THE SYDNEY Swans' straight-sets exit from last year's finals has both encouraged and stung the Swans.
Co-captain Kieren Jack has brushed off speculation that the Swans are on the slide, saying the talk is nothing new.
He is bullish about their prospects this season and says they have the system to cover the loss of veterans such as Adam Goodes and Rhyce Shaw.
In particular, Jack has pointed to their outstanding effort in the qualifying final against Fremantle.
The Swans only lost by nine points despite being without Lance Franklin and several other key players.
A week later, North Melbourne ended their season in the semi-finals.
"When you say straight sets, it's disappointing," Jack said.
"The reality is, we need to get better.
"Watching the Fremantle game, while we had some key personnel out, I still think it gave the group confidence that if we perform at the level we can, it doesn't necessarily rely on our best 22 to be playing."
Jack also noted that had the Swans won that qualifying final, the commentary around them heading into this season would have been different.
"This is my 11th year at the club and it's nothing new to us," he said of talk that they could decline.
"I'm used to seeing people write us off or thinking that we're not going to make the finals.
"But what we know is we have a system that we believe in."
Jack said there was plenty of improvement in their 22-25 age bracket – even from established players such as Dan Hannebery and Luke Parker.
And then there's Franklin, who starred in their last pre-season game against Carlton.
Franklin has had a busy pre-season after returning from the mental health problems that forced him to sit out the end of last year's campaign.
"Credit to him, he's certainly on an upward slope and if he can keep doing that, it's great for our club," Jack said.
The skipper is also impressed with youngster Callum Mills, who is shaping as a rising star this season.
"I don't want to put too much expectation on him, he's a young kid," Jack said.
"But he's been ultra-impressive. He will be certainly a part of our 22, I would have thought."
Jack himself is negotiating a new contract with the club and is certain he will stay a Swan.
"I don't see myself going anywhere," he said.