The Sydney Swans just keep winning!
And the impressive part about it all is that they’re winning using a style of play that stands up to some of the best teams in the game. With victims this year including Richmond, Brisbane and Geelong, the Swans have welcomed back stars and added a mix of great young talent to the mix.
Add to that, the development of their mid-aged players and you have the makings of one hell of a football team.
It’s funny to think that it was just over 12 months ago that Sydney, missing many of their prime movers, engaged in one of the worst games you’ll ever watch against Richmond. In that game, they played an ultra-defensive style to restrict the run and attack of the fearsome Tigers, and though it was ugly with a capital U… and a capital GLY as well, it was a valuable learning tool for the team as they learnt how to defend against a team with firepower.
And if you can do it against a team that is loaded up with talent, you can absolutely smother teams that don’t possess it.
That is not a knock on Freo – they do possess a lot of talent, but as the game wore on, that statement reflected them less and less. They lost Nat Fyfe to his troublesome shoulder, Michael Walters due to a hamstring injury, and then Alex Pearce due to something sustained in a tackle from Lance Franklin. As has been the case for the Dockers for the last few years, they were a team of walking wounded, and the Swans sensed that they could step on their throats as the second half commenced.
Credit to the Dockers in the first half – their commitment to structure stifled the Swans, and had them looking hesitant at stages, but they failed to win this war, with too many soldiers going down.
You felt it was going to take a spark to ignite the fire in the Swans in this one, and with a soaring grab, Isaac Heeney provided it. It is rare that one moment turns a game, and really, it is usually a series of efforts that does just that, but Heeney’s spectacular grab made the Swans walk taller, and from that point on, the game belonged to them.
Long intro, huh?
Yeah… you’re right. Let’s jump into The Mongrel’s Big Questions about the Swans’ big win.
WHAT IS THE CEILING FOR ISAAC HEENEY?
There are times when I watch him and I think he could become the most complete player in the league. Seriously, we are seeing this season what we’ve been speculating about for the last few seasons – he is a powerful forward presence with the ability to move into the middle and have a huge impact – like Jordan de Goey without the baggage and with a better pair of hands.
In the intro, I wrote about him being the spark that ignited the Swans – not only did he help the team catch fire, he burnt the Fremantle chances to the ground with a dominant display of forward craft that makes you wonder whether he is the toughest matchup in the league?
Case in point – his move to the wing early in the last quarter. His matchup was Adam Cerra, who I’ll be writing a bit about in a minute. Almost like a shark sensing his prey was wounded, as soon as the opportunity presented, Heeney ran down the fat side of the ground and dragged Cerra to the goal square. Outmatched in the air, Cerra was never going to be able to compete with Heeney, who led, marked the footy and slotted a goal to get the Swans rolling in the last.
How do you play this guy?
If you put someone like Luke Ryan on him, he is too quick, better-balanced and recovers so much faster to kill him on the deck. If you put a more manoeuvrable player on him, Heeney tears them to shreds in the air. Unless you have a solid defensive structure, ready to peel off and help at the drop of a hat, every match up you throw at Heeney seems to be a mismatch in some way, shape or form. And Freo simply do not have a solid defensive structure, particularly when fatigue sets in. They have James Aish and Nathan Wilson inside defensive fifty – I think Dermott Brereton said I best as Wilson jammed the footy on his boot without looking at one stage – “lazy.”
Heeney was the matchwinner in this game. He was the most dangerous player on the ground from the moment he towered over the retreating Luke Ryan to take one of the marks of the year, and his work following that, as an 80/20 split between forward and wing, was hard to fault.
To see Heeney up, about and running injury free is a sight the Swans have been waiting for. Now that it is here… it’s been well worth the wait, hasn’t it?
IS BUDDY FRANKLIN IN TROUBLE?
He’s got two kids… he’s stuffed!
Seriously though, you know, it is not often that former Sydney champion (haha), Dermott Brereton concedes that a player is in trouble after he commits a questionable action on the field. He will usually find an excuse to give them the benefit of the doubt and talk in circles about how the offending player didn’t have another option, etc…
Not this time.
This time, he watched the same footage you’ll see below and admitted defeat – Bud threw an intentional, and clumsy elbow backwards as Luke Ryan’s tackle lingered, and collected the Freo defender in the head.
As Franklin chases the elusive 1000-goal mark, he did himself no favours with this act, and not that I like, but he probably gets himself a week off for the action – exactly what he didn’t need as he closes to within 17 goals of the target. He played angry footy in this one, did Buddy. He appeared frustrated by the close attention he was receiving from Alex Pearce and was looking for a way to impact the game. He was involved in a hard clash at half forward earlier in the game, decking Nathan Wilson in a clash that should not be looked at, but as I sit here and ponder the elbow on Ryan… maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world if he has a week off?
