Sports

Is there a last hurrah in the old-school Bloods?

In a season where there has been a gradual changing of the guard at Sydney, it's their old firm who have been given the job of keeping alive the longest finals streak in the AFL.

As confident as the Swans are in their next generation, if the past six weeks has taught them anything it's that the kids are not ready to drive the team.

Their losses to Gold Coast and Essendon, which were as dispiriting as any of the six to start last year, came with some of the least experienced teams the Swans have fielded since John Longmire took over as coach in 2011. Dan Hannebery, Kieren Jack and Jarrad McVeigh all missed those games. Not since 2009 had the Swans turned out a team without the three stalwarts. This is significant given the doubts over the trio's future beyond this year.

One more time with feeling: Jarrad McVeigh.

Photo: AAP

Vice-captain Hannebery, the subject of trade rumours this week, is well below his best and former captain Jack is on the decline, but their contribution cannot be solely measured by kicks and handballs. At the very least, they play big minutes, which helps with rotations.

"They have a calming influence on the younger guys, get them structured the right way," dual Swans premiership star Jude Bolton said. "I've noticed when they had bad losses they've been a bit disorganised at times."

Advertisement

Though their youngsters have tired in the past month, the Swans know they will be the cornerstone of their team in the coming years.

Big task: Can Dan Hannebery lift the Swans into the finals again?

Photo: AAP

In Sam Reid's absence, Tom McCartin, the youngest player in the competition, has been asked to hold down centre half-forward in his first year.

Teenager Will Hayward and rookie Ben Ronke have kicked 26 and 23 goals respectively and played big roles in important wins. Oliver Florent, who turned 20 last month, has added pace and flare, attributes not normally associated with the hard-nosed Swans.

It's easy to forget Isaac Heeney, arguably the best of Sydney's under 23s, is in only his fourth season, George Hewett, Callum Mills and Tom Papley their third. All have earned their games, instead of being gifted them on the basis of youth, and played well above their station.

Always the key: Lance Franklin was back to his menacing best last week.

Photo: AAP

When the season goes on the line at the MCG on Sunday against Melbourne it will be the heroes of the 2012 grand final and a forward who was on the other team that day, Lance Franklin, upon whose shoulders so much responsibility rests. Can they produce one last hurrah?

McVeigh, Jack, Hannebery, Josh Kennedy and Luke Parker – who all played in that premiership – once formed one of the best midfields in the league, but not any more.

What was once Sydney's strength is now a weakness. Not since 2008 have they lost the contested possession count, their barometer, on five consecutive occasions. It forces them to defend deep in their back half, which is against the modern trend of the front-half turnover game. Melbourne, whom they have pushed aside for years, are excelling in this department.

Since the bye, AFL stats provider Champion Data ranks the Swans 14th on scores from turnovers, down from fourth last year. The three leading teams in this period are Melbourne, Greater Western Sydney and Hawthorn – coincidentally, the sides the Swans play in the run home. Those clubs, along with Richmond, also sit in the top four on the form ladder in that time.

The Swans' tumble down the ladder has coincided with the loss of key personnel, several of whom are now back in the team.

The win last weekend was what Bolton described as a trademark backs-to-the-wall Swans victory. But even with a six-goal haul from Franklin, they only just scraped over the line against an undermanned Collingwood.

At times they have been criticised for being too reliant on Franklin, who has hardly trained, but "when he plays like that you would be funnelling as much of the footy through him as possible", Bolton said.

If there is a sense the Swans look tired then there is good reason. Since 2012, they have played in 17 finals – the equivalent of almost an extra season – which must take its toll playing in their unforgiving manner. Ten players have played every game this year. Only North Melbourne have had more.

Injuries to first-choice players, such as Mills, Reid, Sam Naismith and Lewis Melican, have hurt, but other clubs have fared worse, which raises questions about their depth.

The cavalry, however, is now back and the Swans have close to the side that took them to 10-3 before the bye. Faith in the Swans is waning, but Bolton is backing their old guard, several of whom might not be there next year, to get them into September.

"I think they will," Bolton said. "They're enormously proud, there's a reason why they've been so consistent and play deep in finals. They have their fate in their own hands."

Few expect that to be for much longer.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *