This is the third 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' second half of the season performance, what they did well and what could have been better.
Second half in review
Despite a significant up-turn in form and on-field fortunes, and three thumping wins on the run, a last round hiccup against the Hawks gave them their equal worst start since 1994, starting the season then 3 wins and 7 losses.
A glut of injuries, poor injury management and a different game style had shackled the Swans in the first half of the season. When the missing senior players returned to the team, they had a significant impact and lead the Swans turnaround in form, none more so than Jarrad McVeigh.
Opinion during the bye was pessimistic at best. There was hope that the Swans could make the finals, but all the calculations said that they couldn't afford to slip up, not more than once. And it turned out to be the case, with the tightest run to the top 8 in recent years.
A home game against the Dogs after the bye, their third in as many years, would prove to be the litmus test and show the difference in quality and skill between the teams. While the Swans played a youthful and inexperienced team in Round 2, they still threatened to win, with Franklin and Reid leading the way. There would be no such repeat this time.
Round 12, home vs Western Bulldogs
The Swans kicked off their second half of the season with an impressive win against the Bulldogs. The Swans, quite often on the receiving end of a free-kick crucifixion, enjoyed the rub of the green, with the Bulldogs feeling the wrath of the umpires.
Bontompelli, one of their best players, gave away five holding the ball free kicks, three in the space of two minutes, as the Swans swarmed the hapless Dogs. A dominant but inaccurate first half from the Swans left the door ajar for the Dogs, but slammed it shut in the last quarter.
Round 13, away vs Richmond Tigers
Match Report - Player Ratings The quintessential tale of two halves, the Richmond the early blazers and the Swans the fast finishers. Kieren Jack was playing his second game after injury, while Lewis Melican was sitting out, with no one to match up on. Richmond's mosquito fleet got the better of the Swans, who were struggling with the pace of the match.
The Tigers kicked the first six goals of the match before the Swans could reply, their first through Franklin. The second quarter arm wrestle made way for Swans domination in the second half, as they won the ascendency and punished the Tigers on the scoreboard, kicking 9.3 to 3.5, sealing the 9-point win with Rohan's last gasp winner, with just 8 seconds left.
Round 14, home vs Essendon Bombers
The match that almost got away from the Swans, coming from 19 points down with 5 minutes left to win the unwinnable. So many small mistakes and massive wins by the Swans turned the game around.
A game that looked safe towards the end of the third quarter, was turned on its head as the Bombers kicked 7 unanswered goals. The fast, strong Swans looked slow, unskilful and tired, and bereft of ideas.
Like Newman against the Tigers the week before, Mills won two massive contests in the last 6 minutes, while Papley applied the game winning smother in the forward pocket. The rest is as they say, history.
Round 15, away vs Melbourne Demons
Both teams were in good form, the Swans winning 6 from 7 and the Demons firmly entrenched in the top 8. The start was anything but, with popular midfielder Tomas Bugg dropping Callum Mills like bad habit early in the game, earning the wrath of the Sydney players.
What followed resembled an Auskick goal kicking session, a comedy of errors with each player attempting to out-do one another in the comedy stakes. Rohan was up and about early, dominating the heavens, and kicking it everywhere but the goals. The Swans kicked an incredible 8 behinds and 1 on the full before Parker would sink their first on the eve of the first quarter, while the Demons had kicked four straight.
There was no hint of upset, even when the Demons lead by 3 goals, as the Swans clawed back the margin, point by point. The Swans smashed the Demons in the second quarter, before finishing the first half with a ridiculous score of 5.15.
Round 16, home vs Gold Coast Suns
The Swans were expected to win, and win big. This was marked in the calendar as a percentage booster. The Suns on the other hand had other ideas, kicking their best ever first quarter score against the Swans. But that was it for the Suns, who went goalless the next two quarters, while the Swans put on 12 unanswered goals.
Parker was again among the best players on the ground, his second half form in complete contrast to his first half form.
"I thought we got off to a slow start, got beaten around the contest, and obviously didn’t play the footy we wanted to play," Longmire said.
"Credit to Gold Coast they started really well, but we cranked it up a fair bit after quarter-time which was good.
"I just gave them a reminder to be on edge all the time, it’s about making sure you go hard all the time.
"It’s not easy to play four quarters of really hard, strong football every week, I acknowledge that, but we’ve got to make sure we continue to do it."
Round 17, away vs Greater Western Sydney
The Swans faced their sternest challenge yet, in their pursuit of finals after the mid-season bye, in the form of the Giants. GWS's form wasn't great, while the Swans were riding high after winning five on the trot, eight from the last nine.
