Now things get interesting…
Remember a few weeks back, we were coming off the byes and people were looking at the top eight, making their predictions with the same surety of our various chief health officers? One constant through all the predictions, except for those who’d been watching the Sydney Swans play, is that this team were the most vulnerable of the projected finalists.
I reckon talk like that would piss players off.
There was no reason for people to think that at the time – Sydney had just put together an excellent first half of the season, and contrary to popular belief, they weren’t riding the talents of their kids. Not at all. They were getting lifts from those in that 22-26 year old age group.
However, we were told, almost ad nauseum, that it was the Sydney kids that were the difference.
As happens so often, one expert says it, then another, and just like lemmings, we have a game of follow the stupid leader into a big mass of idiocy.
And the Swans chose not to follow the opinions of those willing them to fail. They had their destiny in their own hands – why allow the predictions of the predictable people to influence them?
Coming into this game against the Dogs, there weren’t many that gave Sydney a chance. I’d say two or three in ten would be about the right ratio, but again, those who have been watching the Swans intently have seen the style they’re playing, have watched those players in year three, four and five step up, and we’ve also seen the players who were sidelined in 2020 have relatively clean runs at it this season.
And the Dogs found out what we’ve suspected all along this season. The Swans are no flash in the pan. They’re not a team that is going to fatigue and go quietly into the night. They have warriors in the guts, class up forward and contest winners in defence.
People, you may have missed this somehow over the course of 2021, but this win should absolutely convince you. The Sydney Swans are for real.
Let’s jump into the Mongrel’s Good, Bad and Ugly.
THE MCCARTY PARTY
The Swans have found a winner here. We kind of knew that the moment he switched from attack to defence, but the emergence of Tom McCartin as a genuine interceptor and contest killer has given them the big bodied defender to support Dane Rampe, and allowed the Swans to play a dangerous blend of forwards without this big lug getting in the way.
That’s not a knock on McCartin as a forward – I am absolutely sure he could hold down the centre half forward spot pretty well, but it probably wouldn’t be a patch on what he can do as a defender.
As part of our Defensive Player of the Year award, I like to keep tabs on players that accrue double figures in both intercepts and one-percenters. We call it the Defensive Double-Double, and McCartin almost had one by the time halftime rolled around in this game.
Starting on Jamarra Ugle-Haden, McCartin looked to be in for a big day, but as is the nature of modern defences, he found himself thumping the footy away from Josh Bruce and Tim English as much as he played a part in towelling up the first-gamer.
McCartin finished the game with 16 touches, ten marks, 11 intercepts and 12 one-percenters as he and Dane Rampe anchored the Swans’ defence and locked down on the marking targets all game. And remember, this bloke is 21 – he is going to get much, much better. Scary thought for forwards.
YOUR WINNER… AND TWO-TIME MIDFIELD CHAMPION!!!
Well, if you haven’t jumped on board as a member yet, it might be a good time.
You see, every week we run the Mongrel Punt Midfield Championship, and the reigning champ has to defend the title against the mids on whichever team he is playing against. This week, the Swans took their turn challenging Jack Macrae, and given the result of the game (the title can only change hands if your team wins against the champ), I was spoiled for choice amongst two midfield stars.
Macrae was held to under 30 touches for the first time this season (he had 25), mainly due to the vigilance of the entire midfield at stoppages. If you watch carefully, as soon as Macrae gets a touch, all Sydney mids – Parker, Mills, Kennedy, Hewett; whoever is closest – they ensure a body is put on him to prevent him running on and getting the one-two. As much as I would like to credit one player with the job, this was a brilliant defensive team effort on the prolific champ… now former champ.
But the decision of who the belt goes to is a tough one.
You see, the Swans have been spoilt in this regard, with Josh Kennedy the inaugural midfield champion all the way back in 2017, and Callum Mills picking up his first reign as champ earlier this season.
Mills was well and truly in the mix in this one – his work in the clinches and as a link man for his team were vital, but out on the wing, a new challenger emerged, and did so in brilliant fashion.
Jordan Dawson burnt the Dogs from the wing, streaming forward to slot three goals alongside his 26 touches.
So, how do you choose between them? How do you say one was better than the other?
In the end, I went for the bloke who was playing directly opposite the reigning champ, and beating him at his own game. Whilst I am sure Jordan Dawson will score spectacularly well in our Wingman of the Year award this week (released Tuesday), I am going to give the nod to Callum Mills as the new midfield champ of the AFL.
