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After a season that saw them exit earlier than we’re used to, the Sydney Swans look set to be major players during this year’s off-season.
Dan Hannebery and Gary Rohan are going out, but who’s coming in? We’ll look at that and more in today’s AFL list breakdown.
Another strong campaign was expected from the Swans this year on the back of them entering the league as the eighth-oldest list, and fifth-most experienced.
However unlike a large number of teams in this area of the ladder, the Swans made a strong investment in youth.
They gave 36 per cent of games to players 23-and-under, which is just narrowly below the league benchmark, but the third-most of any team in the top eight.
Better yet they gained 102 AFLCA votes from players in this age bracket which is well above the league average, suggesting they’ve got a very good crop of kids.
Looking at the names supports this – Isaac Heeney and Callum Mills are the standouts, but Will Hayward, Ollie Florent, Ben Ronke, Tom Papley, Tom McCartin and Zak Jones all have some star power already.
George Hewett has a proven ability to play a role and the Swans will look forward to seeing the development of Lewis Melican and Matthew Ling in years to come.
Where the Swans were let down this year was by their prime-age players. They played a below-average 40 per cent of Sydney’s overall games, and won only 123 AFLCA votes.
A lot of the Swans’ most crucial core players have recently graduated into veteran status, and now this prime-age group almost looks a little bare.
It’s separated into a younger group of key players – Aliir Aliir, Harry Cunningham, Jake Lloyd and Luke Parker – and an older group in Gary Rohan, Dan Hannebery, Dane Rampe and Callum Sinclair.
There’s some solid names in there but it’s not as strong as you’d generally like a prime-age group to be, and if the Sydney lose some of those players – as it’s expected they will – it could set them back.
The veteran group is where a lot of Sydney’s established star power now lies as Josh P Kennedy, Nick Smith, Kieren Jack, Lance Franklin, Heath Grundy and Jarrad McVeigh all finish the year north of 30.
Sydney’s veterans accounted for about 24 per cent of their total games played in 2018 and also 83 AFLCA votes, well above average in both respects.
In sum it speaks to a list that is going through something of a transitional phase between a strong group of players who are veterans or older-prime, and a quality group of youngsters (with some quality players also at the lower edge of prime).
The impending departures of Dan Hannebery and Gary Rohan look set to widen the gap between these two groups and, if the Swans don’t replace them with players of quality in that age group this year, might see Sydney take a step further back.
If it does happen however that will only be a temporary set back. They’ve got young talent that promises as much as just about any other side in the league.
Their wishlist doesn’t have a whole lot on it. If they wanted to avoid a risk of regression, it would mean bringing in players in the prime-age group to offset the loss of Hannebery and Rohan and establish a better link between their veterans and youth.
However they’d be just as well served focusing on building that youth group up to be the best that it can be, and if so I’d be looking at targetting young talls as it’s probably the one player type that their 23-and-under group doesn’t have a lot of just yet.
Sydney’s on-field side pretty well reflected their overall list.
They fielded the seventh oldest side on average, and their average side had 2353 games of experience, about 120 more than average, making them fourth overall for experience.
They finished sixth on the ladder, but were knocked out of finals in the first week.
Verdict: Underperformed. A side with as much experience as the Swans should’ve hoped to go a bit further in finals – but there were some senior players who underperformed this year, and as a result the team did also.
Sydney’s contract list looks to be in very healthy shape.
The only key player left out of contract this year is Jake Lloyd, who you would presume is their top priority to re-sign.
Lloyd has been linked to a move to the Gold Coast, which we’ll talk more about later – but one would presume he’s more likely to re-sign with the Swans.
Looking ahead to 2019, Sydney’s top priority over the offseason should be to sign up Zak Jones for the future.
The brother of Nathan Jones did take a while to recommit last time he was out of contract and while he’s not Sydney’s most crucial young player, it’d be a shame to lose him.
Out of contract
At the moment Sydney’s trade period looks like it could border on a player exodus in the worst-case scenario – but I don’t expect to see this happen. Still, even the best-case scenario seems set to see a few players leave the club.
Dan Hannebery and Gary Rohan have made it clear to the Swans that, despite being contracted for a few more years in advance, both would like to be traded home to Victoria this year.
St Kilda have confirmed that Hannebery’s request is to be traded to them, on what is reportedly a four-year deal with a trigger for a fifth, worth $800,000 per year.
It’s by no means an exorbitant offer though some would argue it’s a bit lengthy given how much Hannebery has struggled with injury in recent years, and begs the question as to why he wants to leave the Swans.
Unfortunately this just isn’t the kind of question we ever get a clear answer to outside the four walls of AFL clubs.