It’ll give him a break before a three-game stretch into the end of the season, allow Logan McDonald the chance to strut his stuff on a Friday night stage against the Bombers (assuming everything is okay with that?) and allows a fresh Buddy to make a run at the finals and perhaps a deep run into September for this surprising, and bloody exciting team.
But yes… I reckon he has a rest for a week, and it’s not the end of the world that he does. There are bigger things at play here than 1000 goals. This Sydney team is ready to make some real noise.
WHAT IS ADAM CERRA WORTH ON THE OPEN MARKET?
It may turn out that someone is willing to overpay for him, and I hope for Freo’s sake that this is the case. He is a fine outside runner, covers the ground beautifully and looks classy with the ball in hand. I am sure there’ll be some people that look at this game and use it to further their case that he is worth two first rounders or something crazy, but really, he had 12 of his 30 touches and both goals in the last quarter, and Beverly Hills Cop had just finished by that stage.
That’s right – the heat was… dum dum dum dum… off.
It’s almost certain that Cerra will not be at Freo next year, which is a huge shame given the amount of time and effort they have put into developing him. There has never been a question as to whether he had a game – he was trusted by the club right from the get-go, and after almost four years with the team, he has amassed 72 games. He comes to whichever club he prefers (a terrible system) as a ready made player about to enter his prime. Freo must demand appropriate compensation for his departure.
I have heard scuttlebutt about both Carlton and Richmond wanting to bring him onboard, and that’s fine, but Carlton would have to give up their first pick for him – currently, before academy and father/son bids, that pick is Pick Six, but after the compromised mess that is the bidding system, that could really end up at number ten. I reckon he is worth more than that.
Richmond have Shai Bolton out of contract, and as a WA boy, would make a wonderful cure for the pain of losing Cerra. Richmond will argue Bolton is worth more and maybe they’re right. Maybe not, but for the sake of this section, would the Dockers entertain a Cerra-Bolton trade with a pick swap, likely to cost them a couple of places in the draft?
I want Freo to succeed in this endeavour. I hate the whole “go home” factor in footy. In a professional sport, it reeks of bush league garbage, but if it is to be the case, I want Freo to do really well out of it, and right now, I would be leaning heavily toward option number two.
DID JOSH KENNEDY JUST HAVE HIS 2021 ARETHA FRANKLIN GAME?
What’s the Aretha Franklin game?
Through no fault of his own, Kennedy has slipped down the midfield pecking order at Sydney. With Luke Parker and Callum Mills emerging as the number one and two men, JPK’s work in the middle, though remaining of a high quality, has been less prevalent. He is still in and under, standing in tackles and winning the hard footy, but he isn’t having to put this midfield on his shoulders as he did in the past.
And in answer to the question – no, this is not his Aretha game – he has so many respect-credits in the bank that he doesn’t need one, however, in terms of this season, Kennedy well and truly put his stamp on this contest and left no doubt that when required, he still has what it takes to produce something special.
With Fyfe out of business, and George Hewett keeping an eye on the comings and goings of David Mundy, Kennedy was permitted to have first crack at the footy at stoppages, and he responded with a game-high seven clearances amongst his 34 touches – the third time he has topped 30 touches in the last two seasons (and the second week in a row!).
The Swans have nurtured Callum Mills beautifully, and his absence was felt in this one, particularly in the first half, but the beauty of this current team is that you have Kennedy ready to take on more responsibility if required. At 33, you wonder whether he could do this every week if he had to, but the fact remains, he doesn’t. It’s a luxury the Swans have to insert him back into the mix and watch him pick right up where he left off as one of the game’s premier mids.
So, no, this was not his R.E.S.P.E.C.T game. He has had our respect for years – it never went away.
WHERE ON THE UNDER-20 LADDER DOES ERROL GULDEN SIT?
If he had no incurred an injury earlier in the season, my guess is that the name of Errol Gulden would be on the lips of everyone in regard to the Rising Star Award. As it stands, he is not in the top five of our own, Mongrel Rising Star Award, but with another game where he collected the footy beautifully, made excellent decisions and seemed to find space where other players struggled, it is hard to see him not being in the mix again at the end of this round.
I’ve said this a couple of times this season – Errol Gulden has a touch of Zak Butters about him. He may not have the same level of Mongrel in him that Butters possesses, but the way he finds the footy, makes great decisions and contests the footy makes his a valuable piece to this Swans puzzle.
