Harry Cunningham, the underrated swan

Harry Cunningham, a New South Wales boy from Wagga Wagga, came to the Swans in the 2012 AFL Rookie Draft. A nuggety, hard running link man with 108 games experience, Cunningham has had his fair share of critics. A perceived lack of effort, skill and intensity were once used as criticisms against the player, but I would argue that is no longer the case.

Cunningham is one of the best link men in the competition, if not a highly underrated one. He plays multiple roles across the ground, as a midfielder, winger, defender, run-with player and as an occasional tagger. He often splits his on-ground time 50/50, between the front-half and back-half of the ground. With one of the largest tanks on the team, and regularly playing over 90 percent of game time, he continues to chase and present from contest-to-contest, right up to the final siren.

Statistically speaking, Cunningham is below average for disposals when compared with other midfielders. In a competition where 40 touches - with shockingly poor disposal efficiency - is considered a good game, Cunningham's elite disposal efficiency but low disposal count often doesn't get a mention. With a career disposal efficiency of just under 80 percent
- 74 percent by foot, he's one of the best ball users at the Swans.

More so, he's a handy goal kicker - when he can get his hands on the ball inside fifty, with a 61 percent conversion rate over his career - also elite.


Where Cunningham struggles in many viewers' mind, is the sheer weight in numbers his contemporaries are registering per game. Cunningham averages 15 disposals per game over his 108-game career, well down on what other midfielders and wingers are averaging. This is somewhat offset by how well he disposes of the ball, and his “jack of all trades” role in the team, where his ability to accumulate is stifled by the variety of roles of plays on any given day. Yet, it would it be better if Harry had another 5-8 possessions per game, right?

Cunningham looked set for his breakout year in 2017, until a lisfranc injury ruled him out for six weeks. Harry never regained his early season form, returning to the side when the Swans started their nose dive. He demonstrated his ability as a tagger and run-with player against Hawthorn in Round 7, 2018. He was arguably the unsung hero of the Swans' phenomenal against-the-odds win. Ben Ronke was celebrated for his 7-goal haul and George Hewett for his shutdown job on Tom Mitchell. But it was arguably Harry Cunningham who had the biggest impact, keeping winger Isaac Smith out of the game.

We may now be seeing Cunningham live up to his true potential, as his statistics for the first four games of 2019 have shown a huge improvement. From averaging 18-disposals per game in 2018, he's averaging 22 disposals, with a whopping efficiency of 85 percent overall, and four intercept possessions. Harry is an elite ball user, not just at the Swans, but across the competition. He is the kind of player the Swans desperately need more of - fast, good foot skills and a big tank. Importantly, he's a hard 2-way runner who can hit targets by foot, and potentially hit the scoreboard if allowed to rest up front.

Harry will be one of the most important players on the Swans' list in the next 2-to-5 years. At 25 years old, with more than 100 games of experience, he's in the right age and experience demographic that the Swans list desperately needs more of.

It’s time for his breakout season, and we may just be getting that.

Statistics (per game)

* elite in AFL

Disposal efficiency79.4*84.1*
% by foot73.7*85.5*
Rebound 50’s1.44.5*
Intercept possessions2.14.5*
Metres gained200.4402.5

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Joshua Maher

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