2017 in review part 1: pre-season performance and expectations

This is the first article in a series of five, where I'll be analysing the Sydney Swans' season, from pre-season through to finals, including expectations and performances, what went right and what went wrong, and finally the players.

In this article I will be analysing the clubs' pre-season performance, what they did well and what could have been better.

For a lot of supporters 2016 was another almost-year. Having dominated the home and away season with seventeen wins - ever so close to nineteen, expectations for the following season were very high.

Understandably so given the Swans' their third grand final appearance in five years, competing all the way through despite interference from the umpires. A rumoured "fracas" in the change rooms after the match aside, the Swans looked like a settled, well oiled machine.

With the grand final firmly in the rear-view mirror, the Swans PR machine was hard at work, first of all dealing with Tom Mitchell, Dean Towers and Xavier Richards, all out of contract. Tom Mitchell was courting plenty of attention from Hawthorn, with his manager doing all that was required to "convince" the Swans of his attentions to remain with the Swans. Of course it was all nonsense as everyone knew at the time.

Josh Kennedy's superb season just got that little bit better, the winner of the inaugural AFLCA Finals MVP award, awarded to the player adjudged the overall best player of the finals. The more games you play the better, and Kennedy starred in most of the Swans' games.

AFLCA CEO Mark Brayshaw said that Kennedy's consistency across the finals meant that he was the deserving winner.

"Josh's performance in the Grand Final was wonderful, but he's the inaugural winner of our Gary Ayres Award because he polled votes in three of the Swans' four finals," Brayshaw said.

"He's had a mighty September of football and is a deserved winner."

https://twitter.com/AFLPlayers/status/782884146565771264

Just two days later Josh Kennedy won his third Bob Skilton medal, narrowly edging out fellow midfielder Dan Hannebery by 9 votes, with his grand final performance. Kennedy was delighted to have won another medal, and said that the medal could have gone to any number of players.

"I certainly thought it could have gone to a number of guys... I'm in awe of the way they go about it, I take a lot away from them the way they go about it and train.

"There's no doubt if we play out best footy we're up there with the best."

The Swans made their list changes, with Richards, McGlynn and Derickx leaving the club as retiring players, while Galloway and Richards were delisted, and Mitchell and Nankervis were traded out.

The squad returned for pre-season training in December with midfielder Dan Hannebery avoiding knee surgery, along with defender Aliir Aliir. Luke Parker wasn't so lucky, undergoing arthroscopic surgery for a PCL tear he suffered in the preliminary final win.

“Rest and recovery is the best typically (to heal a PCL injury) and Luke has been doing that since the Grand Final. He was starting to ramp up his training but the injury has regressed slightly,” Harley said.

Kieren Jack and Jarrad McVeigh made the surprise announcement that they were standing down as captains of the club. The Swans announced Josh Kennedy as the new captain, promoting Luke Parker, Dane Rampe and Dan Hannebery to vice-captains.

The rest of the pre-season went along well, with decent performances against North Melbourne, Greater Western Sydney and St Kilda. Unfortunately, injuries and fitness issues had already started besieging the club, with Heeney already ruled out for the first month of football with glandular fever.

Former captains Kieren Jack and Jarrad McVeigh were battling their own injuries, McVeigh his nasty calf and Jack a hip injury. Going into the season the Swans were far from their best, let alone fit enough to compete.

Retirements

Ben McGlynn announced his retirement after the grand final, after eight superb seasons with the club.

"I'd like to thank the Sydney Swans for the opportunity to pursue my dream, and the Hawthorn Football Club for the start of my career," McGlynn said on Thursday.

"But there's no doubt my family has been my biggest inspiration along the journey, and I wouldn't have been able to do what I've done without their support.

"The past seven years here at the Swans has been a highlight of my life, and there so many memories I will cherish forever.

The Swans' players paid a superb tribute to the player at the best and fairest, a fitting way to send Ben off.

Ted Richards announced his retirement before the finals. He did everything he could to make it back into the team for the finals series, but couldn't displace his brother in the side. He played his final game for the club in their losing NEAFL grand final.

“Ted has been incredible — he’s really the epitome of a balanced footballer,” Longmire said.

“He has always trained really hard and worked really hard, but he also loves having a laugh and is a great family man.”

Ever popular ruckman Tom Derickx joined the growing retirement list. He joined the Swans in 2013 as a free agent and played a handful of games for the senior team, before becoming a mainstay and leader of the NEAFL team. He'll be forever remembered for his A-List interviews, fashion and music production.

The trade period

While the Swans themselves didn't act aggressively during the free agency or trade windows, Hawthorn did.

Tom Mitchell got his wish and moved to Hawthorn, joining Ty Vickery (haha) who the Hawks picked up in the free agency window. The Swans were well compensated in the trade, receiving a first round selection for Mitchell.

Xavier Richards and Dean Towers decided to dip their toes in the market and see what offers would be forthcoming. Xavier Richards played in the grand final and became a decent lead-up forward while Towers was still a mature aged depth player.

