IT was the Jekyll and Hyde performance of the year. How the Swans went from winless though the first six rounds to make finals last season still beggars belief.
Regardless, Sydney showed once again what it can deliver in top gear — and it is high quality.
Are they a spent force yet, after more than a decade at the top? Unlikely.
With some emerging youngsters coming through, and a clutch of stars still at the top of their game, John Longmire’s men are again going to be a genuine premiership heavyweight, again.
He’s probably the most underrated young player in the game. We rave about Marcus Bontempelli, Patrick Cripps and even Christian Petracca, but Heeney looks every bit as special. The bouncy hard-nut is a brilliant ball-winner who has excelled in the midfield and as a dangerous forward. And his flair for taking a contested or overhead mark for his size is Jimmy Bartel-esque. Had minor knee surgery before Christmas which will limit his preseason, but he could explode in season No. 4.
They’re the Swans’ Batman and Robin combination. Heeney and the slick and reliable half back flanker Callum Mills. He’s the Rising Star winner and the rudder in John Longmire’s defensive set up who has looked comfortable at the top level since day dot. Just reads the game beautifully and has the craft, vision and disposal to rebound with precision. And only 20.
Is he still the biggest drawcard in the game? Even entering his 14th season the Lance Franklin factor sends a lightning bolt through every match he plays in. In Round 23 last year Franklin was unstoppable, torching Carlton with a bag of 10 goals. One week later he had another four by half time to bury Essendon in the elimination final. Was he worth the huge nine-year contract? Without doubt. ‘Buddy’ is drawing crowds and eager for more premiership success as he looks to become only the sixth player in AFL history to kick 1000 goals (he has 860).
There is fresh blood in the Sydney coaching box for 2018 with champion pair Steve Johnson and Dean Cox joining John Longmire. Stuart Dew, Josh Francou and Henry Playfair have all left, while Rhyce Shaw has been promoted from the NEAFL ranks. The Swans will have been ultra-consistent over the years, making finals in 12 of the past 13 seasons, but some fresh ideas, new voices and different faces among the coaching staff should help Longmire tweak some things for next season.
It was remarkable what Sydney did last year, coming back from 0-6 to make finals for the first time in the game’s history. But Longmire said they had probably spent their petrol tickets clawing back from the awful start before finals began. Yes, Heeney (knee) and Franklin (ankle) have both had post season surgeries, but the early part of the 2018 draw is decent. They play three of their first five games at the SCG and will help open the new Perth Stadium against West Coast in Round 1.
BLUE COLLAR BOYS
Yes, the star power oozes from every line of this Sydney outfit, but there are some unheralded types who took giant strides forward last year. Call them foot soldiers maybe, but youngsters Jake Lloyd (equal second), George Hewett (fifth), Tom Papley (seventh) and Zac Jones (ninth) were duly recognised in last year’s best and fairest. Jones probably has the most upside in his game as a powerful midfielder, but the Swans have managed to draft well with late picks, despite their high-end finishes, in recent years.
They’re two of the most exciting words in football now. Room to move in the TPP to attract some established talent. Every club is trying to be more proactive in this area. And finally, the Swans will have some space in 2018 to hit the player market again in this year’s trade period, if there’s something they really like. The salary cap has been tight after landing Franklin and Kurt Tippett but that will ease this year.
It’s been this way for a long time, but the Swans’ midfield set up has some serious class. With Josh Kennedy, Daniel Hannebery and Luke Parker in the engine room, Sydney is able to compete with the best in the business in the middle. Heeney adds more of a dynamic edge and Oliver Florent in his second year will continue to build fitness required to add to his obvious polish. Once again, it’s a midfield which should keep the club in the premiership hunt in 2018.