Mills is having a wonderful season, averaging 28 touches per game as his insertion into the middle for the Swans has provided them with another ball-winner in the seemingly never-ending cycle of class produced in the guts for the Swans. They were so patient bringing him through as a half back, ignoring the calls of supporters the “Get Mills in the guts!”
Instead, they allowed him to refine his game without the bash-and-crash nature of the midfield, and the Swans are now reaping the rewards.
He finished with 31 touches, eight inside fifties and nine marks as he swooped in for the kill, relegating Jack Macrae to the list of former champs.
And so, after Round 17, 2021, your winner… and new Mongrel Punt Midfield Champion… Callum Mills!
Long may he reign!
For more on the Mongrel Midfield Championship Belt, the weekly column for members is available here. Mongrel Midfield Championship Belt.
One of the moves that has largely gone unnoticed this season, except by Swans supporters, is the way John Longmire has switched the roles of Jordan Dawson and Justin McInerney over the past few weeks.
At heart, McInerney is a wingman, and Dawson… well, he can flat out play anywhere, so it could strike you as strange to see Longmire tinkering with players who were performing quite admirably in their roles.
But Horse knows what he is doing, and the Swans look electrifying with these blokes playing in their new positions. Dawson was close to best on ground, keeping his space, using his wonderful overhead skills, and running forward to hit the scoreboard as the Swans surged down the other side of the ground. So impressive was his run in the first quarter that I had to rewind, go back and just make sure it was him contesting in the back pocket moments before I saw him bob up on the fat-side of the ground to slot a goal.
Yep, it was him, and I wonder how many Dogs players he passed along the way to get on the end of the ball from Tom Papley as the Swans run the length of the ground?
And then there is McInerney. A more subdued role from the 20-year-old saw him deployed across half back. His leg speed provided a good dose of pressure in every scramble he was involved in, and his quick thinking and fast hands enabled the Swans to move the ball with pace sideways and avoid the tackling of the Dogs forwards.
He finished with 19 touches and whilst I doubt you’ll see his name in many “best” lists, the way he has adapted to the new role deserves a bit of recognition. His presence allowed Jake Lloyd even more freedom to find space, and if the trade off for having Dawson on the wing and McInerney at half back is that Lloyd can play a little more loosey-goosey, then damn it, sign me up!
Before I knock this section over, a quick shout out to Nick Blakey and his role off half back as well. That left foot can slice a game open when he gets a little space. My jury is out on the longevity of the role – I want to see how he goes when he actually has to legitimately defend, but in the meantime, it is working nicely.
How many times did you see the normally free-flowing Western Bulldogs run stall and come to a complete stop in this game?
Whether it was pressure from behind (a favourite of my old pal, Adam West), or peeling off their opponent to prevent, or at least pressure the overlap handball, the Swans were “on” right from the outset, and the Dogs were simply unable to manufacture enough instances where they got out into space.
The number of times Kennedy, Parker, Dawson or even Nick Blakey would run hard to plug holes gave a really strong indication that this Sydney team was willing to work for each other, and believe in their game plan.
They say fatigue makes cowards of us all, but there was simply no letting up from the Swans. Even late in the game, their pressure and ability to make contests saw the Dogs unable to find a clear avenue to goal. You had little blokes like Errol Gulden (I really like him – an element of Zak Butters about him) flying and spoiling Josh Bruce in instances that screamed “we’re all in this together”… but not in a wanky way celebrities said it during the prime of Covid from their luxury homes.
As I said in the intro, those who have watched the Swans closely saw this coming. They are no joke this season, and whilst others may have been sitting back, waiting for them to fall over, the Swans weren’t sitting back at all. They were on their toes in this one, and when a teammate required help, he never had far to look to find it. A magnificent, well-drilled win.
HE JUST KEEPS ON DOING IT!!!
I’ve been defending this bloke for ages, even against some of his own supporters – Jake Lloyd just keeps getting the footy.
Love him or loathe him, his ability to find space and coordinate the Sydney defence as they rebound is one of the most underrated facets of the Sydney gameplan. He is no Dane Rampe, and he does not often put himself in positions where he is going to be crunched, but his footy IQ is off the charts, and every week when I am compiling numbers for our Defensive Player of the Year and our Mongrel 50, it seems that Lloyd’s name bobs up in the same categories – disposals, disposal efficiency and rebounds – week after week.
And the difference between him and someone like Sam Docherty, who is also capable of racking up those numbers when he plays defence is that Lloyd does it at a high clip every single week. He was running at 85% efficiency this week as he collected enough distance to sit fourth in the game in metres gained as well.
