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Has Sydney’s consistency proved a double-edged sword?


John Longmire could do worse than shuffle the deck over the last four games and hand some of his lesser lights more responsibility. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Has Sydney’s consistency proved a double-edged sword?

Rohan Connolly    

It goes without saying of a club which has missed out on finals just once in the past 15 seasons that consistency is a trademark. And in a competition tighter than ever, Sydney’s proud record over that period has been phenomenal.

The Swans have been less prone than any rival to flighty ups and downs not just from week to week, but season to season. But it’s the logical extension of that big plus which, perversely, right now is a big worry.

When Sydney loses four games from five, can it be dismissed merely as a bad form slump? Or is there something more entrenched and consequently a bigger cause for concern?

Compare the start of last season when the Swans lost their first six games to now and there is an obvious common denominator. Injuries to key players. Which in turn leads to another conclusion. That Sydney doesn’t have nearly the depth of its competitors.

Last year’s early disasters revolved around the loss at various stages of Isaac Heeney, Jarrad McVeigh, Tom Papley and Dane Rampe, a quartet whose roles spread across the ground. Right now, it’s about the absence of Dan Hannebery, Kieren Jack, McVeigh, Callum Mills, Sam Reid, Sam Naismith , Gary Rohan and Lewis Melican.

That’s a fair chunk of talent to take from any list. But the Swans are hardly the only side doing it tough on the injury front.

Collingwood has lost a steady stream of important players all season and lost another couple against Richmond on Saturday in Matt Scharenberg and Jeremy Howe. Jamie Elliott hasn’t played at all, Lynden Dunn and Daniel Wells are gone for the year, Adam Treloar has missed the past five games and Ben Reid hasn’t played since round 10. Still the Pies keep plugging away and winning more often than not.

West Coast went without Jack Darling and Josh Kennedy for an extended spell, then lost ruckman Nic Naitanui for the year but continues to solider on. And there’s plenty more examples other than that pair.

What it suggests is that for all the good work Sydney has done in remaining up the top end of the ladder while continuing to introduce young, fresh talent into the mix, the Swans are more dependent than most upon their top few. When they’re either missing through injury or down on form individually, Sydney’s performance takes a bigger hit.

You could argue on the strength of the two line-ups for last Friday night’s loss to Essendon that the Swans have something of a list imbalance, certainly compared to their opponent.

Across the two teams, the Bombers had an average games played tally of 98, Sydney 90, not much of a difference. Yet the Dons had only two players who had fewer than 30 AFL games to their name. The Swans had eight – Aliir Aliir, Jordan Dawson, Ollie Florent, Robbie Fox, Tom McCartin, Nic Newman, Colin O’Riordan and Ben Ronke.

Perhaps the consistency of the Swans’ biggest stars over the years has been a doubled-edged sword. So perennially good have they been that even after several seasons at senior level the next tier have been able to go on playing support roles rather than having to step up and lead.

The top 10 in Sydney’s best and fairest count of last season is instructive. Only two players in that list – George Hewett and Papley – have now played fewer than 70 games, and not much fewer.

Do the Swans have enough ready-to-contribute types available across the park when the big guns are injured, tired or just struggling? You wonder. They certainly look pretty one-dimensional in all parts of the ground right now.

The loss of ruckman Naismith pre-season was always going to take a toll. Callum Sinclair has stepped up to the plate manfully in his absence, but Sinclair, also a handy goalkicker, can’t be in two places at once and the longer the season has gone, the more his ruck duties and the absence of Sam Reid have laid bare the over-dependence on the champion talents of Lance Franklin.

Stop “Buddy” and stop the Swans is about the sum of it, and the stats back it up. Sydney over the past month is 13th for points scored, 17th for time in forward half, 13th for points scored, 15th for points scored from turnovers and 15th for scores per inside 50m.

Meanwhile, Sydney has habitually allowed its opposition too many forward entries for a while now, 72 against Essendon last Friday night compared to the Swans’ paltry 39 inside 50s.

There’s plenty of debate about whether coach John Longmire is pursuing an outdated method of attempting to build attack from defence.

But maybe all that setting behind the ball by the Swans is as much about the coach recognising an inability of the current midfield group to methodically and efficiently work the ball forward from the stoppages and contests, in which, significantly, their ranking is still at worst respectable.

An out-of-sorts and then injured Hannebery and Jack affect that efficiency, dumping even more of the load on an increasingly sore-looking skipper Josh Kennedy. None of the Swans’ senior hands are speedsters, which is seeing them exploited on the outside too often.

And talented though they are, the likes of Will Hayward and Florent aren’t yet of sufficient maturity or strength to pick up the slack often enough.

If this sounds like the stuff of season post-mortems, that’s probably because Sydney – facing Collingwood, Melbourne, GWS and Hawthorn on the run home – is already looking odds-on to miss out on September for just a second time since 2002.

Perhaps Longmire could do worse than shuffle the deck a bit more over the last four games and drop some of his lesser lights in the deep end in terms of responsibility just to see how they go.

They’ll certainly need to assume more of it next season, so why not now? And it might be worth more to Sydney in the long run than another token finals appearance, regardless of maintaining a proud record.

*This article first appeared at SPORTING NEWS.

2 Comments
  1. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if the Swans kept up their good home record. However, for some reason, in 2017-2018, the Swans have been pretty ordinary at home.

    It’s extraordinary to think it’s their winning on the road that’s kept them in the mix the last two years.

    It seems to me what’s really gone missing is the “Bloods” spirit. Maybe when you bring in a lot of young guys, that needs time to take hold. The next four games will be an opportunity for them to learn it.

    A very concerning stat has been the number of goalless quarters in the last 6 or so weeks. Even when we beat the Eagles, we failed to kick a goal in two quarters. A the time I put the blinkers on and thought “Wow! How good will we be when we play 4 quarters!!”

    Maybe those barren periods in games is also due to having too many young guys who just can’t keep it going for 4 quarters.

    Lastly, when I see Zak Jones behaviour last week, it rings alarm bells of discontent in the group. One player expressing it with ill-discipline, suggests a group that is frustrated and not enjoying footy life. And that too indicates the missing “Bloods” spirit.

    (Or maybe Swans as just jockeying for a 7th or 8th position so they don’t have to play any home finals! 😀 )

  2. Rohan, if you have time, love to know your thoughts on if this consistency has also meant more final appearances which means more cumulative fatigue? Obviously other teams get it too, but does playing 2-4 more high-intensity games every year catch up?

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