With one round left in the season, the seemingly impossible situation of reaching finals from a near-disastrous start to the season, has been made possible largely to the never-say-die spirit of the Swans football club.
Fresh off a chastening loss to the Blues at the MCG in round 6, the Swans set about correcting their teetering season with impressive wins against the Lions, Roos and Saints, before their inevitable slip up against the Hawks.
Sitting 3-7 after the first 10 rounds, their worst start to a season since 1995 - 0-6 was also their worst start to a season since 1993 - finals looked like an impossibility, with the reigning premiers next up after the bye.
Fresh of smashing them to smithereens, the Swans staggered over the line against the Tigers and Bombers, before setting up the tail-end of the season with solid wins against the Demons, Suns, Giants and once again the Saints, before again, slipping up on that Brown and Gold banana peel.
By this time, the Swans had already firmed into premiership contention, winning 10 from 11 games, the form team at the time with the best percentage since round 7, and knocking over all other contenders.
Emphatic victories against the Cats away from home and Fremantle at home, as well as an exceptional rearguard performance for the ages against the Crows (and the umpires), has set the Swans up with an implausible finals placement.
As improbable as it was, the Swans are now guaranteed a top 6 finish and a home final, with top 4 an outside possibility if results fall their way.
Resembling a runaway train, the Swans are primed to attack the finals with gusto and vengeance, with only the lowly Blues standing in their way.
Where last year the Swans suffered injury after injury, they go into the finals with virtually no injuries and a full list to choose from, with Newman and Naismith returning to the fold this week.
Where the introduction of the bye week last year made the finals series a bit of a lottery, with all the teams in the first week struggling for consistency and control, as well as both qualifying final winners losing in the preliminary finals, Longmire insists that one year isn't enough to to form a guide from.
“Last year the Bulldogs were able to do it and it worked well but they still had to play four really tough, hard games. That’s not easy to do, regardless of whether you’ve had the week off or not,” said Longmire.
“It’s a bit tough looking at it in a one-off instance and getting a really strong opinion of it. What I do know and what will stand the test of time is you need to play really good footy for a month. We’d like to play good footy for five weeks.”
The Swans are in a fortunate position with their NEAFL team finishing top of the ladder and earning a break in round 23, playing their first final in the Swans' AFL bye week.
This will give the club a few options for their players where they qualify, with Tippett, Newman, Naismith among the NEAFL regulars who'll benefit from game time, as well as those on the fringe pushing to selection.
Despite the Bulldogs finishing 7th last season, heavily favoured by the bye with five players returning from injury, Longmire is adamant that the top 4 is the place to be.
“If you’re going to have a choice you’d finish top four, that’s just the reality of it,” he said.
“What our players have done is given us a chance and fought back really strongly.
“It’s been pleasing that we’ve got to this stage where there’s one more game to go and we’re still a chance.”
While activities like cooking classes, the zoo, movie night at the cinemas, goal kicking practice, or a river cruise may sound delightful, one would hope that the club will put the players through their paces so they can hit their opponents at full steam, like a runaway train.
Have a great idea for what the boys can do on their week off? Let us know!
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