IS THE glass half full? The general consensus is 'yes', but the cold, hard reality is that Sydney is in a backward spiral; fourth bottom last year and third bottom in 2020.
Although the Swans did have some encouraging performances against solid opposition, there were some horrible losses too, including giving up a seven-goal-to-nil lead against Carlton in round 16. Sydney will again point to youth and injuries (which obviously impacts performance) to explain its lowly ladder position, but the season highlighted some gaping holes in its list.
The Swans will again be happy to get games into youngsters, but they only had one NAB AFL Rising Star nominee (Justin McInerney) and were not represented in the AFLPA's 22under22 team. We also didn't see key-position defender Will Gould and the Elijah Taylor scandal was disappointing on so many levels.
Led by Dane Rampe, Jake Lloyd and Callum Mills, Sydney's backline continues to be a success story. With the midfield conceding so many inside 50s, the defenders are always forced to soak up pressure and they regularly keep their team in games. Given the lack of legitimate keys, the back six/seven do an outstanding job. Rampe was heroic before his hand injury and Lloyd (third in the comp for total possessions and first for kicks) is very unlucky to miss out on the All-Australian squad. Lewis Melican and impressive youngster Tom McCartin also showed good signs late in the season.
Outside of the backline, most things. Sydney knows its ruck situation is not good. And the Swans again face another season without a legitimate No.1 tap gun. The midfield lacks an accumulator. Josh Kennedy was that person but he is slowing down, and while Luke Parker is an excellent player, he is not a ball-magnet. Alarm bells are also ringing around the forward line. Lance Franklin's ageing body is a massive concern, Sam Reid has his own fitness issues, Will Hayward doesn't kick enough goals, Isaac Heeney is needed in the midfield, Sam Gray is a bust, McCartin looks better as a defender, Nick Blakey looks better up the ground, which all leads to an over-reliance on Tom Papley.
Parker leads from the front, is a heart-and-soul player, is brave, and inspires an undermanned midfield. He finished the season in the top 10 for tackles and contested possessions, and was just outside the top 10 for disposals. His game against crosstown rival Greater Western Sydney was exceptional, earned him 10 votes from the coaches, and was the backbone of an impressive 41-point against-the-odds win. Like Lloyd, he was also unlucky not to sneak into the AA squad.
James Rowbottom, 20, is tracking to become Sydney's next midfield jet. He averaged eight contested possessions this season which was better than other more hyped young guns such as Bailey Smith and Jarrod Berry. He was huge in the R10 clash with Collingwood with a game-high 16 contested possessions.
Sydney will always defend that monster deal to its superstar, but the critics will point to this: Lance Franklin played no games this year, has played 10 in two seasons, and was essentially paid a million bucks in 2020 to be a spectator. He turns 34 next year, has two years remaining on his contract, and his wage continues to put pressure on Sydney's salary cap and ability to trade in A-graders.
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When you only have a handful wins in a year, they're all pretty good. The question is, which one was the pick: climbing over Hawthorn to get under Alastair Clarkson's skin, or torching cross-town rival Greater Western Sydney? Rampe's game against the Hawks (with a broken hand) was spectacular … as was Clarko's post-game Papley rant.
Toss a coin: Sam Naismith's heartbreaking knee injury in round four that ended his year (maybe career), or the round six game against Richmond where the Swans kicked three goals, lost Heeney (ankle) for the season, and warrior co-captain Kennedy (knee) for six rounds.
How should they approach list management?
Sydney is desperate for a ready-made ruckman but the cupboard is fairly bare and possible options are already contracted. However, Geelong tall Darcy Fort is out-of-contract and could be worth a call. McCartin's move to the backline might rekindle the Swans' interest in free agent Joe Daniher but, given Daniher, Reid and Franklin's injury history, it would be a risky move. Don't be surprised if there is a big play for another free agent much closer to home (Jeremy Cameron) and the club continues its tradition of grabbing box-office forwards in their prime. A star midfielder is also a priority and, at 26 and out of contract, Melbourne's Jack Viney is at the right age to make an immediate impact. The Swans should also look at out-of-favour Geelong mid Quinton Narkle.
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Early call for 2021
If Ollie Florent, Rowbottom, Hayward, McCartin, Blakey and Jordan Dawson don't stagnate, and the Swans can get Franklin and Reid up while Papley is hot, and they can find those missing midfield pieces, there is hope of an immediate spike ... but there are a lot of 'ifs' here.
D: For the second consecutive season the Swans are on the bottom rungs of the ladder and have been graded as a team that failed to improve its ladder position.