Story Of The Summer

Saturday, September 27, 2014 will certainly not go down in the history of the Sydney Swans as one of the clubs finest days. After starting favourites to claim their fifth premiership and their third since 2005, Sydney succumbed to the might of Hawthorn in the Grand Final to the tune of 63 points. The fallout from the loss has no doubt stung the Swans deep and they will be looking to 2015 as a year of redemption.

One player who won’t be joining the Swans in their 2015 campaign is All-Australian defender Nick Malceski, who packed up his boots and beach towel for a move north to Gold Coast as an unrestricted free-agent. He joined the Suns on a three-year deal, which saw Sydney receive a second round draft pick, number 39, which was on traded to the Western Bulldogs along with Shane Biggs in return for pick 37.

Other departures from the Swans in 2014 were 2005 and 2012 premiership heroes Ryan O’Keefe and Lewis Roberts-Thomson. In addition, the Swans saw Tommy Walsh return to his native Ireland, while Jordan Lockyer and Matthew Dick were both delisted. Tim Membrey also found his way to St Kilda as a delisted free agent.

Draft-wise, the Swans were thrilled to welcome highly rated midfielder Isaac Heeney via their academy with pick 18, which also netted them Jack Hiscox (pick 38) and Abaina Davis (pick 70). The Swans also added medium-sized forward James Rose from Sturt with pick 37.

Where They Excel

While the so-called ‘Bondi billionaires’ in Lance Franklin and Kurt Tippett were viewed to be the pillar of success for the Swans in 2014, in actual fact it was their defence that proved to be their strongest asset. Sydney conceded just 1488 points over the home and away season, at just 67.6 points per game – the best in the league, a full 10 points per game fewer than their impressive efforts in 2013. Furthermore, over the entire season, the Swans conceded more than 100 points on just two occasions, both coming against the premiers, in round 18 and in the ill-fated Grand Final loss.

The Swans were ranked third in the league for disposals, at an average of 378 per game, with Josh Kennedy their number one ball winner, ranking third in the league with 28.6 disposals per game. Additionally, Luke Parker, Daniel Hannebery, Kieren Jack and Jarrad McVeigh were also prolific ball winners for the Swans, each averaging in excess of 23 disposals per game.

For the fourth year running, Sydney was the number one tackling side in the competition, averaging 72.4 per game, with Luke Parker the standout individual, ranking as the fifth most prolific tackler in the league with a tally of 151.

That’s not to say that the Swans’ forward line, with the addition of Franklin didn’t have an impact, as he kicked 79 goals on his own, with Kurt Tippett playing second fiddle with 34 goals and veteran Adam Goodes chipping in with 30.

Sydney averaged 96.6 points per game across the home and away rounds, finishing as the fourth most prolific scoring side for the second year in a row, but curiously they averaged 5.4 points per game less, despite possessing Franklin’s forward presence.

With the retirements of O’Keefe, Roberts-Thomson and also Malceski’s move to the Suns, Sydney’s list is now the fifth-oldest in 2015 after ranking second in 2014. Despite this, the Swans are still a very experienced outfit. They are the fifth most experienced in terms of games played with an average of 78.8 matches per player. Of their best 22 only Harry Cunningham and Tom Mitchell are under the age of 22.

John Longmire has built a formidable strike rate as senior coach with the Swans accumulating 67 wins and two draws in 99 matches, including the 2012 flag and last year’s runner-up performance. Consistency is definitely a strong point for this side, and with the core senior group well experienced in the demands of finals football, having made 11 finals series and four Grand Finals in the last 12 seasons, the desire to preserve a winning culture will keep this playing group heading in the right direction.

Where They Struggle

After starting the year with three losses in the first four rounds, it seemed the all-out push to get Lance Franklin to the Swans could well be a high priced failure, but Sydney was to lose just two more matches for the home and away season – both by less than two goals – and Franklin was to excel in his new home, polling 22 votes in the Brownlow Medal and kicking 79 goals.

One area of concern for Sydney to address is in the ruck. While 2013 saw the Swans rank second in the league for total hitouts, thanks to the success of the duo of Shane Mumford and Mike Pyke, last season saw the Swans ranking slip to 14th, with Mumford’s departure to cross-town rival GWS the major reason for the slide.

As number one ruckman, Mike Pyke tried hard all year with little assistance, ranking 12th for hitouts in 2014. In contrast, Mumford excelled at his new home, winning the best and fairest at the Giants as he ranked second in the league for hitouts. As a result, the Swans’ ability to win the ball from clearances was severely affected with the club slipping from number one in 2013 to ninth in 2014.

Sydney reached the Grand Final with a number of its best performers being fit and available for the majority of the year, with 17 players playing in 20 or more matches. Even so, one can’t expect that sort of injury-free form to continue and the ability of the lesser lights to step up when required will be a huge challenge for the Swans.

Also, despite the average age of the list falling, the average age of the senior core is still rising. On the 2015 list, Sydney has 10 players 28 or over this year, with Goodes, Pyke, Rhyce Shaw and Ted Richards currently on the wrong side of 30 and Jarrad McVeigh and Ben McGlynn to join them before the year is out. Of these, it is highly likely Goodes and Shaw will be playing their last seasons.

While the Swans scored a bonus with Tom Mitchell choosing to ignore other offers and remain at the Swans, he only managed a handful of senior appearances last year and worryingly, there doesn’t appear to be a large number of young players knocking on the door of the senior side to claim a regular berth this year, with players such as Zak Jones, Toby Nankervis and Xavier Richards looking to be the next generation of Swans to be blooded.

The Year Ahead

Altogether, Sydney’s core list hasn’t changed a lot from last year, with Malceski the only regular senior player from last season that will really be missed. The Swans still possess a great deal of experience in their best 22 with one of the best midfield groups in the league.

Additionally, having arguably the most dynamic player in the game roaming the forward 50 in Lance Franklin should once again see the Swans challenging for the top four, as they have the ideal mix of a solid defence, an attacking forward line and a consistent midfield.

Much like last year, if the Swans can keep their stars on the park for most of the season, they will again be genuine premiership contenders. However, a run of injuries to key personnel like in 2013 could test the Swans’ depth, which does appear to be a little fragile.

Once again the Swans play 12 games in Sydney, with eight at the SCG and three at ANZ Stadium. Sydney will be favoured to win the majority of its home games, but the positive is that just 10 of the Swans’ 22 games are against fellow finalists from 2014. However, the Swans do face return encounters with GWS, and the more difficult Gold Coast, Geelong, Hawthorn, and Port Adelaide.

If Sydney gets the best out of Franklin up forward with 70 plus goals, with adequate support from Tippett and to a lesser extent Goodes, plus the defence being able to cover for the loss of Malceski, the Swans should be able to produce a winning score most weeks.

With the restricted dealings in drafting and a large amount of the salary cap already allocated, the window for the Swans is gradually closing and this year and next could be the last years in which they have a genuine shot at another premiership. At present, it seems the only club Sydney doesn’t have the measure of is Hawthorn, and they will be yet again the major hurdle for the Swans to overcome in order to add to their trophy cabinet in 2015.

Ladder range: 1-5

Best 22

B: Nick Smith, Ted Richards, Dane Rampe

HB: Heath Grundy, Sam Reid, Jarrad McVeigh

C: Dan Hannebery, Kieren Jack, Lewis Jetta

HF: Gary Rohan, Lance Franklin, Harry Cunningham

F: Adam Goodes, Kurt Tippett, Ben McGlynn

Foll: Mike Pyke, Josh Kennedy, Luke Parker

Int: Zac Jones, Craig Bird, Tom Mitchell

Sub: Isaac Heeney