Swallow spoke to AFL.com.au at North's community camp in Ballarat, and said the Roos took great confidence from their excellent second half of 2012, when they dropped just one game from rounds 12-21 and recorded comfortable wins against top-four teams Adelaide and Collingwood.
But Swallow was also mindful North had lacked consistency at other stages in 2012. While its 4-6 start to the season featured an impressive win against reigning premier Geelong, the opening 10 games included losses to eventual bottom-five teams Western Bulldogs and Port Adelaide and a 115-point thrashing by Hawthorn.
North's season ended on a depressing note when it lost its elimination final by 96 points to West Coast at Patersons Stadium.
Swallow said North had to prove in 2013 it could compete with the competition's best teams over an entire season.
"I think in that second half of last season we showed that we can play really good football on our day, so the key for us now is to be consistent," Swallow said.
"You know when the top-four sides go out there that they're going to give the same effort week in, week out.
"That's our next big challenge, to produce that. I think that we've got enough talent there and there's a lot of improvement still left in the guys.
"It's just whether they can do it week in, week out, in a pretty tough environment."
Swallow said the youthful make-up of North's list suggested the natural development of the Roos' youngsters over the pre-season would help them bridge the gap to the elite teams.
Just how far they bridge that gap would depend on those players' rates of development, Swallow said.
"It's just a matter of how much our kids improve. That's the big unknown when you go into a season.
"We just want to improve. We know we're still quite a young team. We know we've got a big challenge ahead with the draw this year.
"But we need at least a couple of those guys in their third, fourth years – your Ben Cunningtons, Shaun Atleys, Kieran Harpers and guys like Cam Delaney, Aaron Mullett and Aaron Black – to start pushing through like Robbie Tarrant did last year.
"They're the guys we're looking for improvement from because we know what we're going to get from Drew [Petrie], 'Boomer' [Brent Harvey] and 'Wellsy' [Daniel Wells]."
Swallow said North could also improve by bringing a greater defensive intensity into 2013.
Although the Roos were ranked third in the competition for scoring in last year's home and away season (averaging 107.2 points a game), opposition teams scored relatively easily against them. North conceded an average of 95.3 points a game, with only the bottom five teams – Port Adelaide, Western Bulldogs, Melbourne, Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney – leaking more points.
Swallow said the Roos had worked hard to avoid this happening again in 2013.
"We were obviously a very good attacking team last year, but if we can defend a bit better we're going to create a lot more scoring opportunities for ourselves," Swallow said.
"That's been a big focus for us this pre-season and not just in defence, but all over the ground."
Nick Bowen covers North Melbourne news for AFL.com.au. Follow him on Twitter: @AFL_Nick