Stuttering Swans left to rue poor performance

Match Report - Player Ratings - Kurt Tippet Injury - Zak Jones Report

The Swans were once again left to rue another poor performance against the Western Bulldogs on Friday night. Questionable umpiring marred another fantastic game between the two of the hardest teams in the AFL. Maybe laundry bags full of cash is what's required to give the Swans a leg up in these kind of games.

Beyond the result and the performance, and the dismal umpiring, the one thing that jumped out at me throughout the game was how desperate the Dogs were to win the ball. It's the 2nd week in a row that the Swans have been beaten on the spread, and punished under pressure. It was painfully obvious how the game was going to finish half-way through the 2nd quarter, but for a flirtation in the last quarter, the result on the night was the right one.

The last quarter was like being promised a delicious roast pork sandwich, taking the first tasty bite, another mouth watering bite, then finally half way through, you bite into a festering turd. That's what that rushed behind was like, worse than a kick in the guts.

Speaking to the press after the game, Longmire conceded that the Swans must be doing something wrong with the ball, to be continually penalised for holding on to it too long.

"I've just got to look at the way we coach them to be honest. The holding the ball decision was us and them," Longmire said.

"We must have missed something. We need to have a look at that, about what the prior opportunity (rule) is and how we're doing it versus our opposition.

"So we need to look into that, clearly, because it just felt at the time what we were doing around the contest compared with the opposition - they must be doing something a bit different we need to look at.

"We're clearly doing it the wrong way, so we need to sharpen up on that."

It was glaringly obvious to all those that watched the match, that the Dogs and Swans were playing on different levels of rule awareness. The Dogs got away with it last year, bending the rules as much as possible. It's not as if the players aren't aware of the rules. Under pressure? Are you being tackled? Release the bloody ball!

It certainly isn't a case of carelessness, it's just a matter of hanging on to it too long. Marsh was done in the back pocket, slung 360 degrees in a tackle with both arms free. That's holding the ball going back 150 years. He had plenty of chances to get rid of it, but just held on to the ball too long. There were team mates immediately around him, and the boundary line, but opted to hold it and wait for a better option.

Then there were other times when players were being tackled as soon as they received the ball and getting stung with no real chance. "You've got to make an effort" is the catch cry of the umpire, blind sided with no clear vision. All he wants to see is your arms shaking about and moving, even if you're just faking it. I would have thought that it was common sense, but I guess I'm wrong. Maybe the players need to learn how to fake an epileptic seizure.

But the holding the ball issue wasn't the only one that was poorly adjudicated throughout the match. Numerous throws, absurd holding the man with little to no contact, chopped arms not getting called, blocks not getting called etc. so forth. It might be sour grapes and whine about it after the fact, but when your team finishes 18-31 and the difference on the night was blatant, then it's fair and reasonable.

Besides, the Dogs were harder at the contest, the ball and the man, and the Swans leaders just wilted under the pressure. It comes back to preparation, throwing Kieren Jack back into the side when he's underdone, as well as playing Parker and Kennedy when they've hardly looked fit throughout the pre-season. It's little surprise that their poor form can be traced to the previous 6 weeks of football.

In the end, a young Swans outfit went down against a bigger, stronger and fitter Bulldogs team. The three debutants joined 2nd gamer Oliver Florent and showed what they're capable of, and there's a lot to like. Nic Newman stood out amongst the new players, while Florent, Fox and Hayward were all involved in the first half. Longmire was proud of their effort after the game.

"Some of the kids I thought were just fantastic. I mean that's pretty red-hot footy – it doesn't get much hotter than that out there against last year's premiers, Friday night footy – and to have some of the efforts from the younger boys was just really good to see."

The young players really stood up, where the senior brigade failed to impact. Hewett, Newman, Fox, Florent and Hayward were all involved in the first half. Sam Reids' goals kept the Swans in the game, while Franklin was threatening to bust it wide open. The 3rd quarter should have been one when Parker, Hannebery and Kennedy stood up, but they didn't. Hannebery was uncharacteristically poor throughout the game, but Lloyd rebounded from a quiet first half, to become an important player for the Swans.

It looked like it was too little too late at the start of the 4th, but 3 quick goals to Franklin and a 6th to Reid put the Swans in front for the first time in the 2nd half. Kennedy had lifted big time, Parker was starting to play well and Hannebery was involved. But true to script, and as the night had always played out, the Dogs lucked out where the colour green is concerned. That passage in the last quarter when they scored 3 goals in 2 minutes was like being punted in the nuts. Several critical umpiring mistakes, combined with slack marking, defending, and Cunningham refusing to put his body on the line, conspired to take the game away from the Swans.

The players have a responsibility every time they pull on the red and white to do their best. Sometimes form gets in the way, injury and fitness, other times other factors are at play. It's hard to look at yesterdays' performance and say that many of them played at their best. Some looked like they couldn't be arsed doing the basics, others looked a fair way short of fitness. Watching Kieren Jack put in one of his worst performances since 2010 was hard to watch. I don't think that there's a deep lying malaise or attitude problem, I just think that confidence plays a important part and too many players are short of it.

Maybe the captaincy is too much for Kennedy, only he would know, but it is obvious that he's a fair way short of his own lofty standards. The same rule can be applied to half the team, such as Parker, Hannebery, Smith, Grundy, Marsh, Laidler etc. There's a worrying sign of poor performances to start the season and the team is at a real risk of slipping to 0-4 to start. That's an extremely difficult position to recover from and top 4 is out o the question.

Watching the Hawthorn vs Adelaide game raised a few eye brows, especially with Puopolo gifted a goal in the 3rd quarter against the run of play, for a supposed "in the back" free kick. It was a dead set howler from an out of position umpire, but is more symptomatic of the current mindset of the AFL. At the start of every season, they crack down with new, or stricter interpretations, and often make a meal of things. Unfortunately the Swans have been treated harshly more often than not. I'm sure it'll come to a head soon enough, once the interpretations have sufficiently raised the ire of all and sundry, especially those that matter. Some of the defender interpretations are ludicrous.

Fortunately for us, the Swans have had slow starts before, in 2006 and 2014. Both seasons started 1-3, then finished top 4. 2014 was the first minor premiership since 1996. Lets hope that next week we have a victory against the Pies and we're signing the teams praises, instead of reflecting on another 'what-if' season.

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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

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