His return to the side, he has averaged 17 touches per game playing across half forward and looks incredibly dangerous whenever he gets his mitts on it. If we were looking at injury-free runs this year, I would be focusing on Gulden and fellow Swan, Chad Warner as two of the best young players in the game (I know Warner is already 20… the old bugger), but as it stands, I suppose you have to reward consistency in terms of awards, and that may push Gulden down the list just a little.
Not much, but just a little.In terms of footy talent and impact, he’d be right up there.
WHO WON THE HICKEY V DARCY CLASH?
Much like the Black Knight and King Arthur from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I suppose we’ll call it a draw… though I don’t really know which one of them is Arthur and which one is the armless, legless torso left sitting on the ground threatening to bite the other’s legs off.
Both had small periods of dominance in this encounter, with Darcy blowing a couple of opportunities to hit the scoreboard more meaningfully than his 1.3 indicate, and Hickey probably a bit better around the ground.
Darcy drifted forward in the absence of other tall options to become a marking target and ease the burden on Matt Taberner, but his missed opportunity from ten metres out, thanks to both an incredible smother from Heeney, and Darcy’s inability to get the ball to his boot quickly, was the type of action that saps the energy from a team.
Both men finished with a goal, but I feel that Darcy had the opportunity to really put his stamp on this game – and failed.
In terms of a head-to-head clash between two rucks that have both made significant steps in 2021, you won’t find a closer result.
DOES THE MICHAEL WALTERS INJURY SUM UP FREO AS A TEAM IN 2021?
A little, yes.
Just as Freo seem to be ready to make a move, something goes wrong. Be it injuries to key players, games where they simply cannot kick straight, or unforced errors, the Dockers have been their own worst enemies all season long.
Watching Michael Walters limp off the field, I just nodded to myself. Just as he was starting to show some form and just as he was starting to find the footy and actually look dangerous, he pings him hammy and that feeling of dread, knowing that the season for him, as a 30 year old reliant on his explosiveness, is probably done.
If the loss of Fyfe with his shoulder once again betraying him didn’t suck the air out of the Dockers, the sight of Walters trudging off the ground did. You could almost see the wind go out of their sails, and the pressure they were applying in the first half, hemming Sydney in their back half and setting up well across the middle of the ground, evaporated. They were mentally defeated at that point.
The loss sees Freo stuck in that glut of teams on 28-32 points, fighting a battle between six teams that can only have one winner, and I am afraid that the more I have watched the Dockers fight against the odds, the more certain I’ve become that they will not be that winner this season.
WILL LUKE PARKER MAKE THE AA TEAM?
David King seemed to think so, but I am afraid he may not.
The competition for midfield spots in the team is red hot, and whilst Parker’s value to this Swans team is undoubtedly high, he is up against Bont, Oliver, Petracca, Macrae, Miller, Walsh, Wines… the level of mids parading around this season, having career-best years is ridiculous.
Given that, I can see Parker having his name announced in the squad of 40 and Swans fans being disappointed when the final team is named. He will continue to fly under the radar of pundits, who still see him as the third wheel in the Kennedy/Hannebery era.
But take heart, Sydney supporters – he remains the Mongrel Punt Midfield Champion after this round. With 30 touches and two goals, in a win, he makes his first defence after scoring the title last week. That’s better – there can be only one title holder at once. There are sometimes eight mids in the AA team.
Okay, I know it’s small consolation, but I genuinely believe he is going to fall victim to the weight of numbers pushing for a spot in that AA midfield.
COULD TOM MCCARTIN BECOME THE BEST KEY DEFENDER IN THE GAME?
Here’s an interesting one.
Sometimes, I think people forget that McCartin is a baby in terms of his AFL tenure. He is 21 years old in the body of a fully grown man, and is already establishing himself as one of the best one-on-one defenders in the game. He tag teamed with Dane Rampe in this one to nullify the impact of the returning Matt Taberner, and the two of them had to be licking their lips in anticipation when Josh Treacy was announced as late out for the Dockers.
The lack of genuine tall forwards gave Rampe and McCartin the chance to freelance around defensive fifty, crashing packs and running off into open space to provide an outlet option.
McCartin finished with 14 touches and four marks, but it is his 11 one-percenters that should make you sit up and take notice. He is completely fearless when it comes to launching into a pack and reminded me of a younger version of Harris Andrews in the way he attacked the ball in flight. Andrews is probably a little more versatile and able to recover better at ground level – he was really wiry at the same age – but McCartin’s strength in aerial contests has been an unexpected win for the Swans over the past year and a bit.
