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The problem with Sydney: John Longmire talks to Damian Barrett

The damning stat that shows where it's going wrong for Sydney Kane Cornes and Mitch Cleary discuss the Swans' steep decline in one key facet of the game

THIS is the recession the Swans had to have.

A downturn after nearly two decades of sustained success – two premierships, three other Grand Final appearances, and 15 of the past 16 seasons in finals, including all eight years of John Longmire's stint as coach.

Player commitment cannot be questioned this year, but injuries to key players, an inability to sustain pressure, and a general lack of spark have left Sydney last on the ladder at 1-6 and highly unlikely to reach finals.

Classy veteran Jarrad McVeigh blows his quad against the Blues in round three. Picture: AFL Photos

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The Swans coach and other senior officials refuse to use the 'rebuild' word as they endure this un-Swans like season, but clearly the toll of seeking a premiership every season since 2002 does ultimately cause a slowdown.

"I just don’t get caught up in the specifics of that," Longmire told AFL.com.au.

"The reality is the team is less experienced now than what it has been.

We are transitioning the list, we have done that a few times, a number of times, but we've done it with more experience around than we have now.

"We are working through that change with our list."

The 22 Swans who lost in round seven to Brisbane Lions combined to form the youngest team in the AFL on that weekend.

 

It was the first time in 22 years since the Swans had held such status.

Sydney young guns Jordan Dawson, Will Hayward and Isaac Heeney celebrate a goal. Picture: AFL Photos

Only one player, the all-time great Swan Josh Kennedy, was older than 30 – 14 were 24 and under.

"We understand the team is performing differently, but it is a different personnel to what it was 12 months ago," Longmire said.

"We understand that, but we are still very determined to drive our standards over four quarters.

"We are striving for that and we will keep striving for that, and we will keep teaching and we will continue to look at the younger players coming through."

The 41-point loss to GWS in round six aside, Sydney has been competitive in its five other defeats, to Western Bulldogs (17 points), Adelaide (26), Melbourne (22), Richmond (22) and Brisbane (22).

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Opposition teams are focusing on breaking down the Swans with intercept possessions. The Swans' ruckman Callum Sinclair has struggled, and contested possessions, once a club trademark, are down.

Ruckman Callum Sinclair is wrapped up by Giants in this year's Sydney derby. Picture: AFL Photos

Thirty players have been used in the seven matches, three of those (Nick Blakey, James Rowbottom and Justin McInerney) making their debut appearances.

All Australian defender Nick Smith and No.1 ruck Sam Naismith haven't played in 2019, while Buddy Franklin, Jarrad McVeigh, Will Hayward and Heath Grundy have all missed multiple matches through injury.

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The dearth of experience was exacerbated by the 2018 trading out of Dan Hannebery and Gary Rohan.

Speedster Gary Rohan is in red-hot form for Geelong. Picture: AFL Photos

"We made decisions to trade out, to look at youth like McInerney and Rowbottom, to give those kids a chance, but what we didn't anticipate was the unavailability of those experienced players," Longmire said.

"That has exaggerated the challenge."

A potential Swans back six for Friday night's SCG match against Essendon is Dane Rampe, Callum Mills, Jake Lloyd, Lewis Melican, Aliir Aliir and Colin O'Riordan.

A potential forward six would have Blakey, Rowbottom and Tom McCartin among it, as Franklin and also Tom Papley are doubtful with injury.

Superstar Lance Franklin watching the Swans play the Lions from the coaches' box. Picture: AFL Photos

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Harry Cunningham has been ruled out after injury in round seven.

The Swans' once-deep midfield is now shallow. Since 2015, class midfielders Lewis Jetta, Tom Mitchell, Hannebery and Rohan have been traded out.

Kennedy this year is compiling yet another solid season, and last year's best-and-fairest winner Lloyd, Luke Parker, Rampe and Zak Jones have all contributed well.

Expectations rightfully remain high on Isaac Heeney and Callum Mills, and while they would have planned for better seasons than are having, they are as important as any Swans-listed players.

Sydney loaded up its salary cap on Kurt Tippett and Franklin, who still has three years to run in his contract. This no doubt restricted its ability to keep some players and recruit others, and has contributed to the 2019 plight, with the retired Tippett still officially listed on the books.

Kurt Tippett limps off during a R23 game against Carlton in 2017. Picture: AFL Photos

However, it was more than sound management to recruit the two on the deals they got.

In the weeks leading in to the Grand Finals in 2014 (with Tippett) and 2016 (with Franklin and Tippett), the Swans were favourites on bookmakers charts. They lost, respectively to Hawthorn and Western Bulldogs, but that cannot be considered failure.

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The Swans incredibly recovered from a 0-6 start to the 2017 season to win 14 of the remaining 16 games and qualify for the finals.

"(Finals) certainly seemed unlikely then, two years ago," Longmire said.

"Our personnel is different now – the finals aren't at the forefront of our minds right now, what is at the forefront is competing every single quarter and putting four quarters together.

"Everything else will look after itself if we do that."