The AFL has plenty of superstars – players who demand your attention whenever they’re on the field.
The Swans’ 2018 Australian Football League premiership campaign disintegrated before the eyes of millions on Saturday afternoon, demolished by Greater Western Sydney at the SCG.
For many it was a shocking result. Sydney, a tried-and-true finals contender, always seem like such a threat come September.
It’s a reputation well earned: this is the first season since 2002 that neither Sydney nor Geelong have managed to progress past the first round of finals. A remarkable level of consistency split between two clubs.
The Swans’ managed to score just 4.6 (30) to the Giants’ 10.19 (79) – leaving us with two key points of reflection.
Sydney’s total was the lowest score the club has kicked in a final since 1899. It’s also the lowest score by the Swans in the John-Longmire-as-senior-coach era.
For the keen observer however, the spiritless loss was anything but surprising.
With the ladder log-jammed heading into finals and competition for spots tighter than ever before, the overall even-keel of the competition managed to paper over the cracks of the weaknesses of many sides.
In essence, it’s been hard for many to pinpoint the weaknesses of some teams because the tightness of the ladder has given the impression that teams are literally levelled.
Port Adelaide is one excellent example, rocketing up the ladder with 11 wins and four losses before bombing down and missing finals altogether. In the blink of an eye a jump from premiership contender to early starters at pre-season training.
Sydney was another such example and to those who have watched the Swans closely this season, a quick exit from finals was all but assured.
Sydney’s dysfunctional forward line at the heart of it all
Time and time again Sydney turned to generational talent Lance Franklin to kick them a winning score in 2018, and when he couldn’t drag his side over the line, they rarely took the four points.
During the home-and-away season, the Swans kicked just 1822 points – leaving them at 12th overall in the competition. Not only did every other member of the top eight manage to outscore tehm, but North Melbourne, Adelaide and remarkably even the Brisbane Lions kicked more total points.
Naturally, the lion’s share of that score came from the queen piece, Franklin.
Buddy finished fourth in the Coleman Medal, with 57 goals, averaging the most goals per game in the competition with 3.0.
After Franklin, the next best bet was Will Hayward, with 28, Luke Parker (25), Tom Papley (24) and Ben Ronke (24).
Sydney finished the season with eight players kicking double-digit goals. In contrast, GWS finished with 13 – despite a number of those players taking on horrid injury runs.
In Saturday’s elimination final, the Giants managed to hold Franklin to just eight touches, two marks, a solitary behind and – possibly the biggest indictment on his game – zero tackles.
Using AFL Fantasy points is an admittedly weak way of viewing the game, but the other five worst players on the ground were Will Hayward, Ollie Florent, Ben Ronke and Tom McMartin. I’m leaving out injured Giant Josh Kelly for obvious reasons.
In the big picture, Sydney’s forward line structure proved itself unable to produce match-winning scores and when it came to the business end of the season, that weakness was put on show.
Heading into the elimination final, plenty turned back to the Round 22 battle between the Sydney sides as an indicator of things to come. The Swans dispatched the Giants by 20 points at Spotless Stadium.
What happened in that game? GWS full back Phil Davis went down with an injury early in proceedings and, as a result, Franklin ran rampant, grabbing 16 touches, clunking eight marks and booting 5.4.
The second time around? Davis, full strength and uninterrupted. A very different outcome.
Now, there’s a lot of other factors I’m ignoring here. The biggest of all is clearly the Swans’ ageing midfield which has come under plenty of scrutiny this season.
The delivery inside the forward 50 on Saturday was terrible and it’s fair to say that Sydney’s forward line didn’t have much to work with.
But we’re talking about the lowest score the Swans have kicked in a final since 1899. It’s delusional to pretend that the dysfunction of the forward line didn’t have a huge role to play in the outcome.
As a consequence, a key priority for John Longmire and gang over the summer must be thinking how they aim to hit the scoreboard in the future.
Franklin kicked four goals against Essendon in the elimination final last year and then was held goalless against Geelong in the second semi-final. In the match against the Bombers, all four of Franklin’s goals came in the second quarter.
That means that over the last two finals campaigns and three September matches, Franklin has managed to score in just one of a possible 12 quarters.
If you want to be even harsher and include the 2016 grand final, in which Franklin kicked one goal in the loss to the Western Bulldogs, he has scored in two of a possible 16 quarters.
It feels pretty cut and dry. Lance Franklin is 31 years old and can’t keep pulling the rabbit out of the hat forever. If we’re talking about September action, Franklin can’t pull the rabbit out of that as it is now.