The two teams had played an epic Grand Final last September, which was eventually taken out by the Eagles, and Saturday’s season opener would be another epic contest, one of constant momentum shifts, one which would remain in the balance until the final siren.
The teams had barely completed their warm-ups when the Students were already three goals ahead.
Bursting out of the blocks it had been a flying start for Sydney University, but the Eagles were able to stop the charge for the remainder of the quarter, and with two late goals getting they reduced the margin back to within a kick at the first change.
It took just 20 seconds into the second term for Damien Charleston to run in to an open goal and level the scores.
There was plenty of passion in this contest, and it was demonstrated with some pushing and shoving in front of the Eagles’ bench early in the second term. Both teams were keen to attack the ball, playing on when possible to keep the ball moving quickly.
While there were occasions when it came unstuck, the running game was good to watch.
Straight kicking was the order of the day in the second term, one in which neither side scored a behind.
A run of four goals to the Eagles late in the quarter gave the home side the momentum as they made a breakaway to lead by 18 points at the long break.
A sensational set shot from the boundary by Ash Moeller, swinging the ball magnificently in the wind; a soccering effort by Ryan Fitton that would have made Tim Cahill proud; and some great roving by Mark Goodey to shark the crumbs from a marking contest and curl the ball through were among the highlights of the quarter.
The Eagles had finished the second term looking the stronger side.
Alex Lee weaved around traffic to score for the Students in the opening minute of the third term, but after a snap from a pack by Stephen Doyle and another goal to Justin Steer after being left unattended in the goal square, the Eagles were 22 points clear and looking well set.
But there were plenty more twists to come in this tale; and it was
The complexion of the game changed as the Students turned on a devastating 10-minute burst. Peter Dugmore, representing the Students for the first time after playing for the Eagles last season, dribbled a goal through that only just beat the desperately outstretched arms of the Eagle defenders.
Another University debutant, Max Carter, stood up twice to mark and goal.
By now the Eagles were struggling to match it with them, a friendly-fire collision between Matt Clinch and Jon Vlatko not helping their cause.
A 50-metre penalty gave Peter Dugmore another goal, and when Sam Crichton finished off a coast-to-coast move with a long bomb, not only were the Students seven points in front but their supporters in front of the clubhouse were increasingly vocal.
Daniel Spiteri and Stephen O’Connor replied to give the Eagles the lead at the last change, O’Connor looking the worse for wear after his goal and having to be interchanged. But O’Connor would return to action in the last quarter, and to be a hard worker in the hit-outs and around the ground in a best-on-ground performance.
It was a three-point lead to the Eagles at three-quarter time, but the Students took the initiative early in the last quarter with the first three goals of the quarter.
The Eagles got one goal back, and with a kick in it, the pressure was on. The tackling became tighter and players began to man up more.
But two University behinds stretched the margin to eight points, and the clock was ticking down.
At 24 minutes, the Eagles were thrown a lifeline when Jamie Vlatko was unable to hold a mark, but after a pack formed around the ball it was fed out to O’Connor who snapped truly.
The Eagles got the centre break and quickly moved the ball forward, to a one-out marking contest at the edge of the square. A one-out contest, but Martin Rice outmarked Vlatko.
The siren sounded and the Students had taken a thrilling two-point victory.
Peter Dugmore scored five goals for the Students and Max Carter four, while Mitchell Thompson, Sam Crichton and Tim Barton were among their best.
The Eagles were well served by Trent Baker, Stephen O’Connor and Jackson Dwyer. It had been an exciting contest, of a great standard, and a worthy opening for the new season.