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No plan B? No worries for the Swans

John Longmire, coach of the Swans. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Roar Guru
30th April, 2018
37

After weeks – nay, months, seasons even – of criticism for lacking a mythical ‘plan b’, the Sydney Swans smashed the Cats in the last quarter on Saturday afternoon.

They booted seven goals to one in the last stanza, and in the process over-turned a 22-point deficit. The Swans became the first team since West Coast in Round 10, 2006, to beat the Cats at home when trailing at halftime.

No matter the win, ‘plan b’ still gets its run time. Even the AFL site had a dig at John Longmire before the match, asking him what his ‘plan b’ is.

The Swans, as good as forced to go small against the Cats, dominated the first and last quarters. Had it not been for a bit of bad luck and some shonky home-team umpiring, they could have been up by four goals early in the second quarter. They probably should have been, if they had been able to convert their chances in the first quarter, kicking 4.6 (30).

The only time the Cats troubled the Swans was when Callum Sinclair had a breather or went off the ground with a cut to the face. Geelong worked their way back into the game in the second quarter.

The Cats played most of the second quarter in their forward half, barely troubling the scorers. It wasn’t until the last six minutes of the quarter when they finally got on top.

After the game, Josh Kennedy and Longmire admitted that the Swans went away from what worked for them in the first quarter, with their pressure and intensity way off.

The Cats kicked an early goal in the third quarter, and it looked like the Swans were as good as done. Fair enough too, the home side swarmed, and Sydney had little answer.

Kennedy and Ben Ronke spoke after the game about what was said at halftime. Nothing major, no throwing names in the air and seeing where they land – just getting back to basics, win the hard balls, stem the flow.

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Isaac Heeney and Will Hayward combined for a fluke goal, but still trailed with three-goals-to-one for the quarter, the Cats extending their lead to 22-points at the final break.

Ronke and Kieran Jack cracked in after the third quarter siren, starting a melee and lighting a fire under the Swans’ backsides. They responded; Geelong had the first clearance, but from then on, the Swans dominated and smashed them in clearances, 16-5.

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Kennedy stamped his authority on the game, tearing it away with his boot, in an all-time great final quarter performance. He silenced his critics and reminded everyone that he is still the best hard-ball winner in the league.

Sinclair grabbed the ruck dual by the throat, racking up 39 hit-outs for the match, taking three towering marks in the last quarter, and was influential whenever he was near the ball.

The Cats couldn’t stop him, or the Swans, when they got their roll on, and Sydney simply steamrolled them in the end.

Longmire cops a lot of criticism from his supporter base, despite a 70 per cent win rate. He coached the club to a premiership, and three grand finals in his eight seasons there.

‘Plan b’ has often been the sledgehammer to deliver the criticism, but what is it? No one can really describe it, citing Longmire being out-coached, too faithful to his players, playing those that aren’t fit, or simply not adjusting fast enough, or at all.

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This isn’t something that’s a Sydney phenomenon, it happens to every team, every coach.

The Swans won 15 from 18 matches last year, after dropping the first six games. It was a shocking start to the season, their worst since 1993, but they recovered and went on a ridiculous run that gave them the unlikeliest chance of finishing top four. It was there for the taking, but Richmond was too good for too long, and Port Adelaide thumped the teams low on the ladder.

Plan b has often been a way to excuse players’ poor performances, bad skills, or the team reverting to the old ‘dump kick’ inside 50, even when the Swans can’t mark it.

The dependence on Lance Franklin to kick every goal, or be involved in every play, is clear, but the criticism he receives when he doesn’t torch every single game is absurd. Kurt Tippett was as fragile as glass in his last 18 months, but he proved in 2013 that he was one of the best full forwards in the game. He was an astute pick up, but injuries seriously affected him.

Sam Reid has played 121 games in his nine season, with three of those seriously affected by injury, while Gary Rohan has struggled for continuity and form since his horrific leg break in 2012, just now coming up to 100 games after nine years in the system. It seems long ago since his breakout game against the Cats at Kardinia Park in 2011, booting a goal on the run.

Plan b is often applied as an easy excuse, a cop out, a way of blaming a result when blame doesn’t need to be apportioned.

The players know when they’re having a shocker, and occasionally cop a bake.

There’s only so much a coach can do. Sometimes John Longmire makes mistakes, and sometimes the team selection doesn’t work, but when it does, when the Swans turn up and play, they’re the best team in the league.

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Perhaps the Swans aren’t consistent enough, ruthless enough, or don’t score enough for everyone’s satisfaction, but when you’ve got an injury ward a mile long, and a reasonably inexperienced list, starting the season 4-2 with wins against serious premiership contenders is damn good.

I’d take that any season, even when we drop the ball at home against quality teams.