A DEVASTATING one-point loss in an elimination final will sting all summer but shouldn't take away from Sydney's stunning rise this season.
A game plan built around intense pressure and blistering ball movement seemed to refresh the experienced Swans and fast-tracked the emergence of their many young guns.
An ability to turn defence into attack and give more space and opportunities to a forward group that included Lance Franklin, Tom Papley and Isaac Heeney made the Swans one of the most thrilling teams in the League.
Somehow that was all achieved while the Swans were forced to live away from Sydney and be shifted around multiple states for almost 10 weeks.
Lance Franklin's comeback from two injury-ravaged seasons went better than most had dared hope. The superstar forward kicked 51 goals in 18 matches and was selected in the Therabody AFL All-Australian squad. The much-anticipated move of Callum Mills from defence boosted the midfield as he averaged 27.5 disposals and was also selected in the All-Australian squad. The recruitment of Tom Hickey proved a masterstroke, as the 30-year-old became one of the most influential ruckmen in the League in his first season at a fourth club.
The Swans were able to switch on against the best teams, winning six of nine clashes with the eventual top-eight, but too often looked lacklustre against lowly opponents. Losses to Gold Coast, Hawthorn and a struggling St Kilda in round 21 proved costly in the push for a double chance. Several talls were tried in the second key forward/relief ruck role and each impressed at times, but no one was consistently effective enough to claim the position as their own.
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Co-captain Luke Parker was the regular and reliable leader of a powerful midfield as he averaged 28 disposals with team-highs for contested ball (13.4) and clearances (6.3). Parker was selected in the All-Australian squad and almost willed his team over the line in the elimination final (34 disposals). The Swans will be in a hurry to re-sign the unrestricted free agent.
Jordan Dawson started the season as an emerging half-back that could hurt opponents with his punchy kicking out of defence. But the 24-year-old was even more damaging playing further up the field in the second half of the year, adding goals (nine) to his game and regularly using his sublime skills to hit up teammates inside 50.
Veteran forward Sam Reid was again sidelined with injury, the fifth time since establishing himself in 2011 that he has failed to play more than 10 matches in a season. Reid injured a calf in round six then from his return in round 19 could only kick one goal in four matches before being overlooked for the final two games of the season.
Gun onballer Callum Mills and two other Swans were forced out of the Sydney Derby and into isolation less than an hour before the first bounce in round 18. The Giants jumped out to a 35-point lead early in the second term but the Swans kicked nine goals to two in the second half to overrun their rivals by 26 points. Lance Franklin and Tom Papley both kicked four goals and proud coach John Longmire ended the match wiping away tears.
The one-point elimination final loss will sting all summer. The Swans allowed the Giants to kick three easy goals directly from throw-ins on their way to a 23-point half-time lead. They fought back and charged home in the second half but kicking 2.7 in the final term, including six consecutive behinds as the last scores of the match, ultimately cost the Swans their season.
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How should they approach list management?
A bursting salary cap is making it hard to hang onto co-captain Luke Parker, the damaging Jordan Dawson and underrated George Hewett. Re-signing the uncontracted trio should be the priority. The Swans will also want to add depth to a list that was rarely tested thanks to a fortunate run with injury, but with money tight that might have to be through finding more young talent and unpolished gems. A back-up ruckman that plays in a similarly robust style to Tom Hickey would be prudent insurance.
Early call for 2022
The future looks bright. Ten of the Swans that played in the elimination final will be aged 23 or under when the next season starts, and Nick Blakey, Logan McDonald and Braeden Campbell can be added to that group. Steady progression from the young Bloods now with finals experience and similar output from the established stars should put the Swans back in contention for the top-four.
7 out of 10. The Swans' exciting, high-scoring style and rapid re-emergence was even more impressive for continuing through almost 10 weeks of living away from home.