Guys, you don’t win two Bob Skilton Medals without something going for you. Every team has a player or two that parts of the supporter base does not like. For one reason or another, there have been times where a number of Swans supporters who have not enjoyed an aspect of his work.
Well, I am a Jesse Ventura fan, and in defence of the bad guys, he would often utter this line amongst many gems over the years – “You may not like him, but you’ve still gotta respect him as a dangerous, dangerous man.”
If you leave Lloyd alone to exit defensive fifty, you’re playing with fire, and in this one, the Dogs got burnt.
HICKEY V ENGLISH
It was a really enthralling clash between the two big men throughout the entire game. It might be the hardest I have seen English work without the footy, as he handled most of the ruck work, himself, before drifting forward to cause some real headaches for the Swans.
English’s positioning in this game was first class, and though he lost the hitouts (and he’ll lose them in just about every game he plays because he is timid in the ruck), his work around the ground made up for it.
However, Hickey was far from disgraced. He found space to work into and collected 17 touches of his own as he fought back hard against the young Dog.
On the whole, English takes the points in their duel, which was a surprise for me. I have become quite used to Hickey flying under the radar of teams to the point where they look at the stats sheet at the end of the game, only to find out that Hickey had completely belted them all over the park. If there is a positive to take out of this one, it is that English was not only able to limit the impact of the rejuvenated Hickey, but get the better of him as well.
I could write a bit about Bont, here, but let’s be honest – I am sick to death of writing good things about Bont this season. I need to think of some new good stuff to write about him… I’ve run out of superlatives.
So, instead, I am thinking more about Bailey Smith.
He’s had an up-and-down year in 2021, forced to play wing early, and now getting back to the inside a bit more. He was quite prominent early in the piece, kicking the first goal in 15 seconds, and remaining busy for the first half, notching 17 disposals to be one of the Dogs’ best to half time.
Whilst he tapered off after half time, Smith’s hardness at the contest was a highlight for the Digs, and the way he has learnt to shift his weight to beat tackles is something I haven’t really seen him do much of prior to this season.
He looks to be getting stronger, and his running power was quite noticeable early in the game.
If there is one criticism, I would point out that his tackling is poor, and whilst it is one thing to wade through tackles yourself, you’ve got to be able to stick them when it is your turn. Maybe some practice with Libba is on the cards?
UNABLE TO CARRY THE LOAD
The hopes of the Western Bulldogs forward line rested on one pair of shoulders in this game.
No, I am not going to bag out Jamarra Ugle-Hagan… what do you take me for? I am more concerned with how ineffective Josh Bruce was as the spearhead for the Dogs in the absence of Aaron Naughton.
As spectacular as Naughton is, and will be, his style of play will see him spend time on the sidelines. He was out with concussion this week, and has spent a couple of games on the bench getting treatment for various injuries. The way he attacks the contest, he is bound to either incur injuries or cause them (and hello to Tom English).
Over the course of his career, his durability has been his biggest hurdle, and when he is unable to play, a lot falls to Josh Bruce. And even with a ten-goal bag to his name, Bruce is still very much a second forward.
So, let’s play pretend for a minute or two, shall we? Let’s pretend that I am a superhero and all the ladies love me, and when I get into bed I… what? You don’t want to play that version? Damn…
Fine, let’s pretend the Dogs head into September, and over the course of the game, Naughton flies for a grab, splatters himself on the turf and is sent to the bench to have a good hard think about what his name is and what day it is. What do the Dogs do next?
In a perfect world, the answer is in their big, blonde ruckman who looks at times as though he is growing his brain on the outside of his head. When given a run at the footy, English is a spectacular mark and with him as the main forward presence, it allows Bruce to go into his sneaky second-option mode, where he thrives. Of course, the Dogs have the option of sending Bont forward as well, but having watched him play, you’d only want an 80/20 split with him in the midfield the majority of the time.
The last option is using Bruce as your number one guy. He just doesn’t have that in him.
THE WORST FREE KICK OF THE YEAR?
So, I found the footage of this deplorable decision made during this game, gifting a goal to Lewis Young. What a way to get your first goal in footy. Have a look.
This is what happens when you have a group of umpires so confused by continued tweaks to rules and interpretations that when they see body contact in, or in this case, after a marking contest, they feel obliged to blow the whistle.
Do you know what this free kick did? It bailed out Lewis Young for a mark he should have taken, and it cost the Swans a goal in the process. For what it’s worth, I thought the Dogs got the rub from the umps for a large part of the game, but this one took the cake.
