North Melbourne are heading back to an AFL preliminary final after knocking out Sydney with a gritty 25-point semi-final win.
Returning to ANZ Stadium for the first time since last year’s preliminary final obliteration, the Kangaroos banished their demons with an 11.11 (77) to 7.9 (51) victory in a physical match full of momentum swings.
West Coast await the Kangaroos, who became the first team to finish eighth and make the last four by overcoming a sluggish Swans outfit.
Decorated champion Adam Goodes was prominent in what could be his last AFL match, kicking the opening and closing goals to great cheers from the Sydney faithful.
But the Brownlow Medallist missed other chances and appeared to lash out at Scott Thompson in a messy exchange, as Sydney missed the preliminary finals for the first time in four seasons.
Brad Scott’s team were harder at the contest and powered by Jack Ziebell, Shaun Higgins and Ben Cunnington.
Goodes’ opening goal kicked inside the opening sixty seconds brought the crowd of just 31,162 to life but the scoring rate – and Sydney – soon slowed.
Swans coach John Longmire used Kurt Tippett – the last man standing from Sydney’s formidable attacking trio, including Lance Franklin and Sam Reid – in the middle of the ground to help negate Roos ruck Todd Goldstein.
But the Kangaroos were winning the midfield battle and eventually had the lead to show for it.
Three straight goals in the second term, including a fine running goal from Brent Harvey, gave them control.
Goodes had two glorious chances to reduce the deficit just before half-time but tallied just a point, leaving the Swans with their worst half-time score against North Melbourne for 25 years.
Sydney emerged from the main change a transformed team, led by Josh Kennedy.
With Tippett injected inside the 50 metre arc, the forward opened his account from a towering mark, with Kennedy finding a goal and 12 touches in a super term.
This was Sydney’s quarter but like the Kangaroos before them, they failed to turn their dominance into goals.
Instead, Jarrad Waite book ended a string of Swans misses with goals to keep North on top.
While Tippett brought the Swans back to within seven points inside the opening minutes of the final term, that was as close as last year’s beaten grand finalists got to the front.
Gary Rohan was concussed, a result of a sickening head clash with Kangaroo tall Drew Petrie as the Kangaroos locked up another date on the second-last weekend of the season, Waite’s third goal putting an exclamation mark on the win.
Attention will now turn to whether Goodes continues his AFL career beyond his 372nd game, or joins Rhyce Shaw in retirement.