STONE motherless last.
The AFL's equality measures had finally caught up with John Longmire's Sydney as of five weeks ago.
The Swans have never missed the finals in Longmire's eight completed seasons as head coach, but suddenly they were last with a single win through seven rounds.
Longmire was at pains in the pre-season to let everyone know that almost 70 per cent of his playing list would be aged 24 years or younger at round one.
In effect, we were warned.
A 22-point defeat to Brisbane at the Gabba in round seven seemed symbolic, with the once-lowly Lions surging into the top four as perennial contender Sydney hit rock bottom.
The Swans were the League's worst contested possession team, three years after that statistic was one of the bedrocks of their most-recent Grand Final appearance.
No team drove the ball inside 50 less or was worse at keeping the ball in its forward half.
THE PROBLEM WITH SYDNEY Horse talks to Damian Barrett
Fast-forward to the present, and Sydney has banked three more victories and lost since to only the AFL's top two sides, Geelong (22 points) and Collingwood (seven).
Interestingly, none of those three aforementioned problems were solved in this successful period.
A side short on experience also missed Lance Franklin for two of those five matches, and Jarrad McVeigh, Zak Jones and Josh Kennedy were out for three games apiece.
Harry Cunningham, Nick Smith and Sam Naismith played in none of them.
The absences of Jones and Kennedy, who soaked up 32.6 centre attendances per game between them in the first seven rounds, would seemingly leave a gaping hole in a transitioning midfield.
So what's happened in the Harbour City to explain the Swans snapping out of their funk?
In simplistic terms, they're handballing and playing on from marks less, kicking longer more often and their scoring efficiency inside 50 is through the roof.
What's changed at Sydney?
75 (ranked 14th)
81.2 (ranked 9th)
Mark, play on % (excl. F50)
Kick long %
Score per inside 50 %
Goal per inside 50 %
Kennedy and Jones haven't been missed as much as expected, either, because of others' ability to increase their output with the extra responsibility that's come their way.
Three midfielders, in particular – co-captain Luke Parker, George Hewett and Oliver Florent – warrant highlighting here.
Florent's gradual introduction to the centre-square set-up was something Longmire foreshadowed on season eve, but it's been a slow burn.
Key forward Sam Reid perfectly sums up the Swans' change in fortunes in the time periods, registering spikes in goals (2.2, up from 0.9), contested marks (2.4, 1.4) and marks inside 50 (2.6, 1.7).
Lockdown defender Dane Rampe's 80 disposals across the past three rounds are the most he's ever won from that sample size.
Elsewhere, reigning All Australian half-back Jake Lloyd remains steady at what is easily his career-high disposal rate of 32.1 disposals (up from his previous best of 27.8).
Tom Papley is having a breakout season in possessions (16.7) and goals (1.8), while third-year Sturt product Jordan Dawson is Sydney's biggest improver.
Only time will tell whether this is a false dawn or the early stages of the next bright Sydney era, but either way, there is life in a season many wrote off five weeks ago.
Gawn playing at Max level
There was a time this season when the game's No.1 ruckman Max Gawn's impact was being questioned.
It seems silly now, after watching the star Demon maul an "under-the-weather" Brodie Grundy at the MCG on Monday to cap an incredible three weeks from the Big Friendly Giant.
Gawn has amassed absurd numbers across the past three weeks, averaging 28 disposals (15 contested), 6.7 marks (3.3 contested and 4.3 intercepts), 6.7 clearances and 12.7 hitouts to advantage.
He is averaging almost three more hitouts to advantage than any other ruckman this season, and seems headed for a third All Australian nod despite Melbourne's woes.
The Cats' Mr Effective
Geelong is a class above everyone in most areas at the moment, but one of the club's undoubted key pieces is defender Tom Stewart.
Stewart, an All Australian for the first time last year, leads the AFL in effective kicks and long kicks, and ranks third for short kicks.
Down the other end, Tom Hawkins is second to Giant Jeremy Cameron for goals kicked and is placed No.1 for both goal assists and score assists.