Part 1 - Part 2
This is the second article in a series of five, where I'll be analysing the Sydney Swans' season, from pre-season through to finals, including expectations and performances, what went right and what went wrong, and finally the players.
In this article I will be analysing the clubs' first half of the season performance, what they did well and what could have been better.
It's fair to say that the first half of the season was nothing short of disastrous. Expectations of another flag tilt were high, with many supporters riding the off-season wave of emotion and promise.
Cracks had been forming throughout the pre-season; key players missing through injury, form or fitness, Franklin and Naismith having surgery, and a slew of public issues. By the time the season came around, it wasn't even a matter of picking the best available team - it was down to whomever was fit.
Despite that, Longmire and his team persisted with bleeding the young and inexperienced, handing out debuts to Florent, Hayward, Melican, Fox, Newman and Dawson, while the second and third year players took their games to new levels. Jake Lloyd and Zak Jones in particular were two of the better players of the first 10 rounds, with Lloyd finishing runners-up alongside Franklin in the Bob Skilton Medal.
First half in review
Round 1, home vs Port Adelaide
Losing six games straight was not what anyone expected, or foresaw when the Swans hosted Port Adelaide in their first home game of the season. A tight, tough battle was broken wide open in the third quarter, with the Power taking a 4 goal lead into the final change.
Franklin was superb for the Swans and held them together for long periods of time, while Reid played an impressive double act. The Swans, boasting a considerably less experienced team than their Grand Final side, struggled to keep pace with Port Adelaide, and the difference was telling.
Power ran riot in the second half, while Rampe tripped over a fence while training the following week and broke his arm.
Round 2, away vs Western Bulldogs
Traveling away and watching the Bulldogs unfurl their flag with a victory was no less painful, nor palpable for the Swans faithful than last weeks' loss; it was bloody horrific. The Dogs were as convincing as the Swans were in their first round, but contrived to put all the pieces of the puzzle together for a convincing four goal win.
The Swans lead at the first change, Reid clunking everything while the Dogs blanketed Franklin at every chance. Predictably, the umpires stepped in, turning the match from competitive to farcical. Switching off my brain at one point was the only way to survive through this match.
Tippett went down early in the second quarter and from then, the Swans were smacked in the ruck contests and clearances. At times, they were their own worst enemy, recording a massive +15 differential in turn overs. Franklin turned it on for 15 minutes between the third and fourth quarters to pull the Swans within one point, then Reid's 6th goal put the Swans in front.
It just wasn't to be in the end, the Dogs running over a tired Swans, who never looked capable of holding on for another 20 minutes. Six goals to Reid, four to Franklin and 2 Brownlow votes, and 34 disposals to Lloyd was the best the Swans had to offer.
Round 3, home vs Collingwood
The umpires during the week decided to change the rules without telling anyone (in their defence, they emailed the clubs a pdf that was instantly spam filtered), turning touch football into a hybrid-rugby game. Yet, someone forgot to tell the Swans, who were still adjusting to the absurdly inconsistent previous weeks' interpretations.
One team looked clean, the other looked like they were handling a wet bar of soap. The Pies took full advantage and ran the Swans ragged in the first quarter, almost putting the match out of reach.
This loss is perhaps the most frustrating of the season. It was arguably one of the worst umpired games of 2017, certainly one of the least consistent. Despite the relatively small free kick total, players got away with quite literally everything, and it wasn't even a wet football game.
Naismith performed admirably in the ruck before going down with injury, Sinclair played a reasonable second chop-out role, while Franklin couldn't get near it. One point is all that separated the teams in the end. Another match, another casualty.
Round 4, away vs West Coast
The less said about this one the better. Confidence was clearly on the wane and the side was still changing. Franklin endured another forgettable night, despite kicking two important goals for the Swans, while Sam Reid played second ruck with Sinclair.
Sinclair had a barnstorming first quarter and really showcased what he was capable of, despite his turnover prolificacy, but couldn't maintain his effort. The Eagles led the match from start-to-finish, turning the screws in the third quarter, blasting the hapless Swans away.
Round 5, home vs Greater Western Sydney
The Giants were entrenched in the top 4, early favourites for the flag, and heavily favoured to give the Swans a bit of a hiding. The Swans had different ideas in the first 5 minutes, exploding out of the blocks with four goals to Kennedy, Tippett - returning for his first game since round two, Papley and Franklin.
