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.