According to those in the know, and one of those a respected Swans legend, the recruitment of Lance "Buddy" Franklin from Hawthorn for 10 million over 9 years, could be contributing to the Swans' decline this season.
It's a fair argument to make, with former Swans fringe players like Biggs and Membrey playing well for the Western Bulldogs and St Kilda respectively, as well as Shane Mumford nearing his devastating best for the Giants, when he's not injured or suspended.
Mumford in particular is a sore point for many Swans supporters, even after a poor 2012 grand final. His passion and hunger to succeed is only matched by his phenomenal aggression at the ball, and he has routinely punished Tippett for his languid approach to football. You can't help but think there's a bit of personal malice there, especially when he talks to the media about hurting people that gets in his way.
While comparing the downfall of the Swans and Hawks, Jake Niall makes a clear distinction between the two teams. The Swans have blooded so many young players, creating an hour glass team, with so many top paid, top talent players, and a bourgeoning bottom, full of inexperienced and young players, while the Hawks lack that quality youth depth and have instead gone to the trade table.
"The Swans have been fielding teams that are far less experienced than the norm for a grand finalist and their fortunes heavily correlate with the health and form of their top six to eight players. If this is true of many teams, there are clubs that have a more equitable spread of talent and money," Jake wrote.
"Sydney has an hourglass figure, but the Bulldogs’ playing list is cylinder-shaped. The premiers’ player payment regime — excepting Tom Boyd — is understood to be pretty even among the top 15.
So the Dogs have the senior depth to weather injuries, as they did last year. The Swans don’t."
He also rightly suggests that the recruitment of Tippett cast the "die" the season before the Swans picked up Franklin, when the premiers recruited one of the best full forwards in the competition for virtually nothing, instead of heading to one of the beleaguered northern teams.
Paul Roos made a similar assertion, saying the Swans' are paying the price for the huge Franklin contract.
“If you go after a player like Buddy your list becomes skinny,” Roos told the Daily Telegraph.
“The implications are if you go for a big star your back end of players is going to be skinny with a lot of rookies. If you look at GWS and Melbourne they have more depth. Melbourne has Lewis and Hogan out but still has talent in reserves like Kent and Brayshaw. They haven’t got a marquee that gobbles up a lot of the salary cap. Whoever goes after Fyfe if he does leave Freo will have the same problem.”
He's not wrong there, with Franklin and Tippett eating up massive slices of the salary cap in the last two seasons, especially now that Franklins' contract is now over $1 million a season.
“There are a lot of young players trying to make their way and some young players starting out in the game,” Roos said.
“It can turn very quickly, we’ve seen that with the Swans and Hawthorn this year and Fremantle last year.”
Another problem that the Swans have dealt with since the grand final, something that Hawthorn hasn't, is the limited pre-season and preparation for many of its best players due to injury.
While every team has their own injury crisis at one point or another, the Swans are renowned for collapsing in a heap towards the end of the season. They did it in 2013, 2015 and again in 2016, even though they made the grand final. I wrote about the injuries sustained in the finals series last year after the grand final; a phenomenal 11 players were injured, including all of the best and highest paid.
Paul Roos nails it when talking about the impact of an interrupted pre-season for so many of the Swans stars.
“A full pre-season is vastly underrated,” Roos said.
“If you’ve got 10 guys who don’t have a full preseason which is what the Swans did with Franklin, Parker, McVeigh, Aliir, Naismith, Rohan, Jack, Heeney and then players get hurt like your best defender in Rampe. Suddenly you’re eating into your ability to put a strong team on the ground. Sydney’s best team is still very good, if you put them all back in and give them pre-seasons then they are a very good team.”
Aliir Aliir has been used as an example of playing underdone by almost all and sundry over the last month. He wasn't anywhere near fit enough or ready to play when he was thrown to the wolves, and subsequently struggled and was ultimately dropped. But as Roos says, with a full list he plays in the NEAFL and he builds momentum first.
“If you have a full list Aliir Aliir plays four games in the reserves and comes back cherry ripe and has a great season,” Roos said.
“If you have a skinny list you have to take a risk with him like the Swans have this season. The grand final teams Sydney and the Bulldogs have a massive disadvantage in preparing for this year. The Bulldogs have found a way to win some of the opening games and the Swans haven’t.”
Despite the horror start to the season, Roos is certain the Swans can turn around, but he doesn't share that belief with Hawthorn, rather he thinks they're going to stay where they are.
“Fundamentally what Hawthorn did they can’t do anymore,” Roos said.
“Hawthorn is different to Sydney because they haven’t won contested football for a long time. Hawthorn relied on uncontested marks and some pressure around the ball carrier but not a lot of tackling. Hawthorn is in massive trouble because their game style stops them from kicking the ball like they did.
“I’m confident with the Swans They have to win 13-16 to make the eight but they’re a team which could win six in a row, they’ve done it before.
“They will have to get down and dirty. They’ll turn the ball over because of the weaknesses they have in their team but if Hannebery is cracking in and Parker is cracking in and Joey is cracking in and Isaac is cracking in they’ll be fine.”
Plenty to consider as the Swans continue to struggle through the season. All points raised by Niall and Roos are valid and definitely worth discussing. There's no doubt that Tippett and Franklin paid more than 1/5th of the salary cap each season has had a dramatic impact on the team.
The next big problem for the Swans will be trying to nail down Sam Reid on equitable terms at the end of this season, when he's going to be asking for big bucks. Time will tell for the talented, but inconsistent and injury prone forward, if he's worth what he's asking, or if he'll repay the faith and patience the Swans have shown.
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