The Giants flogged the Swans last time they met, but this time, it was the Swans who turned the screws. A tight tough match, with Mumford dominating the last quarter, saw the Swans lead most of the match by a couple of goals.
A Buddy Franklin special deep into the last quarter sealed the win for the Swans, kicking a ridiculous goal with the ball looking more likely to sail into row Z off his boot. Franklin dominated the match from go-to-woe, with 4 goals, 10 score involvements, six inside 50s and 607 metres gained.
Round 18, home vs St Kilda
St Kilda were touted as a "danger matchup" for the Swans, but recent history suggested otherwise, with an incredible performance by Callum Sinclair, picking up three Brownlow votes with one of the best ever AFL contested performances.
His 10 marks, 8 contested and 5 goals lead the Swans to another convincing win, giving Carlisle nightmares as he burst from the square and killed him on the lead, or simply shrugged him off like a skinny teenager in the contests.
It was a coming of age performance from the maligned ruck-forward, who was yet to pin down a position in the team.
Round 19, away vs Hawthorn
The Swans and Hawks renewed rivalries on another starry, perfect Friday night at the MCG. Unfortunately the Swans failed to learn their lessons from the last time the two teams played, hamstrung by injuries before the match with Rohan and Lloyd late withdrawals, and the changes were telling.
Bizarrely, Aliir was left in the stands to watch on as the Swans' defence crumbled under the Hawks pressure. Using the exact same game plan from Round 10, they dominated the ball from the half-back line before running it quickly up the wings and inside 50 with pin-point accuracy.
Franklin had a stinker, a lot of players were down, but the Swans somehow managed to drag their sorry selves within 6 points, not that they deserved to win. The Hawks, profligate in the third quarter, should have put the match well out of reach of the Swans, but could only manage two behinds in one of the worst displays of goal kicking you'll ever see.
The Swans were licking their wounds too, with Lloyd, Rohan, Naismith and Kennedy all under injury clouds.
Round 20, away vs Geelong
The Swans gave efficiency a new meaning, with devastating effectiveness against a Dangerless Cats outfit. Missing their own midfield bull in Kennedy, the Swans ran riot against the Cats, kicking seven-goals-to-two in a first quarter demolition.
An incredible 5 goals 2 from 20 disposals put an end to the match, not even half-way through the first quarter. The Cats kept in touch, with Hawkins torching Melican when Grundy was forced off with injury, but it wasn't enough to drag them back into the contest, with most of their goals coming through dumb luck more than good play.
A truly bizarre passage of play at the start of the last quarter killed the contest, with Duncan giving away a second goal immediately after the Swans kicked their first of the quarter.
Round 21, home vs Fremantle
A superb team effort from the Swans, thirteen goals to one in the first half, saw off the hapless Dockers who had little answer to the Swans. Franklin kicked four to stay in touch with the Coleman medal leaders, while Parker maintained his emphatic form. There wasn't an under performer for the Swans on the day as the Swans trounced the Dockers by 104 points.
Round 22, away vs Adelaide
A fast start was mooted to be the difference between the teams, and the Swans started strong. The Swans burst out of the blocks, kicking the first four of the match, and surged to a 29 point lead early in the second quarter.
It was like a switch was flicked, with the Swans letting their foot off the Crows metaphorical throat, and they made them pay, hitting back hard in the remaining three quarters, dominating the match, firmly assisted by shocking umpiring, with the Swans defence under all sorts of pressure.
There were several moments of magic for the Swans, with Franklin's goal of the season coming in the third quarter, burning Talia down the wing, and backing up with an absurd tap to Rohan, smashing it in from beyond the paint.
Callum Mills' composure reached legendary levels in the last quarter, repelling attack after attack, even better than his Essendon efforts. Then the "shoulder of god" moment happened, with Papley smashing the winner through with four minutes remaining.
Round 23, home vs Carlton
The Swans were out for blood and they made Carlton pay a very heavy price for their Round 6 win. Despite injuries to Callum Sinclair and Kurt Tippett, the Swans overcam a sluggish start to comprehensively thrash a Blues outfit already on holidays.
Franklin kicked a season-best ten goal haul, taking the lead in the Coleman medal race, winning it after Daniher and Kennedy from the Eagles failed to kick enough goals each.
Expectations & Performance
Expectations for the second half of the season were mixed - Swans fans just wanted them to play well and compete, hoping they could make the finals, while the club were quietly optimistic.
No one expected them to go without a loss, and they very nearly did, kicking four consecutive goals against the Hawks, taking the lead early in the last quarter. But more importantly, there was little optimism that the Swans could beat the Hawks, Cats and Crows on the road.
