Illawarra Lions and Sydney Swans reserves shine in top AFL day

Ryan O'Keefe attacks against Ainslie at North Dalton Park on Sunday. Picture: ROBERT PEET

Ryan O'Keefe attacks against Ainslie at North Dalton Park on Sunday. Picture: ROBERT PEET

It was a red - and white - letter day for Australian football in the region.

The Sydney Swans reserves prevailed after the Illawarra Lions won a thrilling curtain-raiser at North Dalton Park on Sunday.

In the first North East AFL competition game held in Wollongong, the feature of a four-game showcase of AFL in the region, the Swans reserves were three points down at three-quarter time but delivered when it mattered.

They steadied enough in the final term to beat Canberra powerhouse Ainslie 10.10 (70) to 9.10 (64).

With the first bounce at 9.30am for the Illawarra Lions, they made the most of the chance to play before AFL premiership star Ryan O'Keefe took to the field, winning 7.6 (48) to 5.11 (41).

Completing a successful day out for Wollongong teams, the Saints women's team thrashed Manly 7.4 (46) to 1.0 (6), with NSW representative Nicola Kennedy earning best on ground, and ruck combination Laura Russell and Ellen Crewdson dominant in the victory.

After leading by two points at half-time, the Lions kicked away in the third quarter before withstanding a late barrage from UTS to secure the win.

Coach David Nolen said the result proved his side could contend with the competition's top teams in the race for a finals spot.

"To get back into finals contention we need to beat the big teams. So to knock No 3 on the ladder off was a really good effort by the fellas," he said.

"We will need to keep doing that over the next couple of weeks to make sure we can keep moving up the ladder.

"Hopefully the boys now realise we have the potential to beat a good team and they can beat anyone if we play good footy. It was our best team game today.

"They got stuck in there for the whole game long and I couldn't be any prouder of the boys."

Ken Ewen-Chappell, who filled in after he played in the local comp on Saturday, kicked two clutch goals to relieve the late pressure as the clock wound down in the fourth quarter.

Earlier, Chris Cook helped set up the Lions' advantage with three super goals in testing conditions.

"The conditions made it very difficult but instead of getting flustered and trying to boot the ball long and get it up the ground, our guys kept composed and just kept grinding away at it," Nolen said.

"Eventually that got us in front of the Bats. They kept coming back at us but in the last quarter we kicked a couple of vital goals which got us over the line."

The game kicked off an action-packed day of footy at North Dalton Park, in which the Sydney Swans Reserves met Ainslie.

"Seeing the number of people down here is really positive for footy," he said.

"I think it gives me confidence that AFL in the area does have a strong following, and hopefully days like this can help it to get better and better."


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