What is McInerney supposed to do, here? How is he supposed to guard the space after Young dropped the mark? By the time body contact is made, the ball has hit the ground, which means that the marking contest is over unless AFL umpires are enlisting backyard cricket rules and playing “one hand, one bounce” these days… don’t laugh, had Steve Hocking still been in his role with the AFL, he’d be furiously scribbling the idea down.
McInerney was simply preventing Young from running onto the footy and chasing his teammate, who was going to collect as part of the two-on-one advantage the Swans enjoyed. When the whistle blew on this one, I genuinely threw my hands up in the air, eliciting a “settle down” from Mrs Mongrel.
Seriously, if someone with no skin in the game can be frustrated by such a ludicrous and panicky decision, how must Swans supporters have felt at this point?
Anyway, there have been some shocking decisions for body contact in what is supposed to be a contact sport, and we added a couple of “dangerous” tackles to the bunch today. None of them could hold a candle to this howler, and had the Dogs built on this momentum and used it as a springboard to go on and win, I reckon Swans supporters would have every right to feel pissed off.
GIVEN HIS TIME AGAIN, DOES LUKE BEVERIDGE PLAY JAMARRA UGLE-HAGAN?
I reckon he does. At least it stops all the pressure on the kid, and any thoughts he may have been having about how he was ready to play at the highest level.
He could have kicked a couple but for being a little rushed, but this should act as an eye-opener for him, and a mouth-shutter for all those who think they know what is best for a kid who is raw and had issues with his fitness.
There was a very good reason Beveridge was delaying his start in the big league, and now you know why.
WAS THAT CALEB DANIEL’S LEAST EFFECTIVE 30-DISPOSAL GAME?
Not really. His disposal efficiency is not what we’re used to seeing from him, but he did get a lot of his footy in the contest, and was equal leader in the game for clearances – a role he is not normally asked to play.
He had ten turnovers in this one, which is very unlike him, however, the Swans pressure, and the nature of his role in this game would be the root causes of that. We’ll see him back to his regular defensive post soon enough – the Dogs missed his composure back there, and I reckon he missed being there, as well.
WHY DON’T YOU HAVE TAYLOR DURYEA IN THE “GOOD” SECTION?
Well, he was very good – let’s get that out there. Possibly the Dogs’ best through the best quarter and a half, as he continually cut the Swans off at the knees inside 50.
And then there was the Amartey goal. That came on the back of a lazy kick from Duryea that really cost the Dogs. There was under a minute left in the half when that occurred, and really, when you’re in that spot, you hit up a contest as close to the boundary as you can. Defence 101.
Duryea tried a 15 metre pass across goal, grubbed it, and Amartey gave his mates in the crowd a reason to get their heads on TV. Good guy, Joel.
CAN THE SWANS MAKE TOP FOUR?
Other teams are starting to make it easier for them.
They’re a game and percentage out now, with the Lions heading to the MCG to play the reeling Tigers next week, and the revitalised Saints hosting Port. I sense an opportunity here, and if the Swans get the results they need, we may have a three way (settle down, people) for the fourth spot.
I’m kind of proud of the Swans for being in this position, but man… I’m not sure anyone expected them to be contending for a top four spot at this stage of the year.
WHEN DOES JORDAN DAWSON RE-SIGN?
Hopefully very soon.
Given the importance of him to the team at the moment, you would think the Swans’ hierarchy would be in deep discussion about what to offer him and how to get him to commit. During the preseason, I wrote in one of our previews that he could be the breakout half back of the season. Well, he was, kind of, but now he is also breaking out on the wing.
And players improving at this rate, with his skillset… they need to be paid.
George Hewett remains out of contract, too… plenty of decisions to be made at The Swans.
Riley Garcia had some promising moments playing on the wing and half forward. Plenty of footy smarts about him, and I can see a breakout game on the horizon in the very near future.
Harry Cunningham… take a bow. As all the attention, including the attention in this review, goes to others, he has become one of the most dependable rebounding defenders – that actually defends – in the league.
Love the fact that Channel 7 had Josh Schache listed as a player who is ready to come into the Dogs side in the next few weeks. Seriously, if they get a bout of food poisoning… maybe.
And that’ll do me. You’d back the Swans to knock over GWS and effectively kill their season next week… though they have been actively trying to kill their own season for weeks now.
The Dogs gets the Suns – it is scheduled for Metricon, so it’ll be interesting to see if that plays out as planned. Regardless of where they play, they should have enough in the tank to get the job done.
And to those in lockdown in New South Wales… I’m so sorry you’re in this situation. I’m a Vic – we were there a while back and I hated it with every part of me. Keep your chin up, use your phone and look after each other.
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Cheers – HB