Since the turn of the century, Sydney has been one of the few powerhouses in Australian rules football.
In 2010, off the back of Sydney’s revival under the outgoing old master Paul Roos, respected commentator Dwayne Russell stated several times: “Paul Roos may end up leaving the Sydney Swans in better shape than when he took over.”
That is a big statement.
Given senior duties half-way through 2002 with the sacking of Rodney Eade, Paul Roos inherited a list that had lost three champions of the game that defined an era for the Swans, in Andrew Dunkley, Paul Kelly and Tony Lockett.
Many believed it was the end of an era. A fellow favourite son proved them wrong.
In 2003 the Sydney Swans made an unlikely preliminary final after finishing top-four, and were the big surprise packets of the AFL. With the unearthing and coming to age of some great unfulfilled talent, coupled with shrewd trades, a successful team and more importantly winning culture was forged.
Adam Goodes, Jude Bolton, Ryan O’Keefe, Tadhg Kennelly, Nic Fosdike,Lewis Roberts-Thomson, Adam Schneider, Jason Saddington, and Amon Buchanon were among the new brigade that stepped up immensely and from obscurity, in support of experienced players such as Barry Hall, Michael O’Loughlin, Jared Crouch, Ben Matthews, Leo Barry and Andrew Schuable.
A sprinkle of veterans in the form of Paul Williams, Stuart Maxfield and Jason Ball were complemented by the arrival of rejects from Brisbane and Collingwood in Craig Bolton and Nick Davis.
These two would leave an everlasting impression and memory on the club. A leader of the highest order was born under the tutelage of Roos in Brett Kirk, who blossomed into one of the most respected leaders and footballers for willing his team over the line no matter what adversity they encountered.
This was a generation of players from many different starts in AFL footy: young and maligned talents, risky trades, rejects, internationals, and veterans.
Yet the unlikely nucleus would achieve the ultimate glory in 2005 in an unforgettable year filled with trials and tribulations, and would establish an aura of toughness and determination that were the envy of others. It would catapult them into six consecutive finals appearances along with two grand finals.
In a period destined for doom, Paul Roos had performed a miracle.
In a market as diverse as Sydney, swayed by the success of its product like none other, Sydney could and would not allow itself to bottom out. It would be detrimental to its brand, fan-base and to the growth of the game itself in the city. It was essential and still is to have a quick fix remedy.
Season 2009 was a season of transition and disappointment. A generation of players and an era had drawn to a premature end. Little did they know something greater was evolving from within and nobody had even caught a glimpse.
The Sydney Swans are on the cusp of a golden generation of players unparalleled in its existence. Those before them were great and became immortals for ending the suffering of 72 years, but the ice-cold Roos has formed and handed over a list that is raw but ready to fire.
Two local products in Paul Bevan and Jarad McVeigh were drafted in 2004 with each playing a large part in upcoming seasons and are now the leaders of the club.
2006 saw the blooding of current converted full-back Heath Grundy and the recruitment of centre-half back Ted Richards, who has gone from strength to strength at Sydney. Nick Malceski had a breakout year after injuries had curtailed his career.
The feeble end to their 2007 season was met with a refreshingly new approach in 2008, with the blooding of several young talents in the form of Jared Moore, Craig Bird, Kieran Jack, Nick Smith and Jesse White.
The recruitment of Marty Mattner and Henry Playfair ensured deficiencies had ready made reinforcements. This was the year that began the smooth transition from one successful era to another.
2009 was a year that was emotionally draining for many reasons, not least the retirements of some if its greats and the ignominy in which some departed. Being well in the finals hunt until about the last two weeks, very short term pain was to be endured for the fruits of 2010.
Brett Meredith, Mike Pyke, Daniel Hannebery and the recuitment of Rhyce Shaw were all additions that loaded depth and experience.
2010 was much like 2003. Many stalwarts retired and the future was bleak. Paul Roos weaved some more magic and the Swans were within a kick for a place in another preliminary final after finishing an impressive fifth.
Gary Rohan, Lewis Jetta, Sam Reid, Campbell Heath and Trent Dennis-Lane would all impress and play important roles in the Swan’s rise. Ben McGylnn, Josh Kennedy, Shane Mumford, Mark Seaby and Daniel Bradshaw all made outstanding contributions thoughout 2010 and looked right at home in the Harbour City.
2011 has seen the unearthing of Nathan Gordan, Luke Parker and Alex Johnson. Matt Spangher and Andreijs Everitt have been part of Sydney’s recruitment plans and have adapted nicely.
There is a lot to digest here so what does this all mean? The list management has benn nothing short of extraordinary. The next generation which are under the guidance of veterans Adam Goodes, Jude Bolton, Ryan O’Keefe and Tadhg Kennelly, who form a strong core group.
Going forward, a defence that contains the ice cool Heath Grundy, 19-year-old Alex Johnson who at 19, Lewis Roberts-Thompson, Ted Richards, and a rebounding quartet of Kennelly, Shaw, Mattner and Malceski is sure to intimidate.
Nick Smith and Kieran Jack are quality taggers while Jack is also one of Sydney’s best ball winners and users. Rising Star Dan Hannebery and Craig Bird are A-grade midfielders in the making, while Brett Meredith and Luke Parker in their limited chances have shown enormous potential.
Lewis Jetta and Gary Rohan possess electrifying pace and have lit up the field, providing invaluable leg speed in a team notoriously criticised for lacking pace.
Josh Kennedy, Ben McGylnn and Jarad McVeigh represent a solid foundation in midfield who are all adept at extracting and disposing as well as getting forward and kicking goals from midfield.
Shane Mumford is among the best ruckmen in the league while Mark Seaby is a competent premiership ruckman. Daniel Currie is a weapon for the future while Mike Pyke remains an important auxiliary ruckman.
Sam Reid’s impressive 2011 has seen him touted as the next big thing. Jesse White could complete a twin towers attack if he can fulfill talent but must work harder. Jared Moore is a nugget that can burst through any pack and along with Jetta and Rohan will no doubt play crucial ground-level roles in this impressive attack.
It’s very early days and it’s easy to hype young talent, but the fact of the matter is that the majority of this team is 19-25 years old and have been very good in 2011. Fremantle, Melbourne, Adelaide and Richmond are teams that have some of the most exciting prospects in the comp, but Sydney’s young players are delivering already.
They seem to have all bases covered. There are a lot of variables in sport that can swing the pendulum very quickly and sharply, but Paul Roos has carved out a young batch of talents that Sydney fans could never have imagined.
While there is much debate as to what constitutes or merits a golden generation, in Sydney’s case it’s one that has come thick and fast which makes it all the more impressive.