Have the Swans lost their ‘Bloods’ culture?

Stuart McKenzie Roar Rookie

By , Stuart McKenzie is a Roar Rookie New author!

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    It’s not that long ago that other clubs wanted to be like the Sydney Swans and supporters from other clubs looked on in admiration, wondering just what it was like to follow such a team.

    They were universally admired in the footy world, not only for the substantial successes they achieved, but for the manner in which those successes were achieved.

    The Swans of today though, appear to be quite different to the club that won the 2012 premiership. So, what’s changed? For one, there has been a dramatic shift in the approach to recruiting and trading.

    The blue-collar Bloods are now home to the Bondi Billionaires and a club that willingly traded draft picks for experienced players now finds itself utilising its draft selections.

    Unloved players from other clubs flocked to the Swans to fill specific needs. It’s easy to forget the remarkable success they achieved by bringing such players to the club and immersing them in the Bloods culture.

    Want a couple of key defenders, try Ted Richards and Craig Bolton; need competitive ruckmen, Darren Jolly, Jason Ball and Shane Mumford are the men; attacking defenders, that’s Marty Mattner and Rhyce Shaw; a big bodied midfielder, there’s a handy player in the VFL by the name of Josh Kennedy; a speedy on-baller, we’ll give Paul Williams a go; a skilful forward, that’s Nick Davis; or a key forward, well, Barry Hall will do.

    The Swans backed their ability to identify rough diamonds, willingly trading draft picks for that player. While giving up first round picks for experienced players – Hall, Jolly, Ball and Williams, for example – they also landed real gems – picks, 39, 46 and 70 for Kennedy; pick 61 for Shaw; pick 28 for Mumford; and Bolton cost nothing in the pre-season draft.

    Sure, they had some misses, few remember Andrew Schauble, Luke Brennan and David Spriggs, but the phenomenal success of the ones they ‘got right’ far outweighs any misses.

    Then, after winning the 2012 premiership in a performance that underwrote the Swans’ entire approach to recruiting and epitomised the Bloods culture, they did an about face. Kurt Tippett was signed, on one of the biggest deals the game had seen.

    This was eclipsed just one year later, when the footy world was rocked by the Swans luring Lance Franklin with a nine-year deal for $10 million.

    Lance Franklin Sydney Swans AFL 2017

    (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

    Since 2012, the only players from other clubs acquired by the Swans have been Jeremy Laidler and Tom Derickx as delisted free agents, Callum Sinclair Michael Talia. Only Sinclair remains on the list.

    Over the same period, the Swans have been more active at the draft table, having taken 12 selections inside the top 50, compared to only nine in the period 2006-09 (2010 and 2011 were disregarded due to the Gold Coast concessions).

    Salary cap constraints caused by the recruitment of both Tippett and Franklin must have contributed to the increased emphasis on the draft and reduced focus on enticing players from other clubs.

    No one outside the club knows what impact this change in recruiting / trading strategy has had on both the fabric of the club and on-field performance.

    We can reasonably assume though that it almost certainly cost the Swans Shane Mumford (and couldn’t the Swans have done with big Mummy in the 2014 decider), much loved defender Nick Malceski whose post-goal celebration in the 2012 grand final is etched in Swans folklore and father-son prospect and now Hawthorn best and fairest winner, Tom Mitchell. And perhaps, most of all, they lost the cost of living allowance, which despite their claims otherwise, provided a major advantage in attracting and retaining players.

    Sydney Swans player Kurt Tippett catches AFL ball

    (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

    In the five years since recruiting Tippet, four of which included Franklin as a Swan, they have made two grand finals, surrendering meekly to a Hawthorn assault in 2014 and failing to withstand the Bulldogs manic pressure of 2016. A preliminary final belting in 2013, a straight sets exit in 2015 when undermanned and this year’s semi-final thrashing at the hands of Geelong rounds out those years.

    And, what of the Bloods culture? The Swans of today are still a respected team and club, but they no longer have that intangible quality that made them such a unique group. They were both revered and feared, not any more. It’s hard to imagine the Bloods ever putting up performances like the 2014 grand final.

    Had the Swans produced a premiership in that time, perhaps that cost would be justifiable. There is still time for it to pay dividends, but the failure to do so to date, must bring into question the merits of the shift in approach to recruiting and trading.

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