It took another 12 minutes for the Giants to register their first goal, but incredibly lead at quarter time by 10 points, kicking 5.5 to 0.1 after the Swans' opening salvo.
The game was well and truly over at half-time, the Giants leading by 32 points, with the Swans struggling to score, let alone move the ball into their own half of the ground. A better third quarter couldn't exactly erase the damage of the previous 50 minutes.
Predictably, the Giants crushed any hopes of a comeback, leading by 48 points with just 10 minutes left, a late Swans goal reducing the margin to a less-embarrassing 7 goals.
Round 6, away vs Carlton
Where to start with this one. We could talk about the scoreline, the turnovers, the touch-free football, the absence of confidence, absolutely no communication on the first or we could just cut to the chase and talk about Mills.
Targeted by the Blues throughout the match, hit repeatedly off the ball, on the ball and during the breaks. No one flew the flag, no one had any idea what was going on. Heeney in his second game back said he'd never played an AFL match like it, and Kennedy admitted he had no idea what was happening behind play to Mills, despite Parker and Hannebery watching it.
The Swans lead for the first half, but the Blues hung tough, and in the end kicked ahead of the Swans in the third quarter - a quarter that was proving to be more than an achilles heel for the side.
Round 7, home vs Brisbane Lions
Finally the Swans notched their first win for season 2017, seven matches after the season commenced. They ended their seven game losing streak (including the '16 Grand Final) in emphatic style. Franklin kicked eight in a masterful performance, snagging his last on the final siren.
Charging out of the blocks, they ended the contest with a huge 47-to-12 first quarter, and held sway from then on, despite the Lions' best efforts. Franklin picked up another three Brownlow votes in a performance marking his return to form.
Round 8, away vs North Melbourne
Next up was the beleaguered, yet competitive Roos, who were clearly better value than the ladder said they were. The Swans however were having none of it, leading from start to finish, with veteran Jarrad McVeigh kicking two goals on one leg.
Kennedy was the best for the Swans, with Newman indomitable in his fifth AFL game, a late inclusion after being dropped for the Lions the week before. With Naismith returning to the side, Sam Reid took full advantage kicking three goals. Heeney and Papley were steadily improving and the Swans looked back on track.
Round 9, away vs St Kilda
The Swans barely managed 11 goals a game in their first six matches, yet kicked 20, 19 and 19 in their three games after Round six. St Kilda were in good form, on the cusp of the top 8, having proven themselves capable and had given a few teams a fright. In the end, there was little they could do to stop the Swans juggernaut.
With a hand-ball heavy game plan, the Saints were incapable of dealing with Sydney's swarm, turning it over constantly coming out of defence. The third quarter in particular highlighted the gulf in quality between the two teams, with Sydney returning to something near their best, strangling the life out of the Saints.
Papley, Franklin and Rohan were critical in applying pressure, forcing numerous turnovers inside 50, while the Swans were lead brilliantly by Kennedy and Hannebery, smashing the Saints in the midfield.
Round 10, home vs Hawthorn
The one that got away. No match has highlighted the importance of Jake Lloyd more than this one. Considered to be a player on the periphery, he was knocked out in the first contest of the game, leaving the Swans in a serious hole. Sydney struggled from them on to transition the ball out of defence - his role, and paid dearly for it.
Already missing McVeigh, the Swans tried almost everyone; Jones, Hewett, Newman and Mills had a crack, but none could consistently hit the target like Lloyd could. It took the entire first half for the Swans to regroup, while the Hawks had the ball on a string in their backline. Franklin kept the Swans in touch with the best half of his season, maybe even his career.
The Swans worked their way in front in the last quarter, leading by seven just over half-way through. Late goals to Burgoyne and Roughead won the game for the Hawks by 6 points, with the Swans well and truly out on their legs.
Expectations & Performance
The expectations and performance were as far apart as the pacific ocean. The Swans 0-6 start equalled 1993 as their worst start of the season, while their 3-7 total after 10 rounds equalled 1995.
Written off by all and sundry at the end of round 6, even discussed as potential wooden spooners, the Swans turned their form around in remarkable fashion. Big wins against the Lions, Roos and Saints, albeit bottom-8 teams, gave the Swans confidence, but their loss to the Hawks was deflating.