Rohan is a little more straightforward – he wants to be closer to his family after going through some tragic personal events earlier in the year.
He looks set to join Geelong and will probably be one of the earliest deals done in the trade period as neither the Swans or Cats are the type to drag a simple transaction out.
One wouldn’t expect the Swans will get much currency for him, but depending on how things go with Dan Hannebery, they may be set to win big.
The big question when it comes to the Hannebery deal is just what the Saints are going to be willing to give up for him now that they’ve landed him.
The messages from both clubs have been couched in terms that suggest they are still some ways apart on working out what a fair deal is.
Sydney’s football boss Tom Harley said regarding Hannebery that the Swans would look to achieve the best result for the club and that “he’s contracted and if it can’t be done it won’t happen.”
Meanwhile, St Kilda’s equivalent Simon Lethlean stopped short of committing to getting a Hannebery deal across the line, saying:
“We will be really thorough in our due diligence and make sure the appropriate medical screenings are completed.
“We also have to work through what a possible trade looks like with the Sydney Swans and ensure it is the right deal for St Kilda.”
There have been some rumours around that the Saints are internally divided on whether or not recruiting Hannebery is the best thing for the club, so there may be a lot to play out here.
If they do endeavour to get a deal done then the fact that he is contracted for the next three years at Sydney suggests they’ll need to pay a price.
The deal the Swans have reportedly floated is that Sydney would give pick 12 and Dan Hannebery to the Saints for pick 3.
This article isn’t about the Saints so we won’t go into detail on their side of this, but safe to say I reckon it would be a bad decision for them to trade themselves out of the top six. That said, just because it’s a bad decision, doesn’t mean St Kilda won’t do it.
It’s a pretty simillar sort of deal to the one that landed St Kilda Jake Carlisle from Essendon a few years ago – and given that’s panned out relatively well, they might be willing to go down that road again.
Sydney on the other hand if they’re able to get this deal across the line will be massive winners.
They already stand to gain one of this year’s ‘super seven’ prospects thanks to their academy access to Nick Blakey, which we’ll talk about more later on, and with their current picks would be expecting to match a bid with him using pick 11.
If this deal went through it would instead mean they could get two of the ‘super seven’ by drafting one of them with pick 3 and then matching a bid for Blakey using a clutch of later picks instead.
It would be the sort of trade fillip that could take Sydney’s already impressive youth to the next level and they should look at every possible avenue to make it happen.
If not then the compensation for Hannebery’s departure is probably most likely to be St Kilda’s 2019 second-round pick – by no means a poor selection, but of a lot less value than the alternative.
Back to the potential ‘exodus’ however – the two other players who have been talked about as potential departures from the Swans this offseason are Jake Lloyd and Luke Parker.
Lloyd is reportedly being targetted by Gold Coast who have a lot more money available to spend and would be hoping to make use of his existing relationship with coach Stuart Dew.
My gut feel here is that even if there’s more money on the table, few players with the choice between playing at Sydney and playing at Gold Coast are likely to pick the latter.
The fact that the Swans openly confirmed Hannebery and Rohan’s impending departures but said nothing about Lloyd suggests that he’s probably trending towards staying rather than going, and I’d say there’s a good chance we’ll hear confirmation of that sometime before the trade period begins.
The other name thrown up only recently and linked to Essendon is Luke Parker.
Tom Harley strongly stated that Parker won’t be traded – and while there are clubs who play games and can’t be trusted at trade time, Sydney isn’t usually one of them.
I suspect that Essendon have probably been tipped off that Dylan Shiel is going to Hawthorn if he’s going anywhere and just fired an offer at Parker in the hopes of getting lucky – but appear not to have done so.
Finally, Sydney’s last potential departee is Nic Newman – he has shown some quality at AFL level but doesn’t appear to be one of John Longmire’s favourites, so might be open to a move elsewhere.
Who is likely to be interested hasn’t really emerged just yet, and anything the Swans get for him is likely to be a token selection later in the draft.
All things considered – I’m not expecting a major ‘exodus’ at the Swans. Hannebery, Rohan and perhaps Newman will go, but I’d expect both Lloyd and Parker will remain at Sydney longterm.
Enough about players going out though, let’s talk about players going in.
The main one Sydney has been linked to is Collingwood father-son tall Darcy Moore.
Moore has struggled to establish continuity at Collingwood, played at both ends of the ground and also struggling with injury.
He’s out of contract and there’s been little to suggest he has any plans to re-sign with the Pies, and it has been said as early as June that a move to the Swans was pretty much a ‘done deal’.
Moore would be an excellent recruit for the Swans, bolstering their side with another quality young tall.