The performances however, far exceeded expectations. The Swans not only met them, but crushed them into powder. They won every game they were expected to win, albeit in comical and often trying circumstances, but won the games they were expected to lose, notably torching the Cats on their home deck.
Hopes of a final series soon gave way to a top-6 finish, and rapidly gave way to a Grand Final birth when they destroyed the Blues in the last round, putting pressure on both Port Adelaide and Richmond to win their games.
Unfortunately, they won their final round matches comfortably and went on to finish 3rd and 5th respectively. In the end, the Swans won 11 from 12 games, 14 from 16, and became the first team in AFL/VFL history to make the finals after starting 0-6.
Luke Parker's second half Lazarus effort didn't go unnoticed, racking up 12 of his 16 Brownlow votes after the mid-season bye. He single-handedly crushed the Demons, Suns and Cats, and kicked three against the Dockers. Franklin, Rampe and Kennedy were standouts, while forward Kurt Tippett couldn't catch a break.
Melican's improved form won him a senior contract, while Aliir, Laidler and Marsh languished in the reserves.
Luke Parker was the stand-out player of the second half of the season, racking up 12 Brownlow votes and was regularly amongst the best players on the field.
Lance Franklin smote the opposition late on in the year, joining the 800-club and kicking 10 goals in the final round to snatch the Coleman out of Joe Daniher's grasp. He'd poll 21 votes to finish as the 2nd highest for the Swans.
Captain Josh Kennedy's game went to an entirely new level with the shackles finally released. With the resurgent midfield behind him, he was killing it in the middle and lead the Swans brilliantly whenever he was on the pitch.
Dan Hannebery, Jarrad McVeigh and Jake Lloyd lead the midfield and defence brilliantly at times, while Kieren Jack enjoyed a massive up-turn in injury-free form, while Grundy and Smith enjoyed the return of Rampe.
Players: Luke Parker, Lance Franklin, Josh Kennedy, Dan Hannebery, Jarrad McVeigh, Jake Lloyd, Heath Grundy, Nick Smith, Kieren Jack
Lewis Melican continued his rapid rise, securing not only a first-team spot, but a senior contract as well. There were games he was shaky, in particular the final four rounds, but for the most part was proving to be an impressive addition to the defence. Along with Callum Mills, the defence was finally secure.
Zak Jones and George Hewett enjoyed tremendous form at times throughout the second half of the season, only bested by Jones' brain fade leading to a suspension and additional fines. They formed a formidable trio with injury-free Heeney, and regularly smashed their opponents.
Callum Sinclair finally made a spot his own, taking over the key forward role from Tippett who struggled through the season with a serious ankle injury, while Papley showed brilliant glimpses of his best with two match-winning actions, and Rohan held his nerve at critical moments.
Players: Lewis Melican, Callum Mills, Zak Jones, George Hewett, Isaac Heeney, Callum Sinclair, Tom Papley, Gary Rohan, Dane Rampe, Nic Newman
The deeper into a season you get, the more the young tend to fade, and that's exactly what happened with both Florent Hayward. Although Florent was one for the future, Hayward enjoyed a good first season, but always struggled to find a way to influence the match against better opponents.
Dean Towers was playing his role, and playing it well, but at times you just had to scratch your head. When he was regularly amongst the worst, or least effective on the ground, you forgot he was playing.
The same could be said for Sam Reid, who spent time in the forward line, ruck and back line, culminating in two poor performances before missing two weeks through injury. After an impressive first three weeks, his remaining 19 weren't that impressive.
Despite playing as the main ruck, Sam Naismith really struggled to influence the game at times. Offering little to nothing once the ball left his zone, he was often beaten by smaller, more athletic opponents.
Players: Oliver Florent, Will Hayward, Dean Towers, Sam Reid, Sam Naismith
Kurt Tippett had absolutely no luck whatsoever, and with news after the season that he had an ankle reconstruction, it's understandable. Some of his efforts were bizarre, and his inability to run a single match out hurt the Swans severely. He twice seriously rolled his ankle in two weeks (against Adelaide and Carlton), ruling him out of the finals series.
Dan Robinson, Harry Cunningham and Jordan Foote got game time, or missed most of the second-half through form, injury or otherwise. But when they played, there wasn't anything to show for it. It would be telling that Dan Robinson would go on to request a trade in the off-season.
Players: Kurt Tippett, Dan Robinson, Harry Cunningham, Jordan Foote, Harry Marsh
Stay tuned for part 4, the finals series.
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