Swans still not getting the respect they deserve

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Sydney Swans coach John Longmire (Slattery Images)

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When Sydney were on top of the ladder after round 20, Mick Malthouse put it down to an easy draw.

“I just can’t get my head around it. I’m not saying they’re a dreadful side but I don’t think they’re the best side,” Malthouse observed.

It has been two months since they won the flag and the Swans are still struggling to get the respect they deserve from the rest of the competition.

Immediately following their grand final victory there were strident calls by some clubs for the abolition of the salary cap allowance for Sydney players’ cost-of-living expenses. The insinuation being that the allowance paid for the premiership.

On hearing the news that they would be selecting Kurt Tippett in the pre-season draft, Leigh Matthews exclaimed: “You’ve got the current premiers going and spending a million dollars on a new player, and it’s not supposed to work like that. They are supposed to be getting rid of players.”

This could have been a reference to the allowance, or a suggestion that they are cheating the salary cap.

The problem with this idea is that for a reigning premier, this Swans outfit is seriously lacking in star quality.

At least the type of stars that cost a lot of money. Matthews, of all people, should have realised that they won the flag in spite of this deficiency and despite being well under the cap.

They haven’t needed to get rid of anyone because no one wants them.

In June I didn’t have Sydney in my top four. In July I wanted them to win but I didn’t believe they would. They had to beat Collingwood, their nemesis of the past seven years, to earn a grand final spot.

Badly beaten in contested possessions, centre clearances and inside 50s they should have lost the big one. On three occasions they looked gone for all money but managed eventually to triumph.

Matthews has apparently forgotten that the premiers of the previous five seasons, Geelong, Hawthorn and Collingwood, were able to hold on to their squads; retentions that were assumed to be the result of financial sacrifices by players wanting to be part of a winning culture.

I can’t remember his Brisbane club getting rid of too many players during its triple-premiership reign.

It hasn’t helped the Swans that the living expense allowance, which is set as a percentage of the salary cap and will reach nearly $950,000 by 2014, is effectively the same as Tippett’s wage for next year.

The AFL will review the figure to ascertain whether it accurately reflects the disparity in living costs between cities.

Mindful of the allowance’s importance in attracting talent in the free agency era, and fearful that the AFL will bow to pressure from the other clubs, Swans chief executive Andrew Ireland was quick to highlight a recent PriceWaterhouseCoopers review that placed Sydney as the world’s second most expensive city.

It would be unfair if the AFL reduced or scrapped the allowance all together to even up the competition as the Swans have never been a dominant force.

Even if living expenses weren’t an issue the club is disadvantaged by being heavily reliant on players originating from other states and who may wish to return home at the first opportunity.

The apparent nervousness of other clubs over Tippett’s arrival in Sydney is justified. If the Swans can maintain the form of 2012 and have Tippett come in for the second half of the season and reach the form he displayed in last year’s preliminary final by finishing off the work of his tough relentless teammates downfield, then they will be difficult to stop.

Of course the premiers always seem to be a shoo-in for the following year but rarely do they back up.

Also last season’s competition was one of the tightest in recent memory. Hawthorn, Collingwood and Adelaide will be back with a vengeance, Fremantle will improve, and North Melbourne, Carlton, Richmond, St Kilda and Essendon will be hoping to build on a promising 2012 and who knows what other clubs will rise.

Tippett doesn’t look like the sort of self sacrificial type who would fit easily  into the Swans so-called ”Bloods” culture, despite the obvious enthusiasm expressed by coach and former ‘shinboner’ John Longmire.

Forwards are a different kettle of fish. These cultures can be a little creepy to the individualist – they can go beyond discipline and selflessness and press on in an unwelcome fashion into a player’s precious private space.

As former club champion Michael O’Loughlin said:

“The thing with the Swans footy club is that you either buy into the culture or you’re on the outer. Kurt will have to make every post a winner from the moment he walks in because the work he’s going to have to do to prove himself will be bloody difficult”.

Sydney though are aware of the importance of recruiting eccentric star forwards – the great Tony Lockett got them to a grand final and Barry Hall, in between punching people’s lights out, helped them win a premiership.

And there was the flighty Nick Davis who kicked possibly the most telling goal in the club’s history – the snap in the dying seconds of the 2005 second semi final.

Tippett appears more level-headed than Hall and Davis and has expressed an apparently genuine happiness to be at the club – something he didn’t do at Adelaide.

Whatever happens to them next year, it’s a shame the Swans haven’t been given the respect they deserve for winning this year’s premiership.

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