Sydney was well on track to smashing through sixty thousand members before losing their first six matches. Their membership momentum ground to a halt and hardly climbed after round four, with chances of making a grand final all but gone.
At least the highlight of the first half of the season came in the final quarter before the bye, the Swans kicking one of the team goals of the season.
Dan Hannebery, Josh Kennedy, Lance Franklin, Jake Lloyd, George Hewett and Zak Jones were regularly among the Swans best. Heeney, Rohan and Papley improved immensely after their return from injury, as did the defence when Rampe finally returned.
While the form of Aliir was poor, the dramatic improvement of Melican made his absence almost unnoticed. There were a lot of good and bad performances from the playing group, with some younger, less experienced players fairing considerably better than their experienced counterparts.
Jake Lloyd was superb in the first half of the season, his absence sorely missed against the Hawks. Zak Jones' dramatic rise is a testament to his versatility, proving himself capable in defence, midfield and forward line, while Hayward was proving himself a valuable addition to the team.
Lance Franklin was in imperious form throughout the first half of the season, collecting a huge 10 Brownlow votes, twice voted best on ground against Port Adelaide and Brisbane Lions. On top of all that, he joined the top 10 goal kickers of all time, with his last goal against Greater Western Sydney. A champion for all time.
Josh Kennedy's leadership was never in doubt, and neither was his ability to continue playing at a high standard. When the Swans were down, he kept plugging away. When he finally had support, he killed it. Dan Hannebery lead brilliantly at times, with super games against the Roos, Saints and Pies.
Players: Jake Lloyd, Josh Kennedy, Lance Franklin, Dan Hannebery, Zak Jones, Nic Newman
Sam Reid bagged 9 goals in his first two games and looked borderline unstoppable. After then, with Sinclair picking up the ruck slack, Naismith regularly missing games through injury, Tippett perma-crocked and Cameron sitting out through Shoulder injuries, Reid was forced to pinch hit in the ruck.
His form suffered, couldn't take marks anymore, culminating in a terrible first-half performance against the Hawks, bereft of confidence and having no impact on the match, wound up knocked out towards the end of the first half.
Will Hayward was a breath of fresh air, proving new blood can indeed work. While he struggled in several games, his debut game was great, and he followed it up a superb 3-goal game. Fellow debutants Fox and Melican, from the rookie list, proved themselves capable footballers, with Melican keeping his spot in the side despite Aliir's recovery.
Players: Sam Reid, Callum Sinclair, Will Hayward, Lewis Melican, Robbie Fox, Jarrad McVeigh, Callum Mills, Luke Parker, George Hewett, Tom Papley, Isaac Heeney
James Rose and Brandon Jack played their only games of the season against Carlton, failing to impress enough to even get close to another senior game. Both had no impact, and despite Jacks' midfield prominence in the NEAFL, was shunted to the forward pocket.
Jordan Foote featured early in the season, playing four of the first five games. While he didn't lack endeavour, he certainly lacked in skill execution. It's a bit hard on the inexperienced player, debuting in round one. He managed a best on ground in the Bob Skilton medal, so perhaps we're being a little harsh.
Players: Harry Cunningham, Gary Rohan, James Rose, Brandon Jack, Heath Grundy, Nick Smith, Jeremy Laidler, Harry Marsh, Oliver Florent, Dean Towers, Jordan Dawson, Sam Naismith
Kurt Tippett simply couldn't stay fit long enough to have an impact. He injured his ankle against the Bulldogs, returned in round 5, injuring himself again, then returned in round 9 and played round 10, looking half-fit and bereft of confidence. Kicking just three goals from his first 5 games, and seriously lacking impact in the ruck, he was a luxury the Swans could ill afford.
Aliir Aliir and Kieren Jack had horrid starts to the season, both played before they were anywhere near fit enough and consequently were slammed from pillar to post. Aliir was discussed as trade bait, while Kieren Jack was attacked by former players, being told he should retire.
Little did they know (or care) that Aliir was carrying his medial injury from the Grand Final, while Jack suffered a hip strain in the late stages of the pre-season. Neither should have played in the first six rounds, and there were other choices.
The chain that Rampe tripped over, but more so, Rampe for trying to hurdle a chain. No doubt that training method has been removed from the books.
Players: Kurt Tippett, Aliir Aliir, Kieren Jack, Dane Rampe, Dan Robinson
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