For his part, Rampe had 21 touches and seven one-percenters as he controlled the defensive fifty.
The Swans were caught out a couple of times as a team, leading to goals out the back for Taberner, but it seemed to lull Tabs into thinking this was going to be the case all day. He was constantly looking to get out the back instead of hitting up at the ball carrier, and it allowed either of the two Swans, or Robbie Fox to come in over the top and kill the footy. It was like rope-a-dope, with Taberner happily playing the role of the dope.
SO, ARE WE SETTLED ON NICK BLAKEY AT HALF BACK?
He looks great when he attacks the footy full-chested, doesn’t he?
I had his as one of the mist impactful (why do I have a red line under this word? Is it not a word? I use it all the time… ) players on the park in the first half before an accidental elbow to the head from Tom McCartin forced him to cool his jets and head to the bench for a little while.
Blakey looked to play on at every opportunity, and his left foot was deadly when he decided to bite off the tough inboard kick. However, as much as I love him attacking the footy in that manner, I wonder, as he develops further, whether we’ll see him move back to half forward.
Swans fans – let me know if you see in him what I do – I see Blakey as a player with the potential to be a dominant mobile half forward. He had a period in 2020 where he looked like he doubted himself, but since moving to half back, he seems to have come to the realisation that he can mix it up with anyone and be just as good, or better. This may have been a really astute coaching decision to play him behind the footy, but I wonder whether John Longmire is pondering when the best time is to release Blakey into a role where he could cause enormous matchup problems as a half forward – perhaps even as centre half forward when he fills out.
For those unaware, there is a comments section below this, and I welcome any other opinions about Blakey – as Swans fans, you guys have probably watched more of him than I have. I just feel he has something special about him, and once that is completely unleashed, everyone will start realising why he was so highly rated prior to his draft, and why the Swans got an absolute steal when they picked him up.
DID FREO JUST… GIVE UP?
Not all of them, but to a large extent… yes.
I won’t harp on about it – I reckon Freo fans would be pretty dirty on the lack of effort in the second half, but you can often tell a lot from tackling stats.
Freo ended up with 36 for the game.
Sydney had 64.
In terms of tackling inside 50, Freo notched two of the entire game. The Swans had 28.
And there you have your answer. What a way to celebrate one of your greatest players’ 350th.
CAN THE SWANS WIN THE FLAG?
If the lid is not off, it is about to bubble over.
This team have everything required in 2021 to be the next group to come from nowhere. They have jumped every hurdle, and though their foot as caught on one or two, unexpectedly, they have recovered and are now positioned to make a legitimate challenge.
Who would’ve thought, huh?
Enjoy the ride, Swans fans.
DID I MISS ANYTHING?
Of course I did – I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t.
Loved the work of Robbie Fox in defence. He is one of those unsung players that just does his job and you never hear much about.
The role of George Hewett is such an underrated one, and I am eager to see what eventuates with his contract situation. It’s been three weeks since I was told by a Swans fan that he was absolutely a priority to re-sign, and as far as I know, there is no signature. I reckon there could be plenty of interest in an accountable mid that wins his own footy. I love the way that Cerra being gone is a fait accompli, but nah… not Hewett. He is re-signing, right?
I should specify, I want him to re-sign. I like when players recommit to a team, but at this stage of the season… you’d start to worry, just a little bit. Even if you’re one-eyed. 😉
Jake Lloyd… star. Every week he produces and never gets media love. Today it wasn’t just his disposals at the fore, but his tackling. If you don’t rate what he brings to this Sydney team, you’re clearly missing something.
I can’t see Ben Ronke remaining in the team with Mills, Cunningham, and possibly Warner ready to come back in, I can see him and Rowbottom as two ready to make way.
Another very solid outing for Andrew Brayshaw, but the help just was not there.
I’m not sure if there is a nice way to say this, but the Freo list probably needs a cleanout of the dead weight. Colyer, Banfield, Blakely and Tucker (who is being played as a defender? What the hell?) wouldn’t be getting a regular game elsewhere. I know the Dockers have injuries, but far out…
And that might do. Can the Swans make top four? Next week will tell the tale, and I am already looking forward to it (which is a worry, as I am also on for the Essendon v GWS game in a little while).
The Dockers… well, they get the Tigers next week and I don’t think they will ever get Richmond at a more vulnerable time than this. They simply have to win on their home deck. There can be no other result for Freo. None.
Massive thanks to those who have supported us with their memberships. I really appreciate it, and feel privileged that you read my work each week (unless you lose and you avoid it). Seriously, thank you.