This is the second article in a series of five where our columnists will be reviewing season 2018, beginning with the 2017 post-season through to the conclusion of the 2018 finals.
Part 1 - Part 2
Despite the core of the elite midfield group still battling on-going injury issues, the outlook at the start of the season was positive. A deep finals run was the goal for the fans, although with a young squad, a new coaching panel and a different game style, anything was possible.
2016 saw the emergence of Aliir Aliir, Callum Mills and Tom Papley, who would go on to play a fantastic finals series, while 2017 gave us Lewis Melican, a resurgent Jarrad McVeigh and future Bob Skilton Medalist Jake Lloyd finishing runner-up with Lance Franklin, pipped by Luke Parker for the 2017 Club Champion award.
There was a lot to be positive about heading into Round 1, despite Kurt Tippett’s sudden retirement and Sam Naismith’s season-ending injury. Sam Reid and Gary Rohan would return in the first three rounds, while Kieren Jack and Dan Hannebery were close behind.
First half in review
Lance Franklin sounded an ominous warning to the competition with a ridiculous 8-goal haul against the Eagles in their newly minted Perth Stadium.
Luke Parker’s Goal of the Year nominated over-head goal was the pick of the bunch in the Swans 29-point victory. Franklin had three on the board by quarter time and five by half-time, leaving the Eagles reeling, virtually a human wrecking ball.
Nic Naitanui in his first game in 18-months got the Eagles back into the game late in the third quarter, before Luke Parker’s insane goal deep in the last quarter sealed the win for the Swans. Franklin’s bruised heel was the only sour point of the match.
What was to become a tale of the season, Sydney’s one-half performance turned a near certain win into a truly disappointing loss. Despite leading by 14-points at half-time, an error-riddled game turned into a tidal wave of Port momentum in the third quarter, booting 7-goals-to-2, running out winners.
Sam Reid made his short-lived return to the side in Round 3 against the GWS Giants. In almost the same act on field, Reid blew up his quad muscle and Melican tore his hamstring. Reid’s prognosis at the time suggested an extended stint on the sidelines with a return after the bye likely, while Melican was expected to return in a month.
Franklin’s two-goal haul in the last quarter, including a stunning long-range goal on the run, sealed the Swans first win of the season against the Giants.
A hard-fought 7-point victory against the Bulldogs in their often-spiteful Round 4 clash put the Swans firmly back into premiership contention. Josh Dunkley dropped a soda in the goal square with just minutes left, before making an absolute meal of it, while Franklin booted 3 goals.
The Crows loss was more the galling given their injury crisis at the time, with almost all of their midfield stars missing. In both games the Swans were guilty of atrocious football, marred by uncharacteristic skill errors and poor decisions.
Sydney’s against-all-odds win against the Cats was won on the shoulders of Will Hayward, Josh Kennedy and Callum Sinclair. Despite trailing at three quarter time by 22-points, an emphatic 7-goal-to-1 last quarter put an end to Geelong’s resurgence.
It was the Swans third win in a row at Kardinia Park and they remain the only team to beat the Cats at their fortress in over three years.
Despite still missing Franklin for their Round 8 clash against the Hawks at the MCG - the Kryptonite in their thrilling 2017 16-game run, Ben Ronke’s 7-goal, 10-tackle effort was one of the finest performances by a small forward in the history of the game.
It’s even more remarkable given it was just his second game of AFL Football and he couldn’t even find his way out to the ground.
Their Round 12 drubbing of the Saints was their most impressive win, dominating in every facet of the game before running out 77-point winners. Their 9-goal opening quarter was so emphatic, the parochial local crowd booed the Saints at quarter-time.
The Swans rounded out the first-half of the season with another commanding win against the Eagles in Round 13 at the SCG. In another typical 2-quarter performance, the Swans went goalless in the first and last quarters, while piling on 10-goals-to-4 in the middle quarters.
A 7-goal unanswered run either side of half time snapped the Eagles 10-game win streak and thrust the Swans into the top two. The Swans, in particular Lance Franklin, were wasteful in the last quarter, booting six behinds to just 1 goal.
Expectations and performance
Expectations fluctuated wildly from round-to-round. With Tippett and Naismith missing, there wasn’t much of an expectation the Swans would enter the bye in second place on the ladder, or even have 10 wins from their first 13 matches.
Nor would anyone have expected the unbelievable growth of Ben Ronke and Will Hayward, leading the line with aplomb in Franklin’s absence, or a 6-game win streak after dreadful home performances against Adelaide and North Melbourne.
Franklin’s 8-goal effort against the Eagles was his highlight of the first 13 rounds, while Josh Kennedy and Callum Sinclair carried the Swans to victory in an emphatic final quarter against the Cats. The highlight of the season so far was undoubtedly Ronke’s 7-goals against the Hawks in their thrilling 8-point victory in Round 8, all the more impressive with Franklin and Reid missing.
Entering the bye in striking range of the top-6 clubs would have been the realistic goal, but to be second, one-game behind the eventual premiers, only beaten by the Swans was purely fantasy. But like the season before, the Swans were making a habit of turning dreams into reality.
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