 11.11 (77) to 7.9 (51) to set up a clash with West Coast in Perth next week.
It’s the first time a team has qualified for the preliminary final from eighth place on the ladder.
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Forwards Jarrad Waite and Drew Petrie shared 18 marks and four goals for the winners, while ruckman Todd Goldstein went past 1000 hit-outs for the season and had the better of Mike Pyke and Kurt Tippett to give his side first use of the ball.
It’s the first time a player has passed 1000 hit-outs in AFL/VFL history.
Jack Ziebell, Andrew Swallow and Michael Firrito gave the Kangaroos plenty of grunt, with the unheralded Sam Gibson also very good.
Kangaroos coach Brad Scott was understandably ecstatic with his side's performance.
"I'm really proud. A great ex-coach of mine once said it's not about the qualifying period of 22 rounds, it’s about the best team in September," he said.
"We've been working really hard on producing our best at this time of year and we feel we're pretty close to it.
"We're going there (to Perth) with a method that we think stacks up in the heat of September and we're really looking forward to the challenge."
The Swans fought bravely but made costly decision-making errors at crucial times and had far too many passengers.
Tippett finished with 10 marks and two goals, while dual Brownlow medallist Adam Goodes showed his class with 18 possessions, 10 marks and two goals in his final game.
After a quiet start Josh Kennedy battled hard for the Swans and finished with 28 touches, while defender Dane Rampe had a game-high 31.
Swans coach John Longmire said that in the end his side's injury toll was too much for them to counter.
"We were trying to still will ourselves to get there, we thought that we came out really well after half-time but we only kicked a couple of goals and they kicked a couple of easy ones," Longmire said post-match.
"One in particular late took the momentum out of us a little bit and it was too hard to get going again."
The Swans enjoyed an ideal start through Goodes who slotted the opener after a 50m penalty, but from there the Kangaroos midfield edged their way on top.
With Goldstein dominating, Cunnington, Ziebell and Dal Santo picked up possessions at will and pumped the ball into their tall forwards, but two bad misses from Drew Petrie cost the visitors badly.
Ben McGlynn stood with Brent Harvey from the first bounce, with the pair involved in several off-the-ball scuffles before quarter-time.
In turn, North tagger Ben Jacobs put the clamps on Dan Hannebery and kept the League's leading possession winner to four touches in the opening quarter.
A touch of class from Swans youngster Isaac Heeney gave the home side a four-point advantage just after quarter-time but North Melbourne again turned the momentum its way for the rest of the half.
Goals to Sam Gibson, Petrie and Harvey gave the Roos a 15-point lead at the main break, but given the second term was played predominantly in the Roos' forward half, it should have been more.
A cracking set shot from the boundary line had Tippett on the board just after half-time, and when Kennedy bagged one from 50m after being set up by a blistering run from defence by Gary Rohan, the Swans were within three points.
Kennedy lifted immensely and had 10 touches for the quarter, but some poor decision-making and costly misses by defender Nick Smith and Rampe hurt, especially when Jarrad Waite booted the last two goals of the third quarter to give the Kangaroos a 13-point advantage at the final change.
Unsighted in the first three quarters, Lewis Jetta was subbed out before three-quarter time with just seven possessions.
Tippett's second goal kicked off the final term but two goals in a minute to the Roos killed off any hope of a home-town comeback.
Firstly, Kangaroo Sam Gibson missed a set shot to let the Swans off but an undisciplined free kick off the ball gave him a second chance before the ball had been kicked in, and when substitute Lindsay Thomas snapped a goal off hands with his first touch, the Roos were 20 points clear.
North kicked four in a row to take the margin out to a game-high 31 points, before fittingly, Goodes kicked his second in time-on for the last goal of the match, and his glittering career.
Swans premiership defender Rhyce Shaw was carried from the ground after announcing his retirement before the finals series.
SYDNEY SWANS 2.1 3.3 5.7 7.9 (51)
NORTH MELBOURNE 2.3 5.6 7.8 11.11 (77)
Sydney Swans: Tippett 2, Goodes 2, Kennedy, Heeney, Hannebery
North Melbourne: Waite 3, Gibson 2, Atley, Goldstein, Harvey, Petrie, Thomas, McDonald
Sydney Swans: Kennedy, Tippett, Rampe, Goodes, Smith, Richards
North Melbourne: Cunnington, Higgins, Ziebell, Jacobs, Gibson, Waite, Macmillan
Sydney Swans: Gary Rohan (face)
North Melbourne: Robbie Tarrant (groin) replaced in selected side by Luke McDonald
Sydney Swans: Zak Jones replaced Lewis Jetta in the third quarter
North Melbourne: Lindsay Thomas replaced Kayne Turner in the fourth quarter
Umpires: Margetts, Dalgleish, Stevic
Crowd: 31,162 at ANZ Stadium