Isaac Heeney evades Jeremy Howe during round one, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

THE BIGGEST pre-season headache for Sydney could turn out to be a blessing for its season.

Injuries to captain Callum Mills, veteran Luke Parker and new recruit Taylor Adams across the summer had left Swans coach John Longmire with a gaping void to be filled in his midfield group throughout the early parts of the 2024 campaign.

But where Sydney had once looked light on options, the emergence of Isaac Heeney as a full-time midfielder and the continued growth of young stars Chad Warner and Errol Gulden have catapulted the Swans into an exciting 2-0 start.

Heeney, in comparison to his young apprentices in Warner and Gulden, had been the player earmarked to spend more time in the engine room following the disappointing losses of Mills, Parker and Adams to injury.

Although the sample size is small – the Swans have played just two games this year – his midfield numbers have gone through the roof and his influence has improved considerably as a result.


According to Champion Data, Heeney has spent 73.2 percent of game time playing purely through the midfield to start the year. It's a significant rise from last season, where he spent just 14.5 percent of games in the midfield and 80.7 percent of his time forward.

His centre bounce attendances have also increased, averaging 3.3 per game last year and 32.0 across the first two games of this season, which has sparked disposal tallies of 26 and 29 against Melbourne and Collingwood respectively.

Heeney subsequently ranks in the top-six throughout the entire League for contested possessions (15.5 per game), clearances (8.5) and score involvements (11.0), while he also ranks No.1 in the competition for AFL Player Ratings points (27.6) to start the year.

Together with Warner (averaging 26.5 disposals and two goals per game) and Gulden (averaging 25.0 disposals and 7.5 score involvements per game), Heeney has also helped the Sydney midfield as a collective across the campaign's first fortnight.

Chad Warner celebrates with Isaac Heeney during the round one match between Collingwood and Sydney at the MCG, March 15, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

The trio have spearheaded the Swans' engine room – with assistance from the reliable James Rowbottom as well as recruit James Jordon, youngster Justin McInerney and bursts from Tom Papley – to become one of the League's best so far.

Most striking has been the turnaround in the side's clearance numbers. Last season, Sydney ranked second last in the League for clearance differential (-3.7) and was only ahead of wooden spooners West Coast.

Through the first two games of this season, the side's clearance differential of +3.0 ranks No.6 in the League, driven primarily by Heeney and new ruck recruit Brodie Grundy (6.5 clearances per game) who ranks second at Sydney and seventh in the AFL for that stat. It's a handy position to be in, especially given the Swans have played two of last season's top-four sides in their opening two games.

But, despite his influence, does Heeney stay in the midfield? An All-Australian half-forward, Longmire flagged a return to an attacking role upon the comebacks of Mills, Parker and Adams when speaking after last Friday night's win.

"It's pretty hard, after two games, to plan anything for a season," Longmire said.

John Longmire and Isaac Heeney after the Opening Round match between Sydney and Melbourne at the SCG, March 07, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

"I'm reluctant to make close-ended statements … (but) it's worked for the last couple of weeks. He's been super, he's been terrific. He's been really important when we've had so much experience out of our team.

"If you look at our midfield group tonight, he was clearly the oldest one there and he's only 27. But we'll play him where we need him. We're two games in, so if we need him forward then we'll play him forward. At the moment, he's going really well in the midfield.

"I think he'll play both roles. Wherever he plays, he's quality. I'm not too worried about it."