As the Round 11 clash between Sydney and Geelong was coming to a close on Saturday night with the Swans down the scoreboard, Fox Footy commentator Anthony Hudson made a comment that it was very much a “Swans-type encounter”.
When reflecting on this it became apparent that many Sydney matches this season have been a Swans-type encounter, especially the wins against North Melbourne and Essendon and even the loss to Collingwood. All these matches were tight encounters coming down to less than ten points, yet it’s hard to argue that these matches were played on the Swans terms.
Ever since John Longmire took over from Paul Roos in 2011 fans would have noticed a consistent game plan built on contested footy and building play from the defensive 50. Although often described as ‘slow and boring’ by opposition fans, the results speak for themselves. On the back of Longmire’s style of play the Swans are arguably the most consistent and successful club in the last century.
However, currently sitting on three wins and 15th on the ladder, it’s hard to argue that this game plan is still effective.
Clubs like Geelong, Collingwood, Greater Western Sydney and Essendon have an absurd amount of talent running through the middle of the ground, which directly affects Sydney’s contested-ball tactics. No longer do the Swans have players like Kieran Jack, Jude Bolton or Dan Hannebery to go get their own ball and generate play in the middle of the ground; these days Luke Parker and Josh Kennedy are the only capable options to compete in the middle, but both are struggling to keep up with midfields that go five or six players deep.
A trend in Sydney’s play of becoming stuck in the defensive 50 and launching the ball out into a contested pack only for it to come straight back into the opposition’s forward is becoming apparent. The fact is that it is a struggle to score if you can’t get the ball out of your defensive 50, and this is putting a lot of pressure on the Swans defensive capabilities.
With a seriously underrated back six led by Dane Rampe and Aliir Aliir, this trend is not noticeable on the scoreboard, but I have noticed fans of the club slowly starting to observe it. Having such a young team is one contributing factor, with players like Colin O’Riordan and Jordan Dawson having to make key decisions coming out of the back half and costing an opportunity to escape the opposition squeeze. Further development by these young players will help limit these concerns.
The belief behind these issues is that the match is no longer being played on Sydney’s terms, and with contested footy not being maximised, the Swans are becoming too predictable. Stop Sydney’s contested ball, win the game. It’s as simple as that.
So where do they go from here? With rumours regarding John Longmire future at the Swans beginning to develop, it makes me question if change might be the best option. We have already seen this year with Rhyce Shaw at North Melbourne that fresh faces can add a new dimension to players, and the Kangaroos look completely different under a new coach. I am not suggesting that Longmire should be sacked on the spot, but proper thought about moving into a succession plan must be considered.
Brett Kirk is the most viable option and has a lot of personal sentiment for me and fellow Swans fans. Kirk was arguably the heart and soul of the club for the early 2000s and knows exactly how to win games of footy. Currently an assistant coach, Kirk has been a poster boy for coaching development programs for the AFL, yet he cannot find a head coaching role as the most qualified coach in the league.
When developing young players John Longmire’s experience would be second to none, but I can’t help but think these players would benefit from a coach that knows what it means to play for the Swans.
If the club does continue with Longmire for the long-term future, I will not be discouraged and know his coaching will benefit this young club. But I can’t help but feel a succession plan must be considered. With a new coach, co-captains and developing young players, several comparisons could already be made to the 2005 premiership-winning team.