2016 in review part 1: pre-season performance and expectations

This is the first article in a series of 5 where I'll be discussing the Swans' season. The first article, this one, will discuss the pre-season and season expectations. The following articles will discuss the first half of the season, second half of the season, the finals and finally the player's performances.

For many Swans supporters, 2016 was an optimistic season, looking forward to improved performances from young players in a developing year. With the trade constraints in mind, the captures of Callum Sinclair and Michael Talia, as well as recruiting academy star Callum Mills looked like good business. There was a lot of quiet optimism of another strong challenge in 2016 if we could keep our best team on the park.

The rumors surrounding Lewis Jetta had a visible affect on his performances late in the season, not only hurting his own form and value, but hurting the team as well. By the time he left the club, he was playing touch football, barely getting stuck in and trying to stay as far away from harm as possible. With three important players retiring, external expectations were somewhat low compared to previous seasons, with most considering finishing top 8 a stretch. As always, the clubs' internal expectations were set high and Longmire believed that the club could finish near the top.

Many pundits had the Swans finishing bottom half of the 8, with David King hilariously predicting Fremantle to win it all and Dogs out of the top 8. He did at least have the Swans in at 6th, while Dermott "Blondie" Brereton didn't even have the Swans in. Certainly no media personality predicted the Swans to finish top 4, let alone first and make another grand final. Only a few die hard Swans supporters, tragic's if you will, myself included, would have had any hope of finishing top of the pile.

I always believe that we will finish first. Always. Nothing else is ever possible for me, even when we don't finish first, it's still first. Every game I believe we can win, no matter the opposition.


The trade period

2015 was the end of the 2 year trade ban for going against Town Hall and snatching Franklin from GWS. Mike Fixpatrick was very critical of the trade, later declaring that the Swans had used COLA to recruit him. Of course, he didn't check with those that sign off on the contracts, looking like a massive prick. The Swans lobbied the AFL Commission and won a reprieve, able to recruit players on AFL average wage.

The Lewis Jetta saga finally came to a head, with Swans agreeing to trade him to West Coast. In hindsight, draft picks would have been the best result for the Swans, but a swap with Callum Sinclair was agreed. Callum filled a gaping hole, even though the Swans had two developing players in the NEAFL team, but the team needed an immediate fix.

Craig Bird was swiftly moved on the Essendon after spending plenty of time in the NEAFL. He was sent packing with pick 14 and the Swans received 23 and 44 in return, adding up to more "draft points" which would be used to recruit Callum Mills. He couldn't get back in the team and judging by his performance with Essendon throughout 2016, this was a great trade for the Swans.

Right at the end of the window, Michael Talia was traded from the Dogs for the Swans' 2016 4th round draft pick. With an ageing defence, and Richards struggling at the end of the season, the need for a replacement was clear. Michael was that immediate fix that was blindingly obvious for the entire 2015 season. Unfortunately, the reserve players weren't up to scratch yet, so Michael was another bit of good business.

Overall, the Swans did well considering the trading restrictions they had to work with, offloading two players that were superfluous to needs, picking up two depth players  and draft picks that gave a better overall point position.

The draft

The goal for the Swans was clear - get Callum Mills whatever the cost. The Swans didn't engage in the free agent bidding window, nor could they with their contract constraints, so they consolidated their picks and used the points to capture Callum Mills at pick 3. They passed on Josh Dunkley at pick 25, after the club had previously come to a gentleman's agreement with Dunkley's father with regards to where he'll end up playing.

The next two picks for the Swans spent their seasons at NEAFL level, Tyrone Leonardis and Jordan Dawson. With only Menegola and Silvagni taken later in the draft having good first seasons and establishing themselves in their respective teams, it's fair to say the Swans did well in the draft and met their objectives.

The rookie draft

The Swans landed perhaps the pick of the bunch with small forward Tom Papley at 14, who established himself as the best small forward in the team, hitting the ground running with an outstanding first game against Collingwood. The Swans also re-drafted Harrison Marsh after delisting him, as well as rookies Kyle Galloway (later delisted in 2016) and Colin O'Riordan.

Pre-season expectations

With Franklin missing the finals series due to mental illness, Sam Reid blowing out his hamstring, clear issues with an ageing and slowing defence, as well as retirements of three still important players, finals expectations weren't high, certainly after losing both finals in 2015.

No one should ever look at the pre-season form and judge the season by what happens, as a lot of clubs are trying a lot of new things. Sam Reid's comical impersonation of a CHB against Melbourne during the '15 season, was a pre-season experiment played during an AFL game. Unfortunately, his hamstring injury suffered against Fremantle in the first final, prevented him from being involved in any training.

The new recruits were fitting in with the team well with, speaking highly of the club, especially about the extra amount of fitness training the Swans do. While Alex Johnson was recovering from yet another knee reconstruction, Talia was going to fit right into the 2nd tall position, taking over from Richards, while Callum Sinclair would share the ruck load with Tippet.

The Swans started off their pre-season well against Port Adelaide and then had a shake up against GWS with a few critical words coming from the coach.

"We didn't have many winners, I think if you went through some of the players that played well you'd probably struggle to find more than a handful," he said.

"That was disappointing, we didn't do a lot right both form-wise and with the way we wanted to play."

The Swans then finished off their pre-season against Carlton, winning the game in the last quarter and fortunately, going into the main season with very few injuries.

In conclusion

With the trade constraints that the Swans had to operate with, they did well in the post season trade period. They replaced an ageing ruckman, brought in a decent key position defender, a small forward and a genuine star midfielder-cum-defender. The Swans didn't have the cap space to go gang busters anyway, so they did the business they had to do, and did it tidily. Locking up Tom Mitchell for one more season on a 1 year extension during the season was a bonus.

In reflection, the trades haven't turned out that well for us. Talia played just 1 game, busting his foot and ruling himself out for the season. Then he did something completely stupid and got himself arrested for drug possession, which he plead guilty to and was suspended by the club from all club related activities for a month. Sinclair played pretty much 1 decent game throughout the season, constantly cramping in the 2nd half of games early in the season, clearly short of the required fitness level. He hurt his knee against Carlton and never returned to the side. He couldn't even get past Nankervis when he was fit again. Fortunately for us, Jetta and Bird have been mega spuds at their clubs, just clogging up their lists, so the Swans come out ahead of the Sinclair/Jetta swap by default.

The capture of Callum Mills and Tom Papley are the clear highlights. Papley was a rookie draft, didn't expect to get a game, but with Reid out missing for the entire season, played most of the games, including all of the finals. Both players were immense for the Swans, with Mills winning the Rising Star award and stiff not to be included in the All Australian 40 squad.

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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 https://theswansblog.com

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