Coach John Longmire admits Sydney were lucky to break a mentally-tough Essendon and win their AFL season opener by 12 points on the back of a dramatic last-quarter fightback.
Down 41 points late in the third term, the Swans kicked eight unanswered goals to beat a spent Bombers outfit 10.12 (72) to 9.6 (60) on Saturday in driving rain at ANZ Stadium.
Superstar forward Lance Franklin broke the deadlock with just minutes to spare, but it was debutant Isaac Heeney who sealed the victory with a maiden goal in front of a rapturous 23,774 fans.
It ended a good news week for the Bombers after 34 current and former players had been cleared by the league’s anti-doping tribunal of taking banned substances.
Coach James Hird didn’t know if his men could last the distance, given 13 of them hadn’t played a single pre-season match while serving provisional suspensions.
In the end, more than two hours of footy and a fitter Swans outfit proved too much.
“Essendon are a pretty mentally-tough playing group, given what they’ve gone through over the last couple of years,” said Longmire, after his 100th game at the helm.
“To come out and to really perform like that, particularly in the first term … they’re a resilient group, well led by Jobe Watson.
“We knew that going in and, fortunately, our blokes found a way – and that’s important.”
The Bombers appeared to have the Swans in a headlock early on, slotting four goals to none in the first term for a 26-point lead.
They dominated across the field, allowing Sydney inside their 50 just five times – their fewest entries in a quarter since mid-2013.
The one-way traffic continued into the second term, with the Swans unable to boot their first major until 18 minutes in through Craig Bird.
But Franklin’s goal six minutes into the final term sparked the comeback, marking his side’s fifth win in a row over Essendon.
Despite the Bombers’ final quarter fadeout, Hird said he was very proud of what his side had achieved.
“I couldn’t deny the effort was outstanding,” he said.
“Don’t underestimate how emotional the week has been for a lot of them.
“Watch this space – I think we’re a very good football team. That’s the second-best team in the competition; we were outstanding in the contest for three quarters and just couldn’t get across the line.”
The loss of midfielder David Myers with a dislocated shoulder just three minutes into the match proved the only low point in an otherwise impressive start to 2015 for the Bombers.
Hird said Myers would have scans on the shoulder but the need for a reconstruction was unlikely.
The Swans also lost workhorse Luke Parker after a sickening collision with Franklin early in the final quarter, but Longmire didn’t believe he’d suffered any serious injury.
Former Western Bulldog Adam Cooney was a standout for the Bombers, kicking three goals on debut.