From the moment the final siren sounded to end the 2012 AFL Grand Final with the Sydney Swans 10 points in front on the scoreboard over Hawthorn, the four players that achieved the ultimate in success in 2005 became dual-premiership players.
300-game veterans in Adam Goodes and Jude Bolton, along with Norm Smith Medallist Ryan O’Keefe and unheralded defender Lewis Roberts-Thomson, know all about the battling it has taken to return to the pinnacle of AFL success. The remarkable thing about the Swans’ triumph has been the consistency shown by this team for the last decade.
The journey began with Rodney Eade’s abdication of the Swans coaching job midway through 2002. His senior assistant, Paul Roos, was installed only as a caretaker coach for the remainder of the season.
However, the Swans’ improved performances for the remainder of the year sparked a groundswell of support behind Roos, ahead of Terry Wallace, who had controversially walked away from the coaching job at the Bulldogs with one year still remaining on his contract.
Paul Roos was formally appointed senior coach of the Swans, ahead of Wallace for season 2003, and from that point, the culture of the Swans has been ingrained and they haven’t looked back.
Of course, the story of the drought-breaking 2005 premiership win over West Coast and Leo Barry’s match saving mark in the dying seconds has been well-documented, as has their inability, by only the narrowest of margins, to repeat that success in the following year’s decider against the Eagles.
The remarkable story is how beyond 2006, the Swans have managed to regenerate their list without slipping down the ladder for a prolonged period.
From 2007 until Roos’ retirement as coach at the end of 2010, Sydney was able to make the finals in all years bar 2009, where it dropped to 12th on the ladder, but still were no easy-beats, recording eight wins, four losses by less than two goals and a percentage of 93.1.
The Swans have remained strong, from when that low point occurred in 2010 while Roos was still in charge, despite already anointing John Longmire as his successor for 2011, and beyond.
Sydney qualified for finals in 2010 with a fifth-placed finish on the ladder with 13 wins, and enjoyed first-up success with a narrow 5-point victory over Carlton in an Elimination Final at ANZ Stadium, before travelling to Melbourne to take on the Bulldogs, under the reigns of former Swans coach Rodney Eade.
In the second quarter, the Swans led by as much as 30 points, while crucial misses in the third term by Daniel Bradshaw would later prove costly, as the Dogs clawed their way back into the match and sent the Swans packing from the finals race with a 5-point win.
This would prove to be Paul Roos’ last match in charge as coach, with an impressive resume of 107 wins from 186 games while in charge. Premiership skipper Brett Kirk also chose to walk away from AFL football, paving the way for new leadership at the helm of the club.
John Longmire officially assumed the head coaching role in 2011, and the Swans opted for co-captains in Adam Goodes and Jarrad McVeigh, as they plotted to continue the Swans’ resurgence up the AFL ladder.
2011 was a mixed year as Sydney remained in the bottom half of the top eight for much of the year, before late wins (including a rare triumph over Geelong in Geelong) propelled them into the finals with real momentum, which they used to defeat St Kilda, who made the Grand Final the previous year, in an Elimination Final at Etihad Stadium. Their campaign came to an end at the hands of Hawthorn with a 36-point loss in the First Semi-Final at the MCG.
This loss would provide the venom for the Swans’ campaign in 2012, where they vowed to bounce back and return to the top four, ensuring their double chance and setting themselves up for a serious attempt at the flag.
While the Swans headed the AFL ladder after Round 19, many were writing them off as genuine premiership contenders as a result of losses late in the season to Collingwood, Hawthorn, and Geelong.
We now know that the assumption was incorrect, as the hard contests primed the Swans perfectly for September action. To kick the final four goals of the Grand Final proved he Swans were ripe for the exact moment of truth. This is testament to the efforts of all at the club.
It still makes you wonder if their dual premierships would have occurred if Terry Wallace was given the nod as coach at the end of 2002.
For every Swans supporter nationwide, this premiership deserves plenty of celebration and reward for consistency and astute recruiting. Sydney’s season is a blueprint for all clubs to aspire to in order to reach the pinnacle of AFL football.
The chase will be on in earnest in 2013. Sydney will be the hunted, and they have earned every second of it.