Sydney have been one of the AFL’s most consistent sides over the past decade, playing in three deciders and missing the finals series just once. However, question marks linger over their ability to compete when it matters.
The Swans were clearly the best home-and-away outfit in 2014 and 2016, deservedly finishing as minor premiers in both those seasons, before capitulating in the finals.
The 2014 grand final started a curse that the side haven’t been able to shake. The Hawks obliterated them on the big stage and one could argue that a psychological element still hampers the Swans in big matches. Others suggest that their gameplan just doesn’t cut it.
In 2016, they were blown off the park in the qualifying final, before bouncing back in the next two finals against sides they historically match up well on.
Unfortunately, they succumbed to a hungrier side in the grand final that year and should’ve lost by more, having been soundly beaten in most areas on the day.
Even last year, the Swans came home with a wet sail but were embarrassed by Geelong in the semi-final – a match they went into as heavy favourites. Some argue they’d spent all their petrol tickets playing elimination final after elimination final following the 0-6 start, but I’m not buying into that. They had the week off following Round 23 and brushed aside Essendon in the first final with relative ease.
The Cats were no genuine force last year, as illustrated by both their qualifying and preliminary final performances, and there were simply no excuses for the Swans producing such a dismal effort.
Why bring this up now? Well, last Thursday night was hyped as the first genuine ‘heavyweight battle’ of 2018, and once again the Swans just weren’t up to it. Many aspects of the game had the same old stench about it.
John Longmire seemingly didn’t have a plan B to slow the Tigers down. They couldn’t slow the opposition down, attracting comparisons to both the 2016 qualifying final against the Giants and the 2014 grand final against the Hawks.
The team looked slow, tired and didn’t have too many answers, with the scoreboard flattering Sydney for much of the night.
While Sydney are likely to once again make the top four, plenty of things will need to go their way come September if they are to secure another premiership. Their gameplan has obvious deficiencies and they just don’t seem to have another gear when challenged by the very best.
The Round 6 come-from-behind win against Geelong was predominantly off the back of Josh Kennedy, who lifted in the final term. They obliterated Geelong in the clearances, largely due to Kennedy’s influence, and constructed a blueprint that proved how ordinary the Cats can be when their midfield doesn’t fire.
While you can’t possibly fault the back six, there are only so many inside 50s a defensive unit can repel before things start to break down. Jake Lloyd, Dane Rampe, Heath Grundy, Jarred McVeigh and Nick Smith will probably all feature in their top ten come the end of season best and fairest count, but aside from the likes of Kennedy, Luke Parker and Buddy Frankllin, who else consistently stands up when the team is under siege?
Players such as Gary Rohan, Harry Cunningham and Will Hayward need to work on their consistency and Longmire needs to find a way for them to get involved and break the game open when it matters.
Kennedy isn’t getting any younger, while Grundy, Smith and McVeigh are inching closer to retirement. The end of this season could potentially signal the closing of the premiership window for at least a little while. For a team that’s been so dominant in each of the past six seasons, having just the one flag to show for it will not sit well with the club and its supporters.