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Opinion

Sydney's aged perfectly for the times: Swans flying high thanks to clever list built over previous seasons

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4 days ago
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When Sydney made the grand final in 2022, before being mercilessly pumped by a well-oiled Geelong machine, most regarded the Swans as having made it that far ahead of their time.

Almost half the side that day was aged 23 or younger, which paled into comparison with the hardened experience of the Cats, who fielded only one player under the age of 23.

Logan McDonald was dropped for the grand final after playing 17 games that year as a 20-year-old. Sydney had a list for the future, not the present.

Fast-forward two years after slight regression in 2023, and 17 of that grand final team are entrenched members of the Sydney team that sits on top of the ladder, one game and a whopping 27% clear of their nearest rival (Geelong again, funnily enough).

The Swans have the number one scoring offence, the only team to average more than 100 points per game, and the stingiest defence, conceding only 67 points per game.

Everything is just working for Sydney right now.

They are as healthy as can be expected at this point of the season, having used a league-low 27 players so far.

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Only two other teams have called on less than 30, Essendon and GWS both having used 29 apiece. It’s probably not a coincidence that all three teams are in the top five.

Sydney has had a league-high 17 players play every game, plus another three that have played eight.

Christian Salem reacts to pressure from Brodie Grundy and Isaac Heeney.

New Swans ruckman Brodie Grundy tackles Melbourne’s Christian Salem. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

For the most part, any injuries they have had have been minor, only a week or two here and there.

The scary part is that Callum Mills hasn’t played yet, and Luke Parker, who finished fourth in the best and fairest last year, has had the luxury of returning through the VFL.

With Mills, Parker and Taylor Adams missing early in the season, John Longmire was forced to play Isaac Heeney as a permanent midfielder, and lo and behold, we have a Brownlow Medal favourite on our hands. Let’s just gloss over the fact it’s a move that should have been made years ago.

The addition of Brodie Grundy has probably been a bit underrated in the scheme of things. He is second at the Swans for clearances this season, behind only Heeney.

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Having that big beast be able to use his ball-winning skills at ground level has complemented Heeney’s power and skill, as well as James Rowbottom’s tackling pressure.

It has also meant that the more lightly-framed types like Errol Gulden and Chad Warner, while still able to win their own ball, have also been put to more devastating use of cutting up opposition sides with their pace, vision and skill.

Nick Blakey of the Swans kicks the ball during the round four AFL match between West Coast Eagles and Sydney Swans at Adelaide Hills - Mt Barker, on April 6, 2024, in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by James Elsby/Getty Images)

Nick Blakey of the Swans. (Photo by James Elsby/Getty Images)

Down back, Ollie Florent is in his eighth season with 150 games under his belt, while Nick Blakey is in his sixth with 110 in his pocket.

They are in the prime of their careers, and complement each other beautifully as the prime movers in the back half – Florent is Mr Dependable, always counted on to make the right decision and hit the correct target.

Blakey cuts the angles in unique ways and doesn’t always look like he knows what he’s doing, but sees things most don’t and delivers passes most can’t.

Lewis Melican and Tom McCartin do what they need to, and older heads like Dane Rampe and Jake Lloyd don’t have as much on their plate as they used to, and can play supporting roles.

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Matt Roberts has come in and is doing a job, and Robbie Fox continues to play where required.

In fact, that seems to be the theme at the Swans right now – there is a nice mix of types across the ground, everyone knows their role, and is performing it at the required level.

Given the skill of Heeney, Gulden, Warner, Florent and Blakey, when they are a team working in unison, they have a plethora of options available to them.

Sam Wicks.

Sam Wicks. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

With the midfield working so effectively, Tom Papley hasn’t been required as much.

He averaged three clearances a game last year, often starting in the centre square to add some explosiveness to the midfield mix before pushing forward, but he only has 10 this season.

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With him playing forward more, and needing the most effective small or medium-sized forward to clamp him, it has allowed a player like Will Hayward to get off the chain.

From a tall forward perspective, Sydney is still quite inexperienced, with McDonald and Joel Amartey the focal points despite only having played 90 games between them.

Third tall and ruck relief Hayden McLean has only played 60. Still, McDonald and Amartey have kicked multiple goals in five games apiece, and one of the talls tends to bob up each week with an important hand.

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The Swans list build has been almost perfect to get to this point, albeit super-charged by Academy selections like Heeney, Mills, Blakey, Gulden, and Campbell.

Don’t let any Sydney fan bemoan the loss of COLA to you again while enjoying the benefits of those players running riot.

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There were only two players older than 30 for the Swans on the weekend, and no teenagers either.

The spread of players they have through their 20s is just a beautiful thing, a superb blend of experience and youthful vitality, the majority having played together for a few seasons at least now.

It appears like it’s Sydney’s time, and will be for a while yet. It might just be that only a cross-town rival can stop them.

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