Lance Franklin celebrates his 1000th goal during Sydney's clash with Geelong in round two, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

THE OLD Sydney Swans' success-pursuit theory was based on showbiz and star power. Identify a rock star, give him big dollars, build a good band around him, and hope the noise drowns out all other acts in the most competitive sports and entertainment market in the country.

It worked spectacularly well for a different time. Individuals in Swans colours would often transcend the game, dragging the profile of the club into the lives and minds of people who traditionally had been focused on rugby league and rugby union.


The new Sydney Swans theory is very different. The Sydney market has been cracked since South Melbourne relocated there in 1982, the supporter base has matured and is now as footy-educated as any AFL fan group. There is no more need to have a Buddy, Plugger, Barassi, Barry, Capper, Diesel, Roosy or a Healy on the books. Yes, stars are still present, but none needs to shine brighter than another.

And numbers through the box office have never been higher. The Swans are averaging SCG crowds of 39,000. More than 1000 were denied entry last Friday against Carlton when the number was officially capped at 44,047. Membership is tracking toward the high 70,000s. The team is atop the ladder with a 9-1 scoreline, six premiership points clear of the second team and a percentage (154.7) which is nearly 30 points clear of the next best.

The 2024 season is the first after 11 with Lance Franklin. In previous eras, the club would've considered launching a raid on another massive name, but instead, it identified proven senior players without major profile, including Brodie Grundy, Taylor Adams and James Jordon.


All three have impacted brilliantly. After four seasons in a version of footy wilderness at two clubs, Grundy is tracking to be named for a third time in an All-Australian team. Jordon has become a key midfielder in negating roles on big-name opponents, and Adams, having recovered from injury, has seamlessly found a role in a stacked midfield/forward line-up.

The standalone captain for 2024, Callum Mills, is yet to play, having badly damaged his shoulder at a Swans social gathering last September. Three-time best and fairest and three-time All-Australian Luke Parker had been forced to play three VFL matches after recovering from a broken arm and, like Mills, will not be seen for some weeks after being sent to the VFL Tribunal on Tuesday night.

Isaac Heeney has become an overnight sensation in 2024, his 10th season at the club, personally benefiting from the Mills absence and stepping up as the competition's premier midfielder to this point of the year.

Isaac Heeney celebrates a goal during Sydney's clash against Carlton in round 10, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

His permanent role within the Swans' midfield machinations alongside Chad Warner and Errol Gulden has been breathtaking. James Rowbottom is in career-best form in the midfield too.

Former president Richard Colless, one of the main architects of the Swans' sustained success, is, like all Swans officials of the past 30 years, defensive of the clubs' recruiting strategies, forever arguing that the big-name recruits were targeted only for their football ability, not their accompanying off-field profiles.

Tony Lockett in action during Sydney's clash with Collingwood in round 22, 1998. Picture: AFL Photos

And Colless, president from 1993 to 2013, is also adamant that none of the success – premierships in 2005 and 2012, Grand Finals in 2006, 2014, 2016 and 2022, and just three missed finals campaigns since 2002 – would have been possible without a certain characteristic in the two coaches of that timeframe, Paul Roos and John Longmire.

"You have to make sure there is a chemistry between the senior coach and those beneath him, and also be cognisant of there being a difference between a senior coach and a club coach," Colless said.

"(Roos and Longmire) have always been acutely aware the better the club is, the easier it is to keep players. Sometimes, people can be very clever senior coaches, but not club coaches."

John Longmire and Paul Roos during round one of the 2010 season. Picture: AFL Photos

In Franklin's absence this year, the Swans have had Logan McDonald, Hayden McLean and Joel Amartey play the taller forward roles, with the brilliant Tom Papley at their feet. 

Down back, Dane Rampe remains as crucial as ever, and Nick Blakey is surely in All-Australian form. Tom McCartin is expected to return for round 13, after Sydney's bye, following another recent heavy head hit.

"What has been really pleasing is this hasn't happened dramatically, and over the past decade, membership has gone up, the supporter base through the roof … everyone at this club has done a fair job of flying the flag for the AFL in Sydney," Colless said.

With, and without, a targeted rock star, the Swans simply keep performing to standards that are the envy of nearly every other club.

X: @barrettdamian