WHAT WENT RIGHT?
The Swans will look back on 2018 and wonder where it all went wrong. Sitting at 10 wins and three losses at the mid-season break, they were well placed to have a genuine crack in September.
Their defence was one of the best in the league. Dane Rampe marshalled one of the stingiest backlines in the comp. With ball magnet Jake Lloyd, human glove Nick Smith and wiley veteran Heath Grundy in tow it is easy to see why.
Callum Sinclair was a one man band in the ruck for the Swans all year and whilst he was not necessarily in contention for all Australia, he was more than serviceable. His ruckwork wasn’t always the best, but his work around the grounds and contested marking was outstanding.
When Aliir Aliir finally got his crack at the top level this year, it left all the Swans fans scratching their heads wondering where he had been all year. His intercept marking, reading of the play and rebound from defence was incredible when he returned. His willingness to take the game on from an intercept mark was impressive to watch and his foot skills were normally very good.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
Whilst Callum Sinclair had a great year, Sydney often were beaten in the clearances and smashed in the inside 50’s. They managed to win a lot of their games this year despite losing the inside 50 count and often would only manage 20-30 inside 50’s a game.
They were usually very efficient when going inside 50, but one can only imagine the damage they could have done if their engine room was able to generate more ball into attack. Josh Kennedy and Luke Parker are inside beasts and genuine stars, but they were often left to win the ball on their own more times than not.
Isaac Heeney, Oliver Florent, Tom Papley, Kieren Jack, Dan Hannebery and Harry Cunningham all spent time on the ball but none were able to make any consistent impact around the stoppages which meant that Sydney were often generating scores from defence rather than from the middle.
Even with Buddy Franklin, Sydney’s forward line lacked the potency to kick a winning score. Whilst the defence was only conceding 75 points against on average, the forward line were only able to generate just over 80 points per game for the season. That is hardly a stat to write home about and doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room.
Even though Tom McCartin had a serviceable first year and provided great support for Buddy Franklin, he often drifted in and out of games, which is not unexpected from the youngest player in the AFL. Will Hayward and Ben Ronke had a similar issues, they can be electrifying at times but being able to string good games together was their biggest issue.
George Hewitt finished the 2017 year spending a bit more time in the midfield. He started the 2018 season the same way, but with a difference. The Swans coaching staff had turned him into a run with player. His gut running, contested nature and pressure around the ball made him potentially the best run with player this year. Taking scalps like Tom Mitchell, Dustin Martin, Luke Shuey and Nate Fyfe, he also averaged 18 disposals and almost four tackles a game. A very good return considering how often Sydney were beaten in the middle.
With their season on the line after losing the previous two matches to the Gold Coast and Essendon, the Swans looked like missing the finals for the first time under John Longmire. Facing the red hot Pies the Swans were rank outsiders in this game.
Considering their wretched home form, it looked like Collingwood would win comfortably. In one of the games of the season, it was a sea-sawing affair in which the visitors lead by three goals at half time. But a five goal to zip third quarter gave the Swans a two goal lead going into the final term. A fast finishing Collingwood nearly stole the points though, only to be thwarted by an amazing goal by first year player Tom McCartin in the dying minutes.
After a tough loss to Essendon the round before, the Swans looked to bounce back against a hapless Gold Coast who had barely won a game all year. Sydney got the jump with a six goal to one first term but it was all the Suns from there. Never looking back after kicking the next six goals of the game.
Their numbers at the contest and their pressure around the ball was immense. The hardened Sydney midfield just couldn’t cope with the physical play of the Suns and they were held goalless for the second and third quarters.
It would be the Swans first ever loss to Gold Coast andleft a massive dent in their finals chances.
WHAT THEY NEED TO IMPROVE ON?
Sydney lacked potency in the middle of the ground and up forward in 2018. To be a genuine chance in the finals next year they need to be able to generate more ball inside 50 and more options than Buddy Franklin if they are to kick a winning scores.
Kurt Tippett’s retirement and Sam Reid being injured left a big whole in Sydney’s forward line and they relied on their young players like Tom McCartin, Ben Ronke and Will Hayward. And as with all young players they often went missing in big games.
With the impending departure of Dan Hannebery and Gary Rohan, the Swans will need to find some more midfield grunt. It might be a good idea to look at an experienced midfielder in the trade period.
At their best they appeared capable of mixing it with their best but at their worst they could lose to Gold Coast. A very disappointing season for a club that has made a habit of deep runs into September.