The Sydney Swans-Hawthorn AFL clash over the weekend typified all that is great about Australian sport.
Here we had two great teams, one fighting to stay in the title race, the other fighting for their season, battling it out over four ding-dong quarters on one of the world’s greatest sporting stages – the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
It was a fierce, committed, bruising encounter with no quarter asked or given. Players kept getting knocked down, again and again, but somehow kept dragging themselves to their feet for one last Herculean effort.
At times, so intense was the battle around the ball, the match resembled rugby union more than Aussie Rules.
Both teams gave their absolute all, leaving everything they had on the field, in a contest that has now grown into one of the AFL’s great rivalries.
The Hawks even played a man down in the second half, with young defender Blake Hardwick suffering concussion. The score see-sawed during the 100 minutes with first the Hawks taking a commanding 21-point lead at half-time before the Swans battled back to lead by two points in the fourth quarter.
There was heroism as Hawks’ stars Jarryd Roughead went off with a nasty gash in the first quarter only to get stitched up and come back on to kick the decisive goal in the final term.
There was controversy as Liam Shiels claimed the Hawks first major for the second half when he soccered home a loose ball in the goal square in the final quarter.
Sydney appealed for a touched behind, and the decision went to the score review, but the replay was inconclusive and the original decision stood – although it could have easily been overturned.
Watching on from high above in the stands we had two brilliant coaches – Alastair Clarkson of Hawthorn, who in 12 seasons, has four Premiership and one Grand Final triumph, and John Longmire, with one Premiership and two Grand Final wins.
When the chips were down the champs found that extra yard, as they have done so often under the brilliant Clarkson.
There was also the bizarre, as Will Langford drew the ire of Sydney co-captain Jarrad McVeigh by giving him a kiss in the final quarter, which the Swans veteran later claimed was disrespectful.
Roughead said afterwards: “It was Langers’ way of trying to get under the skin of an opposition player,” but admitted it was a “little bit different” to probably what many other players would have done in that position.
It continues the odd tradition of Hawthorn players kissing Swans.
Hawks captain Luke Hodge gave Swans superstar Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin a kiss in the 2014 Grand Final, which was won by Hawthorn.
Former Hawk Franklin and Hodge had their own running battle during the game.
Franklin, who has been muscled out of recent matches between the teams, made his intentions clear in the opening minutes, striking Hodge with an open palm to the face as they contested a stoppage.
He could also find himself in trouble with the match review panel after giving away a free-kick minutes later when he cleaned up Hodge with a swinging forearm to the back of the head.
Truth be told Franklin may have won the physical battle but he will be disappointed overall after a number of mis-kicks and a poor return of 1.1 for the game.
Then at the end of it all we had both teams standing together shoulder to shoulder, battered and bruised, in mutual respect, as the Beyond Blue Cup was presented by former PM Julia Gillard.
There were even a few smiles.
The Hawks had ended the Swans’ seven match winning streak and in so doing, kept alive their own hopes of making the finals, a streak that stretches back to 2010.
Whatever fate unfolds for these two great teams this season, any match between them is worthy of the title, Grand Final.
We’ve been here before. For the past four years, LA baseball hopes have been sunk in the postseason. But now, Dodger nation are really beginning to believe.
The last playoff outing was one hell of a stinger. Up 2-1 in the NLCS crunch with the Chicago Cubs. Two home games out of three left. Hopes of banishing 30 years of hurt were high.
Legendary commentator Vin Scully was praying his final campaign calling the action would see him soak up the World Series. Of course, the history making Cubs had their own 108-year jinx to deal with, meaning it wasn’t to be for LA.
Scully scuttled off into retirement worrying that the class of 1988 – the last time his beloved team were crowned kings – may never be eclipsed.
Yet, fast forward to now and there’s no better team than the Boys in Blue. The Houston Astros, whose win percentage is virtually identical, may have something to say about that.
The Cubs, meanwhile, have been bang average. But baseball sages are casting their eyes over to La La Land and giving that knowing nod.
The roster is deeper, raw diamonds have been polished and confidence is sky high. It’s fair to say, Dave Roberts’ team are on a heck of a roll. Friday night’s win over the Kansas City Royals was their 24th triumph from their last 28 games, making it 37 wins in the previous 48.
Going into last weekend, the Dodgers were 37-11 at home in 2017, which includes a thumping run of 16 wins in 17. Their record at Dodger Stadium could end up around the 61-20 mark. That’s World Series-winning form right there.
“It’s a different feeling compared to last year,” seasoned Dodgers beat writer Eric Stephen told me. “They are looking like the strongest team in any of the divisions and the depth of roster helps them stand out. Last season, there was an acknowledgment that the Cubs were better, but you cannot say that now. “The fans have a good feeling about this.”
Luck, as well as supreme skills, always plays its part and in the case of Cody Bellinger that definitely rings true. The 21-year-old hitting sensation started the season in the minor leagues.
Three weeks passed before the call came to head on back to Los Angeles and help cope with some early injuries. Stop gap? Yeah right. He arrived in a team with a losing record but as they head to the All-Star break, he leaves them bossing the best stats in the National League thanks to smashing 21 homers in just 51 games.
No-one has ever hit so many in such a short space of time. No wonder Bellinger thinks it’s all a dream.
“After a game, when you’re laying in bed, you’re like ‘is this really happening?’” It certainly is. Father Clay was a champion with the Yankees back in 1999 and 2000 but, if his little boy carries on like this, another ring will surely be heading home.
And with a supremely strong pitching rotation led by Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers’ star man, fantasy is fast morphing into reality.
Undoubtedly, manager Roberts needs his superstar pitcher firing on all cylinders, though the form of back-up Alex Wood has lifted the burden brilliantly.
Like Bellinger, Wood’s success this season has come as a surprise. He’s gone from scratching around in the bullpen to recently becoming a key component of a team which is looking unstoppable.
After shutting out the Diamondbacks last week, he became just the sixth pitcher since 1933 to go into the All-Star break (there will be six Dodgers travelling across to Miami this week, their biggest contingent since 1981) having started the season with at least 10 wins and no losses before the short halt. Journeyman Chris Taylor also deserves a mention.
The infielder was no more than a utility player, yet has clicked this season and is proving indispensable. The Dodgers are bang on pace for over 100 wins – the first time they’ve done that since 1977 – and it should happen considering in their first 36 games after the break, 30 are against sides under .500.
“You look at the way the Lakers have tanked for the last five years, the Clippers have just lost Chris Paul while the NFL teams have been changing so there’s not been the kind of groundswell support that the Dodgers are getting right now,” added Stephens. “They’re the best sports team in LA.”
Yes. But will it last?
After the heartbreaking ‘defeat snatched from the jaws of victory’ in 2013, Emirates Team New Zealand brought in some new blood to boost their 2017 challenge in the America’s Cup.
Central to this were young Kiwi Olympic gold medal winners, helmsman Peter Burling and flight controller Blair Tuke, who joined the only remaining crew member from 2013, Aussie skipper Glenn Ashby.
Here, Burling and Ashby give us an insight into what it took to bring the Cup home.
How did it feel when you knew you had the Cup won?
Was there a moment during the series when you thought we’ve got Team Oracle’s measure?
Glenn Ashby: The whole way through the Challenger series and the Louis Vuitton Playoffs and then into the Match, we were up against it and it wasn’t really until we completed those first couple of days of racing against Oracle that we really felt we were in a strong position. That’s the beauty of the race that we have had. It’s been evolving the whole way through and we’ve had to adapt and continue our improvement. So it wasn’t until we got that first weekend of racing (against Oracle) under our belts that we thought we were in with a chance.
Team Oracle actually beat you in the Challenger series at the start of the regatta. Was it a surprise to then beat them so easily to win the America’s Cup?
GA: The racing we had against Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) and also Artemis really raised the bar for ourselves and we were battle hardened when we went in to the race against Oracle in the Match. I think Artemis proved that they were very tough competitors having beaten Oracle 14 or 15 or 16 races straight previously. We knew if we could sail well against Artemis that we had a little bit of a benchmark. Whoever made it through the Challenger series and the Louis Vuitton final was always going to be a very strong opponent due to the depth of competition up to that stage
The boat got a lot faster during the regatta. Why was that?
PB: It shows you what a small difference makes. The Challenger series we really struggled to get off the start line, we didn’t quite have all our equipment up and running. We put a massive effort in with the shore crew and everyone after that to tidy up the little areas we could. We definitely came into Bermuda pretty late and we had some things we hadn’t thought about, which we rectified. So we were really happy with the way we kept pushing forward, progressing. It felt like if we had to go longer we just would have kept getting faster and faster. That’s something that was always our goal to go there and win the last race and it felt like we sailed our best race in the last one.
When Oracle came back and won a race to make it 5-1, were you worried that 2013 was happening all over again?
PB: Statistically it’s pretty unlikely that they won’t win one race. We were really happy with how we started off the event, obviously we were one point behind going into it from the Challenger’s series but I felt like we were getting better all the time, improving all the time, using better equipment all the time as things came on line and as we progressed as a team. I think the way everything came in so late and we just dealt with it and learnt how to use it was a massive part of why we had such good speed at the end.
What did having Peter’s skills as helmsman bring to your campaign?
GA: Pete’s obviously come up through an Olympic background, obviously sailed a lot of high performance dinghies in his short time in the sailing arena. His level of technical ability far outweighs his years. I think he’ll go a long way with his sailing in the future and I think his inclusion to the team, as with Blair and with all the young guys in the team, was a real step forward particularly with the types of boats we’re sailing that depends on that ‘touchie-feelie’ skills that a lot of the young guys have coming off high performance dinghies.