North Melbourne are heading back to an AFL preliminary final after knocking out Sydney, whose champion Adam Goodes retired after the Kangaroos produced a gritty 26-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.
West Coast await the Kangaroos, who became the first team to finish eighth and make the last four by overcoming a sluggish, below-par Swans outfit.
Decorated champion Adam Goodes was prominent in 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 the Swans 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.
The coach said he was proud of his side’s achievement after finishing eighth but bounding into the last four.
“A great ex-coach of mine once said it’s not about the qualifying period, the 22 rounds, it’s the best team in September,” Scott said.
“We’ve been working really hard to produce our best at this time of year and we feel we’re pretty close to it.”
Goodes’ opening goal, kicked inside the opening sixty seconds brought the crowd of just 31,162 to life but 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.
Led by Josh Kennedy, the Swans were on top in the third 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.
Longmire said it appeared his side – also missing captain Kieren Jack and midfielder Luke Parker – ran out of legs.
“We were trying to still will ourselves to get there,” he said.