SYDNEY coach John Longmire admits he is still scarred by the Swans' elimination final defeat but is buoyed by the prospect of the club's young guns soaring higher next season.
The Swans looked primed to push deep into finals as eight wins in the last nine rounds completed a remarkable rise from 16th place to sixth this year.
But missing out on a top-four spot and double chance on percentage proved costly when a one-point loss to Greater Western Sydney brought their season to an abrupt end.
It is a defeat Longmire is still coming to terms with, especially as the Swans registered the last six scores of the match – all behinds – and kicked 2.7 to 0.1 in the final term.
"It's always raw. It was a game where we got beaten by a team that took their chances and credit to the Giants for doing that," Longmire told AFL.com.au.
"You have to try to reflect in a light that allows you to weigh things up in a less emotional way and be able to track a path forward.
"You can't just switch off the disappointment. You have to let that go through your system, that takes a little bit of time and then you get back into preparation mode."
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The way the season ended shouldn't take too much away from the emergence of several young guns and the implementation of a striking gameplan that made the Swans one of the most daring and high-scoring teams in the League.
The 15 victories and return to finals after consecutive bottom-four finishes were helped by the availability of established stars like Lance Franklin and a relatively charmed run with injury for much of the year.
There were also career-best seasons from Tom Papley, who earned a first Therabody AFL All-Australian blazer, defender-turned midfielder Callum Mills and ruck recruit Tom Hickey. Jordan Dawson also enjoyed a breakout season but is now set to depart the club.
"The real challenge in this game is deciphering what is a successful year. If you mark it on premierships alone, most of the time you'll be frustrated or disappointed or both," Longmire said.
"In many ways we think we had a really positive season. If we go through each individual player on our list the majority would've by far and away improved, which is all you can ask.
"Hopefully our players have got some belief from what they were able to do but it needs to be backed up and supported by a lot of hard work, there is no escaping that."
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Longmire expects the improvement required to make the leap into the top four to come from growth in the existing group and especially some of the Swans' most exciting prospects.
This includes 2020 draftees Braeden Campbell and Errol Gulden, and second-year onballer Chad Warner, who claimed the first three NAB AFL Rising Star nominations this year but were each sidelined with soreness in the lower leg or foot.
"We feel like we've got a good core young group coming through and a lot of them are playing regular senior football at a pretty high level, playing key roles for us. There is still even more to come from that group," Longmire said.
"Braeden has now got some development in him, we're confident Errol has got the ability to play a number of different roles and Chad is such a powerful player.
"We know they're good players and we think that being able to get their balance and load right, and backing them in to be real pros and train hard to be the best players they can be, is really important. We're excited by what they can bring to the team next year."
The Swans will also look to unearth more hidden gems over the pre-season, following the successful moves of Mills into the midfield this season and Tom McCartin to defence last year.
Nick Blakey will double down on his mid-season move to half-back after he embraced a role that makes the most of his pace and penetrating left boot until injuring an ankle in round 22.
The 21-year-old is recovering well from an operation on his right leg and will start running again in about a month, then will spend the pre-season training with the backline group.
"We were really pleased with what Nick was able to deliver for us this year and we really missed him when he went out of the team," Longmire said.
"He was able to give us a really different look from our back half, whether that was in the air because he's 195cm and he can take a mark, but he's also got great agility and electric speed.
"This year was the first time he'd ever played down back, so he hasn't had much exposure down there. We think there is some growth in him as well with a pre-season down back.
"He's got some great versatility so we'll keep our minds open but we won't be afraid to trial things to find ways to get better."