The year to date
It took Sydney until the 18th minute of the second quarter to score their first goal of season 2015. At that point, they were 29 points behind Essendon, and pre-season predictions of them avenging their 2014 grand final defeat with a flag looked fanciful.
But then, seemingly from nowhere in the last term, Sydney’s patchy defence became impenetrable, Lance Franklin and Kurt Tippett goaled twice each, and the Swans pulled off the greatest three-quarter time comeback in their history to win by 12 points.
Fortunately for the Swans, their see-sawing form against the Dons hasn’t been typical of their 2015. They followed this up with a strong finish against Port, showed guts and composure when rallying to beat their nemesis Hawthorn and the plucky Giants, and in recent weeks have put away matches they should have against North, Carlton and Gold Coast.
Their two losses came in round five against the revelational Dogs by a narrow four points, and the week before against the league-leading Dockers. John Longmire’s team now sit in third place on percentage, having gone down in the shock loss to Richmond last Friday night.
No middle six featuring names like Jack, Parker, Kennedy, Hannebery and McVeigh among others could ever be considered weak: however, with the big forwards in up-and-down form, Sydney’s midfield have become crucial to their sustained success.
Hannebery and McVeigh are the two standouts. Hannebery is in Brownlow form averaging 30 touches per game, highlighted by 43 disposals against Gold Coast. McVeigh, now a veteran of 250 games, won the game off his own boot in the last quarter against the Hawks in round eight, while having 39 touches of his own against the Suns.
Just as impressive as the big name midfielders are the lesser-known ones playing their part. Having had to work hard for his senior side spot, Tom Mitchell has had only game with less than 25 touches this year (last week vs. Richmond), while Isaac Heeney stunned us all in his first five games, most notably when he kicked four goals against GWS in his third.
Credit where it’s due to the Sydney defensive group as well, which has recovered from the first three quarters against Essendon to concede the second-least average points per game in 2015 to date (behind Fremantle).
This brings our attention to the other end of the ground. Both about to miss the clash against Port Adelaide through suspension, Lance Franklin and Kurt Tippett make intimidating opponents for any defender. But this year neither have found their best form, which week-in-week-out has been disappointing to watch for fans and neutral followers alike.
We know Franklin’s inconsistent but he’s never far off a great performance – showcased by his seven goals against Carlton a fortnight ago. But Tippett has been particularly disappointing: each week he looks to allow opponents to get into his head – his last game against Troy Chaplin being a case in point. He misses marks, fades out of games and just isn’t looking the dominant full-forward he once promised.
Tippet’s current output doesn’t suit his contract, and though Longmire has defended his role in the side, the case for him being used as trade bait will strengthen if Tippett doesn’t start impacting the scoreboard in a big way, and soon.
Where to from here?
Really, it’s all a matter of whether the Swans can improve on their already-impressive form and address their limited weaknesses if they’re to become serious premiership contenders come finals.
With their percentage of 131.7 comfortably lower than Hawthorn who is a spot below them, the likes of Franklin and Tippett will need to get their devastating double act together if Sydney are to hold their position.
Their match against giant-killers Richmond was a good first test out of the break, but Longmire and his charges could prove to rue the result in what may end up costing them a home final.
Indeed, the fixture for the second half of 2015 seems designed to test Sydney’s claim to a top two spot and the home final that comes with it. Save for the Lions in round 15, the Swans will face Geelong, Hawthorn, West Coast, Adelaide and Collingwood, having to wait until the last two rounds for easy matches against the Saints and the Suns.