Richards requested a trade back to Melbourne under bizarre circumstances, and in the end, was delisted when no club took him on. Back-up ruckman Toby Nankervis also requested to be traded and landed in the hands of Richmond.

Eventually, the club resigned other out-of-contract players Alex Johnson, Harry Marsh, Jordan Foote, Lewis Melican, Sam Murray and Dean Towers.

Kyle Galloway, Abe Davis, Jack Hiscox and Xavier Richards were all cut before the final list lodgement, with Richards the first casualty after the trade period.

Overall the Swans did well to improve their draft position, swapping picks with Port Adelaide, receiving first round picks 9 and 19.

The drafts

The Swans were expected to pick Oliver Florent with their first pick at 9 in the draft, and they didn't disappoint. A good runner with good foot skills, he performed well in the draft combines, impressing as a forward and outside player.

Their second pick landed highly rated 185cm-forward Will Hayward at pick 21. The Swans were delighted with the pick, and given the way he performed in 2017, was a good one.

The Swans took promising full back Jack Maibaum with pick 45, a highly rated defensive full back - pure "stopper" - in the same mould as Heath Grundy.

They used their final selection in the NAB AFL Draft on promising 21-year-old ruck-forward Darcy Cameron, overlooked in several drafts.

The Swans elevated Tom Papley, Nic Newman, Harry Marsh and Jordan Foote from the rookie list for season 2017.

Once again the Swans attacked the rookie draft with vigour, having snared so many important players from the second chance draft before. They picked up five new rookies in Ben Ronke, Robbie Fox, Shaun Edwards, Sam Fisher and Toby Pink.

Pre-season expectations

Off the back of their third grand final appearance in five years, the Swans were expected to challenge for another premiership. Greater Western Sydney, Adelaide and Geelong were the early favourites, while Sydney was tipped to make the eight.

Expectations started to temper somewhat when players went under the knife, started their pre-seasons late and dished up indifferent performances in the JLT. Injuries to first team players started to mount before the season started, and after what looked like a very good start to the year the Swans were starting to unravel.

Gary Rohan was a notable absentee, placed on the clubs' long term injury list alongside Johnson, struggling to train throughout the pre-season with back related issues.

Aliir was another player missing significant patches through the pre-season, dealing with a medial injury suffered against Geelong and turf toe. Unfit former captain Kieren Jack was rushed back into team selection despite hardly training before the season started.

Dan Hannebery, Luke Parker and Josh Kennedy looked far from fit, let alone their best, with Kennedy spending significant time at centre half forward while Franklin returned from shoulder surgery.

Tom Papley was already on the injury list, certain to miss the first match of the season against Port Adelaide, while draftee Oliver Florent was certain to debut in the first round.

At least Sam Reid was fit again and looking sharp in the pre-season, while Darcy Cameron was placing significant pressure on Callum Sinclair and Kurt Tippett. First choice ruckman Sam Naismith was sidelined due to a shoulder reconstruction he had before the new year.

Conclusion

Everything started off so well for the team, with another grand final appearance, changing of captains and positive trades and drafting.

While the club anticipated another year of positive growth, the pre-season started to unravel when the players returned in November and December, with several requiring surgery.

The new players looked good and trained well, with a lot of positive news about Oliver Florent drip-fed to the media. The intra-club match was one of the highest anticipated internal Swan matches in recent history with Sam Reid making his return. He survived in tact and from all reports was training the house down.

Injuries started to mount; Kieren Jack suffering a hip injury, McVeigh struck down by troublesome calf issues, Franklin having shoulder surgery, Naismith a shoulder reconstruction, Luke Parker knee surgery, Isaac Heeney glandular fever, Aliir knee and turf toe, Gary Rohan on the long term injury list suffering back issues along with Tom Papley who had knee surgery, and the list goes on.

By the time the first round came around, it wasn't a matter of picking from the best available, it was picking from who was available, and there wasn't much left. Even promising ruck Darcy Cameron had injured his shoulder, leaving the Swans with just Kurt Tippett and Callum Sinclair to carry the ruck. No prizes for guessing what happened next.

The game plan was tweaked to deal with fast breaking plays, switching to zonal structures against teams like the Bulldogs, Power and Giants. But with players critical for it working missing, it looked like a giant turd pie. The Swans were just throwing unfit players into the fray and praying it would work.

Overall, the pre-season turned into a significant disaster despite the positive start, with the record setting membership growth quickly shuddering to an almighty halt just weeks after the season kicked off.

This doesn't even take into account the absurdity of the Swans' board member Tom Worner's situation and all the nonsense from his sordid affair, played out throughout the entirety of the off-season period.

Pre-season performance rating: D-

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Justin Mitchell

Justin is a passionate AFL and Sydney Swans supporter, and football blogger since 2016. All articles are of his own opinion. You can reach him by twitter and Facebook at @theswansblog

Melbourne, Australia http://theswansblog.com

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