The Swans acted swiftly after their disappointing end to the season in the elimination final, when they were too slow with leg speed and ball movement to match Greater Western Sydney in the battle of the bridge in Week 1 of the finals.
Dan Hannebery’s descent can be traced back to one key moment late in the 2016 grand final.
A stray handball from Jason Johannisen falls between Hannebery and Easton Wood, the two descending upon the ball like the opening of a rule-less game of dodgeball.
Wood goes lower, Dan more upright, and with a sudden twist of the knee under the pressure of his opponent, Dan Hannebery is wounded just a minute into the final quarter.
“Hannebery’s in trouble,” McAvaney says, and in passing utters a phrase of poignant clairvoyance befitting of Denis Commetti’s final game in the commentary box.
“I hope he’s alright.”
The phrase would come to define the next two years of Dan’s career, the injury beginning a string of similar issues.
Hannebery had struggled earlier in his career with numerous shoulder injuries, but his all-important lower-body had escaped largely unscathed. The early injuries never affected his exceptional fitness that had become his biggest strength.
By all reports he had made a remarkably swift recovery from the injury, declaring himself fully fit with a strong performance in the 3km time trial pre-season. But as the Swans slumped to an 0-6 start to 2017, it was clear Hannebery wasn’t right.
And yet he played on.
Pundits have wondered if the ultra-competitive attitude has affected Hannebery’s ability to recover. If it were up to Dan, he’d play week-in, week-out, regardless of whatever ailment was clearly slowing him down.
There’s no telling just how banged up Dan is, and he probably wouldn’t tell you either.
Rumours of osteitis pubis have lingered since the early stages of 2017, an injury that requires to be mothballed for a long period to recover and avoid reoccurrence.
While OP has never been confirmed, it was a niggling groin injury that held him back earlier this season, and it still doesn’t seem as though he is fully fit.
Therein lies the conundrum for St Kilda, whose fans will be asking themselves an obvious question throughout the entire off-season: can Hannebery ever get back to his old self?
With the Swans tumbling out of contention on Saturday, this will be his longest off-season break since 2009 and hopefully his first uninterrupted preseason since 2015, a fact that should fill Saints fans with hope.
Sport is a vicious cycle of constant refurbishing and short-term memory. I lament how quickly we’ve forgotten the Dan Hannebery who earned 45 Brownlow votes in two seasons, but can’t ignore how far away that Dan Hannebery now feels.
He has remarkably played 207 games at only 27, becoming the youngest Swan to ever reach the 200-game milestone earlier this season. And through these 200 games he’s taken an exceptional amount of punishment.
He plays a style of fearless football not befitting of his modest frame. His infamous treatment in the early stages of the 2014 Grand Final typify a certain vulnerability that comes with his stature, the Roughead shirtfront burying him into the turf of the MCG from which he wouldn’t emerge for the rest of the afternoon.
Hannebery played with a bullish tenacity, a relentless thirst for the contest and an absolute fearlessness at his best, but now looks more like someone wringing the very last out of their body.
Outside a shimmering half of football against the Demons in Round 22, it has been hard to watch.
On Saturday, a moment within the very first minute typified his year. Finding himself in a pocket of space on the wing he looked slow, lost and indecisive. He hesitated too long with the football, and Zac Williams playing his first game of AFL in 350 days gleefully ran him down.
“Hannebery run down by father time,” as tobie_chapman astutely tweeted.
Hannebery run down by Father Time
— Tobie (@tobie_chapman) September 8, 2018
He fought gallantly all afternoon, and unlike many of his teammates, can hold his head up high. It was an effort and output befitting of what looks likely to be his last game in Swans colours.
In contrast to the final football day of 2016, where the injuries started, and where the Swans inexplicably lost a Grand Final to the momentum of a fairy-tale, the 2012 Grand Final is Dan Hannebery’s crowning achievement.
Upon replay he’s robbed of a Norm Smith Medal, although at 21 years-old perhaps it seemed like such an opportunity would arise again.
A courageous mark typifies his attitude, a handball for the winning goal his magnetism in the big moments and a crucial fourth quarter goal after a gut-busting run sits in the minds of Swans fans alongside Adam Goodes and Nick Malceski as the days defining moments.
With 11 minutes left on the clock, a deft paddle from Lewis Jetta releases Hannebery who calmly does the rest, finishing from 40 out and bringing the Swans back to within a kick.
To celebrate, he can hardly lift his arms above his head to do what his legs have said all afternoon: “come with me boys” the motion proclaims, but it seems as though 2018 is as far as Dan’s legs can go for the Sydney Swans.
I miss him already.