He could develop into their most important defender, learning from and replacing someone like Heath Grundy, or eventually become part of their post-Franklin forward line.
The big question is what he’ll cost them – given that he’s out of contract, the Swans do hold some of the cards here.
While Moore was a high draft pick, draftees are a bit like cars – as soon as you drive them off the lot they lose half their value.
Moore has shown flashes of brilliance at AFL level certainly, but his lack of continuity means he probably hasn’t built a lot of value.
Collingwood will likely want a first-round draft pick and that may wind up being what the Swans pay, but if they’re able to get their hands on an early second-round selection that might be enough.
The Swans have also been liked to Port Adelaide’s Tom Jonas, though not as strongly. One to keep an eye on.
Sydney don’t have any free agents on their list this year and haven’t been linked to brining any in, but the Swans are pretty good at getting deals done under the radar.
What’s clear is that they’re going to have a busy offseason at the trade table, and they’re likely to clear out a bit of salary cap space by moving on Hannebery and Rohan, plus the Kurt Tippett contract is coming off their books.
That hypothetically gives them a bit of salary cap room to play with (assuming they weren’t facing a crunch of some kind, which could be the case).
If so, then they could go hard at a free agent.
Andrew Gaff would be the one to look at this year – though it seems like if he leaves West Coast, it will be to return home to Victoria, probably to North Melbourne.
Instead Sydney might decide to bank any spare salary cap they have next year and target a big free agent at the end of 2019.
One option could be to try to poach a big name from crosstown rivals GWS, who have a number of key free agents next year.
Dylan Shiel, Stephen Coniglio and Nick Haynes are the three to potentially look at here.
However one they could also make a target of is Chad Wingard, who’ll be a free agent at the end of next year and has been talked about a bit lately.
I reckon it’d be a major mistake by Port Adelaide to let him go, but perhaps the Swans would have as good of a chance as anyone of extricating him next year.
That would certainly be an ironic development given he was drafted to the Power originally on the basis of telling the GWS Giants he didn’t want to come to Sydney.
Sydney’s draft hand is set to be shaped significantly by the trade deals that ultimately get done for Dan Hannebery and Darcy Moore, so it’s a little hard to predict what they might do.
What is certain though is that they’ll get one of the year’s most highly-rated draft prospects, Nick Blakey, through their Academy.
Blakey, of course, is the son of John Blakey, who played 359 games for Fitzroy and North Melbourne, and Nick was eligible to join both Brisbane and the Kangaroos as a father-son pick.
However given that John has been a longterm assistant coach at the Swans, Nick has been in Sydney’s academy long enough to qualify as a selection there.
It’s a bit of a rort no matter which way you look at it, but that’s a discussion for another time and place. The short version is that, like they did with Isaac Heeney and Callum Mills, the Swans are set to win big.
195cm Nick Blakey has predominantly played as a key forward at under-18 level, but has also been talked about at times as a potential tall midfielder.
He’s seen as one of this year’s top seven draft prospects, who are generally recognised as being a level above the rest of the draft.
As for what other players the Swans bring in, it will depend on where their picks fall after trades. If they’re able to get St Kilda’s first pick, it’ll be a major coup.
Assuming they’ve got Moore in and also know they’ll be getting Blakey, they’d probably go for smaller player at that selection – Izak Rankine would be a great acquisition.
“Every list has its problems though, and the Swans have fewer than most. A team that’s been up as long as them shouldn’t have the young promise they do, but there it is.
“They’ve been in a period of sustained success for really more than a decade now, and it doesn’t look likely to end any time soon.”
At the moment there’s a relatively minor gap in Sydney’s list between their veteran talent that made up the core of their 2012 premiership talent, and some very talented younger players coming through.
It wouldn’t usually be big enough to be a problem, but this gap is set to be widened by the impending departures of Dan Hannebery and to a lesser degree Gary Rohan.
Unless the Swans throw us a curveball by unexpectedly landing a big fish to fill this gap – which is an entirely plausible scenario given what canny operators they tend to be – I’d suggest they’re probably going to take a step backwards on the ladder in 2019.
However that generation of young players coming through is just about as good as any in the league, and is set to get even better this year with the likely additions of Darcy Moore and Nick Blakey.
On top of them there’s every chance that the Swans will manage to turn the departure of Dan Hannebery into enough draft currency to earn another top quality youngster, or enough salary cap space to go after a big free agent – or both.
Sydney may well miss finals in 2019, in fact my very early tip would be that they do. But they won’t be down for long.
At a bare minimum the additions of Blakey and Moore would have their youth set to propel them up the ladder again sooner rather than later – and if they can hypothetically also add an Izak Rankine or a Chad Wingard to that, then they’ll be an absolute juggernaut before too long.