Are The Sydney Swans Coming Or Going?

Heading into the 2022 season, it’s worth asking the simple question – are the Swans entering their window?

The concept itself is quite interesting as Sydney were perennial finalists, missing on just one occasion between 2003 and 2018.

In 2019 they finished 15th and in 2020, 16th represented their worst finish since the 1994 season.

At that point in time it looked as though the Swans were old and slow, with their deficiencies only made clearer by the effects of COVID on the AFL season as a whole.

Which is what made their sudden re-emergence in 2021 even more stunning, catapulting themselves into 6th position and just percentage outside of a top-four finish.

Moreover, 2021 seemingly ushered in a new era of what the Swans are all about, and why the question of whether this historically older group has genuinely regenerated into the kind of team that’s going to be an entertaining finals contender over the coming years.

In terms of the legitimacy of this team, the Swans look like they’re the real deal.

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Last season, they lost just three games by more than 10 points. What’s remarkable about this is the opposition – Gold Coast (40-point defeat), Hawthorn (38) and St Kilda (29).

Against all the contenders, the most difficult opposition, the Swans were more than just a competitive fixture. In fact, they were contenders fighting for the same title.

A group that has always relied on the same few stars to get them over the line was able to shift the emphasis points and responsibility into a more shared approach which worked remarkably well.

That’s a big tick on the checklist of a team taking strides forward. Assessing whether ageing stars are the cherry on top, or the entire sundae, is a good indication of the legitimacy of a playing group.

Lance Franklin at nearly 35 years of age kicked 51 goals in 18 games, yet the Swans were perfectly capable of being damaging offensively whether he was in the team or not.

Josh P Kennedy has been the barometer in the midfield for such a long time, dominating clearances, tackles and possessions as a whole. 

As Callum Mills took more midfield time as well as increased opportunities to Oliver Florent, Chad Warner and James Rowbottom, Kennedy took a slight step back and was a far more complementary piece rather than the focal point.

2021 marked the first time in 8 non-COVID affected seasons Kennedy averaged less than 25.39 disposals a game and the first time in 9 seasons where averaged less than 6.09 clearances.

In terms of other ageing players, there are four others aged above 30 as of time of writing; Tom Hickey, Sam Reid, Dane Rampe and Callum Sinclair.

Hickey is coming off a career-best season but quite intelligently, the Swans refuse to put all their eggs in his basket, having recruited the impressive Peter Ladhams to join Joel Amartey as the future of the ruck division.

Even Dane Rampe, the perennially underrated yet legendary figure of the modern Swans, pivoted to manning smaller forwards while Tom McCartin took massive steps often taking the opposition’s key targets.

And this is what makes Sydney such an exciting team and one that’s clearly entering their long-term window.

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Whether it be internal or through recruitment, this list rejuvenation has transpired extremely quickly and without a hitch in the system.

The drafting has been superb, the player recruitment has been excellent and the management of key, ageing personnel has been entirely beneficial to the future of the playing group.

Luke Parker enters this season as the leader of the midfielders at the age of 29 and continues to be the standard-setter with his physical, well-rounded style of footy. Though coach John Longmire has managed to continue to blood young players around him to become a part of their best team going forward.

And how about the style of play?

Once, this team was dour, though in 202 the Swans were anything but, averaging 35.2 more disposals, 18 more marks, 4.6 more tackles, 5.8 more inside 50s, 579.8 more metres gained and even 2.7% higher disposal efficiency than their opposition.

Offensively, they were direct and entertaining. Defensively, they were hungry and aggressive.

Young players stood up in every part of the ground and the excitement surrounding the youth was infectious to both other players and the style of play.

Tom Papley finished with career-highs in goals (43) and goal assists (22), Will Hayward kicked 28 majors and was 6th in the league for tackles inside 50. The pressure of Sam Wicks in attack was overwhelming at times and Errol Gulden was incredible, finishing top 15 in the entire league for goal assists as a first-year player, while averaged 15.7 disposals, 4.6 marks, 3.9 inside 50s and kicking 14 goals himself.

That energy in attack was simply superb and the age range of the players involved and the versatility of the players to go through that high half-forward role is massive to the future chances of this group.

McCartin’s development as a key defender aged 21 throughout the season goes under-appreciated across the competition, as did Nick Blakey’s emergence across half-back as a brilliant ball user.

One would expect Blakey, Braeden Campbell and Dylan Stephens to fill in the considerable gap left by Jordan Dawson’s departure.

Perhaps that’s the thing that best encapsulate the Swans, as it has in the past and defines them in the now.

No matter how good a performer a player may be, this group is able to cover its own holes and fix its own messes on the run.

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The depth in each position is now far stronger than it was even two years ago, and most of the players haven’t touched their prime as yet.

Add to it an incredible haul at the 2021 NAB AFL Draft, with Angus Sheldrick a chance to play immediately and the duo of Matthew Roberts and Lachlan Rankin being typical Sydney steals, to go with Logan McDonald’s 7 games, Braeden Campbell’s 8 games and Will Gould’s impending debut, and this might be the most exciting list in the competition.

Of course, the Swans still have those few ageing stars on their list that will continue to be a part of the best 22.

But they aren’t what defines this Sydney team anymore, and it’s time the footballing public caught up to that fact.

They’re the cherry on top of a legitimate Swans team that will be making waves for years to come.

So if you’re still pondering the proposal at the start of this piece, the answer is as simple as the question itself – yes, the Swans are indeed coming. 

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Dem Panopoulos

Dem is a lover of sport with a keen eye for analytics. A passion for statistics that defies logic given his MyCricket numbers, you can see and hear him share his thoughts and views on Twitter @dempanopoulos

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