Good morning all, it's finally here, gameday, and the rematch between two of the most successful teams of the last 20 years.
The Swans have made one change ahead of the crucial Hawks clash, with young forward Will Hayward returning to the side after a barnstorming performance in the NEAFL, at the expense of Dan Robinson.
In years past, both teams would be jockeying for top 4 supremacy, but in this topsy-turvy season, the Swans are gunning for top 4, while the Hawks are desperately trying to stay in touch of the top 8.
A win for the Swans puts them 1 game closer to a double chance come September, while a loss for the Hawks rules out finals.
There's a lot for both teams to play for, but far more so the Swans, who still have tough away games to Geelong next week and Adelaide in three weeks time.
The Swans run-in is reminiscent of the 2012 run in before the finals, three incredibly difficult games on the even of September against Hawthorn, Geelong and Collingwood. Despite losing a few of those games, the '12 Swans had enough wins in the back to make it into 3rd.
This year, that's no the case. They're no doubt helped by the absurd post-season bye, and the Bulldogs premiership from 7th last year (who was equal with 4th on points, but who's counting, right?).
A win is the only option in every game for the Swans, if they want that double chance. Sure, they can rely on results, and they'll probably fall their way, but with every game becoming a flip of the coin, who's going to out-do themselves this season in dropping an undroppable game.
In any case, the Swans are in a rich vein of form, and while the hawks have won 3 of their last 5, including a last gasp loss and a draw, the Swans form is far superior to the Hawks. Since the bye, the Swans have dispatched the reigning premiers, top four aspirants Richmond and Melbourne, top 8 aspirants Essendon and St Kilda, while feasting on the likes of the Gold Coast Suns, not to mention dominating their cross town rival.
It's certainly nothing to flick your nose at, given the quality and caliber of some of those teams. The Hawks haven't done it so tough, and despite all the rage over their form, they've won just 3 from their last 7 games.
Sure, they've played the top 3 teams, and they did beat Adelaide in Adelaide in their best game of the season, but they were also completely and utterly embarrassed by Port Adelaide, and backed it up with an equally pathetic effort against the Suns.
So while AFL.com.au has the Hawks winning by 10 points, all the other indicators, including the heavily favoured betting market, are pointing towards a convincing Swans victory.
Of course, that depends on which Swans team will turn up. On the back of two very impressive away wins to St Kilda and North Melbourne, the Swans put it a rather embarrassing first half effort that sealed their fate. It really was just the unbelievable efforts of Lance Franklin that kept the Swans within touching distance, when the Hawks could have easily blown them away.
It wasn't like the Hawks were playing some amazing, fantastic, premiership-worthy football, the Swans just let them play their way. Naturally, when you let a good team play the way they want, they'll hurt you, and if that fact isn't ringing in the players' ears tonight, then it should be.
Hawthorn have an injury list as long as anyone's arm, while the Swans are the healthiest they've been for a long time, with an almost non-existent injury list. Despite that, it's no excuse to rest on their laurels and put in another meek effort that'll leave everyone scratching their heads and wondering.
It has to be a statement, it has to be ruthless, and it has to be emphatic. Margin doesn't matter, only a win will do tonight, especially against this mob who've had the better of us over the last 5 years.
Tonight is Josh Kennedy's 200th game and what a brilliant career he's had. Since moving to the Swans, he's never finished outside the top 3 in the clubs best and fairest, a three time winner, inaugural AFL player of the finals, All Australian's, heaps of Brownlow votes, and one of the most respected players in the game.
But his reign as captain hasn't been as glorious as his revered Swans career, enduring a rather hard start with the team losing their first 6 games. SydneySwans.com.au talked to the midfielder ahead of training on Wednesday, and he spoke honestly, as well his doubting his on-field leadership early in the season.
"Absolutely I questioned myself, and I still am," he said on Wednesday.
"It's no different now to when we were 0-6, being a leader within the football club you're always questioning what you can do to help your teammates, and what you can do to help the team.
"You question yourself and wonder if you're the right man for the job, and those questions were certainly asked, and were pretty pointed internally.
"But I'm quite fortunate to have a good support network around me outside the club, and from the board down, the coaching staff and my teammates made it pretty easy."
He's been a champion for the club and lets hope the Swans can get up for the match tonight and celebrate a 200th milestone match the way it ought to be. The SwansCast crew spoke to Ted Richards earlier this week, so give it a listen if you haven't yet, it's a quality episode and there'll be more like it.
Too much has been made of the recent history between the Swans and Hawks. Yes, the Hawks have had the measure of the Swans at the SCG for some time. The Swans however, have had their measure at the MCG since that fateful '14 grand final. Less spoken about that, the better.
The Hawks have had to produce their absolute best to overcome the Swans in recent times, but they're without some of their absolute best players.
Some of their senior players are flirting with form, or have no form, while the maligned youth of the side has finally started firing. Ryan Burton is the latest Hawk to be celebrated and worshipped in the media, touted as a future Hawthorn legend, etc. so forth, despite the fact he's played 20 games over two seasons, and he wasn't much chop last year.
The Melbourne media love a bit of hype, and while FoxFooty have done their due diligence and gushed over the Swans in recent times, for the most part, you'd think the Swans were still anchored to the bottom of the ladder, if you were to read the Herald Sun or The Age.
Despite all that, going on recent history, it's going to be another tight, close match, with the winner decided in the last minutes. Hopefully there's no repeat of round 10, and I'd like the Swans to come out firing, even if they trail at the first change.
Stats don't lie and the Hawks are bit of a bogey team for the Swans, but there's a time and place to put it to rest, and tonight at the MCG is that time and place.
It's going to be a fine Friday night game, with superb football conditions between two tough teams. In any case, this is a must-win match for the Swans and they need to win this.
Lance Franklin will be reigniting his battle with the Hawks, but without Gibson and Frawley, with Brand and Burton as their key defenders, he really should be feasting on the Hawks.
Throw in Sinclair who's still a good 2-3 inches taller than their defence, and the Swans should have the height, speed and skill to trouble the Hawks, every time it goes inside 50.
If the Swans can avoid early concussions and injuries, and Stevic doesn't try to fix the match like he usually does, the Swans should win this comfortably.
Swans by 27, Franklin 6, Sinclair 4, Kennedy 36 disposals, 22 contested.
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