Isaac Heeney poses for a photo during Sydney's team photo day on January 16, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

AN IMPORTANT goalkicker for Sydney across the past three seasons, Isaac Heeney is set for a move into the midfield in 2024 ahead of the season-opener against Melbourne.

The 2022 All-Australian forward also said his early-season critics from last year glossed over his personal injury struggles and those of his team in general as the Swans look for a fast start after a sluggish opening to 2023.

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Heeney will get the chance to make the immediate impact he desires, in the engine room of the Swans, starting at the SCG against the Demons on Thursday night.

Midfield time for the talented 27-year-old is nothing new, having been thrown on the ball and around the ground by John Longmire on many occasions.

But it was clear in the Swans' pre-season matches that a more defined role through the middle and away from the forward 50 is planned for 2024, especially with the early-season injuries to Callum Mills, Taylor Adams and Luke Parker.

"I've done a lot more midfield this pre-season, so I'll play predominantly midfield which is slightly different than obviously the rest of my career where I've been predominantly forward," Heeney told


"I think 'Horse' (Longmire) has been amazing and allowed boys to play their game this pre-season. He's allowed boys to play freely and play to their strengths, whether it be like myself going to midfield and using my run and my hands around the stoppage and what not, or someone like Chad (Warner) using his explosiveness."

"I grew up as a midfielder. To be honest, I probably prefer midfield because I love just being around the ball, I love being in and under," Heeney added.

"But if I'm going forward and the ball movement's really good and you're getting looks from some exceptional users, especially off the half backline, it's a lot of fun playing forward too."

Heeney's positional switch frames him as a big watch early in the season, especially after a slow start by his lofty standards to last year that drew criticism from analysts, which Heeney did accept.

Isaac Heeney in action during Sydney's AAMI Community Series clash against Brisbane on February 29, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

While he responded strongly in the second half of the year with 20 goals between rounds 15 and 23, he says there were some extenuating circumstances early which weren't outlined.

"Last year I went in with a few niggles, which doesn't help, and the media looked past that as they did with our side," he said.

"In general, they looked past the injuries we had and the personnel we had on the track.

"Ultimately, last year I think it would've been a lot better if I converted. My goal accuracy last year, the first half of the year especially, I think I was kicking at 30, 35 per cent, which is just not good enough.

"But yeah, I feel a lot fitter and you always want to start strong. You want that confidence going into the season where you know, 'All right, I'm good to go here. I've done the work and it's showing on the field.'

"You always want to start strong and just hold that form and ride that wave for as long as you can, because you never go through a season without having something that puts your back against the wall a bit."

Isaac Heeney celebrates a goal with Joel Amartey during Sydney's AAMI Community Series clash against Brisbane on February 29, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

The Swans are after a far stronger opening to the campaign after 3-6 start to 2023 that had them playing catch up all year after making the Grand Final the season before.

An aggressive recruiting campaign has the club unashamedly all-in on a premiership tilt and a win over the Demons may create some powerful momentum.

"You obviously want to start the season strong. Everyone does. And it might be a little bit up and down early on, but we want to start stronger than last year," Heeney said.

"We don't like using excuses, but obviously we had a few injuries last year that it meant boys went straight into the season with no pre-season behind their belt. This year I feel like we're a pretty strong side and we're up against two of the toughest teams in the first two weeks. We know we're going to have to be on because they're a good contested ball team and a very good attacking side.

"We have three of our top leaders missing, but that doesn't mean we haven't got other players that step into their roles. We feel like as a midfield group we've got amazing depth. We're not going to look at it any other way than we've still got an extremely strong side, and we're just super excited to see what we can do against one of the premier sides of the competition."

Taylor Adams looks on during a match simulation between Sydney and GWS at Tramway Oval on February 22, 2024. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

The opening game of the season doesn't require much of a subplot but the sight of Brodie Grundy up against his old side in Melbourne, where he spent just one season, does provide one.

The dual All-Australian has been brought in to fix the Swans' stoppage woes of last year and the early signs are encouraging.

"He's a different character but in a very, very good way. The way he gets the boys around him, gets the boys thinking to a deeper level, I guess, and the way he expresses himself is something that I look up to," Heeney said.

"He's an amazing athlete, amazing work ethic, and just a genuinely good fella that looks at the emotional and the mental side of things more than the majority of other players do.

"He's going to play a real pivotal role for us this year. And the way he gives us first use in the midfield, but then with his follow up around the ground and his explosiveness, his power and his skills."

Brodie Grundy in action during Sydney's match simulation against Greater Western Sydney on February 22, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

Thursday night's encounter will also launch the first post-Lance Franklin season for the Swans and while Hayden McLean and Joel Amartey loom as dangerous targets, former No.4 draft pick Logan McDonald is the man most likely to become the Swans' key focal point.

"He's good to go. He wants it. You can see all three of them want it, which is nice, but in a really good competitive way," Heeney said.

"No-one's pushing anyone out of the way to be the centre point, which is nice.

"But I think all three of them had a really, really strong pre-season. Hayden McLean's a workhorse, Logan's a workhorse, Joel's got that exceptional talent and explosiveness and bit of X-factor about him.

"I know Logan, he doesn't need many opportunities to finish in front of goal and he'll be doing that plenty of times. I think he's good to go, he's had a really, really good pre-season, he's put a bit of size on too, which is nice. So exciting to watch him go to work this year."