Football is an emotional sport. It’s an outlet for the innate human desire to compete and battle one another, in centuries past to the bloody death, and decades ago, bloodied and hurt. It’s a way for us to express our primeval desires and urges, and while the players duel each other, fans are often swept away in the emotion of it, riding every contest, kick and mark, as if they were on the field themselves.
Let’s face the facts straight up. Friday’s result was not what most of us Swans fans, or even AFL fans expected. It was a limp performance, littered with errors and turnovers that would have made a gladiator turn in his grave. It was akin to throwing the one-armed swordsman into the pit with Lions. What should have been the metaphor to describe the Swans midfield against the decimated Crows midfield, it was flipped on its head as the Swans midfield was well and truly beaten.
It was a horror show, one that Swans fans seldom witness. Despite the goals kicked, the primary ball winners were all defenders, with Rampe leading the Swans at half-time (15), followed by Lloyd (14), Smith (13) and Mills (13). Stalwarts Kennedy (6), Parker (4), Hannebery (8) and Jack (5) had absolutely no impact on the contest, and played in a manner that few, if any had ever seen.
It’s fair to say that not only were the players shocked at their own performance, but fans and coaches were too. Longmire’s press conference after the match said it all, his expression perplexed, barely able to fathom his side’s inability to even win a contested ball, the one thing they’ve prided themselves on for over a decade.
“The problems started a lot before the third quarter. I mean the first half we were 6-16 clearances, 4-20 first possessions,” Longmire said.
“The first quarter was the problem and unfortunately that puts you on the back foot and makes you reactive to how you setup because you need some support.”
To paraphrase an article by Heather Quinlan (at the time Heather Smith) in 1994 to describe the Swans shock loss to St Kilda by one point, the first quarter ‘was a murdering’. The Swans deserved to be well and truly out of the match, with the Crows prolific in possession, yet wayward in front of the sticks, kicking five straight behinds in the opening five minutes. 4.9 (33) for the quarter kept the Swans within striking distance, not the Swans tireless play, which was non-existent; it was a walloping of a quarter.
Despite the struggles of the midfield – which simply could not get its hands to ball – the Swans slowly battled their way back into the game. Seedsman, Laird and Atkins had the ball on a string, with Ellis-Yolmen proving almost untacklable, while the defenders constantly clung to Walker and Jenkins, needlessly giving away a plethora of free kicks.
Something had to change at half-time. The Swans trailed in almost every major statistical category; -5 centre clearances, -6 inside 50s, -13 contested possessions, -9 hit-outs and -16 first possessions. Longmire and his team changed the midfield set-up, with Hannebery playing exclusively off the wing, and Heeney, Mills and Jones starting most centre bounces.
In an instant, the Swans won the centre clearance and moved it inside fifty. The ball remained locked inside their forward half for most of the quarter, registering almost 95% time spent in their forward half, midway through the quarter. Yet for all their dominance, pressure and monumental inside fifty advantage (17-3), they kicked 2.3 (15). In a flash, the Crows pushed the lead back out to nine points with Seedsman sticking the knife in and twisting it, with just minutes left in the quarter.
The unlikely comeback was as good as over nine minutes into the final quarter, when the Crows kicked three straight goals. Gary Rohan kicked his second of the match to give the Swans a glimmer of hope, but the Swans missed three gettable shots at goal, before Hewett kicked the Swans second of the quarter with just under two minutes remaining. Rohan’s touched soccered effort with a minute left was the Swans last chance, with no repeat of his heroics against Essendon or Richmond the season before.
Despite the horrendous first half, the Swans fell an agonizing ten points short. There was significant ill feeling towards the umpires, frequently booed by the home supporters, with one fan even offering his glasses to the umpires with a hilarious spray in the third quarter. Zak Jones, Isaac Heeney and Jake Lloyd starred for the Swans, alongside defenders Dane Rampe and Callum Mills, who finally got his wish and played mostly midfield in the second half.
It’s always easy to throw the baby out with the bath water after such a disappointing performance. Context is required in a result such as this, despite it being so hard to distinguish, discover or acknowledge. Nothing can excuse the first fifty minutes of play, as the Crows galloped out to a 23-point lead, but the Swans stuck to it and almost ground out a result.
Without a functioning forward line, they’ve scrapped three wins against very solid opposition, with the Bulldogs playing their best football since 2016, while West Coast and Greater Western Sydney will certainly be playing finals football. Home losses aren’t great, but Port Adelaide were terrific, as well as the Crows.
Sam Reid is arguably the most important structural player for the Swans, but he’s not out there, and won’t be until after the bye. With Naismith out for the season, Tippett retired, Aliir virtually untried, and the other options yet to debut, I’m not sure what the Swans can do except try to kick it to Buddy.
The #SwansCast crew is back tomorrow night. In this weeks' episode I'll be joined by NEAFL journalist and SwansCast regular Myles Stedman, and we'll dissect the Friday night match, and look ahead to the Cats game on Saturday afternoon.
Don't forget to get your questions and comments to us by 6.30pm and we'll address them in the show. This weeks' question topic is: "Should we bring back Tippett?". The Best responses will the read out on the show.
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