Sydney v GWS – The Good, Bad, and Ugly

 

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Now, this is the kind of heat you expect in a Round One fixture!

The Swans and Giants tangled for the first time in 2022… officially, anyway, and the result was a high-intensity fast-paced contest, with plenty of stars standing up and both teams with winners on display.

The main focus of the afternoon saw Lance Franklin continue his journey toward the 1000-goal mark, but a stellar defensive effort from Phil Davis put the brakes on him and forced him to wait another week, at least. This robbed the fans of a once-in-a-lifetime highlight, however, the consistent star of the team, Luke Parker, managed to steal the show, slotting five goals to win the Brett Kirk Medal and guide his team home.

For the Giants, it was their young star, Tom Green that led from the front. His work at stoppages and in the contest was excellent and at just 21, looks as though he will be making the next step into the upper echelon of midfielders in the league. He may already be sick of knocking – perhaps he’ll just kick the damn door in this season.

The Swans were one of my favourite teams t watch in 2021, and the Giants were not far behind, either. I came into this contest with high expectations. I was not disappointed.

Here’s The Mongrel’s Good, Bad, and Ugly of Sydney’s first-up win over GWS.

 

THE GOOD

 

THE DIFFERENCE

In the early days of September, there was some speculation surrounding the playing future of Luke Parker.

The Swans were in a little bit of a bind, with both Jordan Dawson and George Hewett out of contract and both expected to field offers from elsewhere. Whilst the Swans felt they were a chance of retaining one, or both of those players, the discussions about an extension for Parker were seemingly not a priority. I’m not saying they weren’t important, but in a situation where all the pieces had to fit, Sydney did not want to be seen as the party forcing anything into place.

Once it became apparent that both Dawson and Hewett were looking elsewhere, the Swans put paid to the rumours that Parker would be playing somewhere else in 2022 and re-signed him to a four-year deal, effectively making him a Swan-for-life.

And it paid off royally in Round One.

Parker slotted five goals, including three in the third term to give his team the ascendancy. Whilst all eyes may have been on Buddy, the results were with Parker, who simply worked his backside off to conjure opportunities in front of goal. Finishing with 21 touches and 11 score involvements to add to his day’s work, Parker only moved through the midfield following the centre bounce, attending no restarts of play in the middle for the entire game. It is a strange situation to see both he and Josh Kennedy allocated different roles to those they’ve occupied over the last ten years, but in Parker’s case, at least, the results were devastatingly good for th Swans.

And simply devastating for the Giants.

 

COMING OF AGE

About three years ago now, one of our writers made the statement that Ollie Florent was going to win the Brownlow. Look, he may have been premature, but it was clear that even back then, he was able to see the oak tree in the acorn.

Back in 2019, Florent was all skin and bones, and whilst he had a big tank on him, the years since have seen him add some muscle to his body in order to stand up in the middle. Back then, there was no way you’d see him thrown into the cut and thrust of the centre bounce scrimmage, but we’re not talking about the 2019 version of Ollie Florent.

No, not by a long shot – the 2022 version has the strength to match it with the best and the burst run to put distance between him and his opponent when he is able to get out into space. He picked up 20 touches in this game, but it was his ability to get forward and hit the scoreboard that made him such a weapon. Deployed either in the middle or on the wing, Florent’s continued run and carry style, combined with that of Justin McInerney and Nick Blakey, give the Swans line breakers through the middle – something that is hard to combat for the entire duration of a game.

When you consider that 12 of Florent’s 20 touches resulted in scores, his value to this team cannot be missed. When he is involved, great things happen.

In our season preview of the Swans, I quoted a figure that is pertinent here – when Ollie Florent gets 20+ touches, the Swans win. From 2018 to 2021, the Swans had a win/loss record of 42-42 with Florent in the team. That’s a nice, easy equation for everyone, but when Florent hits that 20 disposal mark, things change abruptly for Sydney, with their win/loss record jumping to 22-10. That’s a 68.74 win rate when he is up and about.

And when he is not up and about? Come on… do your maths… it’s a 20-32 record. Or a 38.46 win rate.

Add another win to that equation with this performance.

Believe me yet?

 

THE BEST HANDS IN THE GAME

Where do you rate Tom Green in terms of young players in the league?

If you don’t have him in your top five players aged 21 and under, I’d really like to know why. He was, in my humble opinion, the best young player in the game last season and only a late-season injury and a media-driven campaign to get the award to Luke Jackson of Melbourne saw him fall to second place in voting for the Ron Evans Medal for the league’s Rising Star.

He started this season like a man with a point to prove, picking up a game-high 31 touches and notching a couple of goals to put the Giants on his back. I mentioned to a couple of our writers that I believed he had the best hands in the game right now. Whilst they did not necessarily agree with me, they probably didn’t disagree either, and the fact I proclaimed that in the first quarter and Green went on to gather the ball cleanly time after time for the remainder of the game didn’t do my argument any harm.

His vision and creativity with the footy are as good as it gets, and he has the knack of putting the ball into the path of his teammates without forcing them to break stride. On top of the stats above, he has eight clearances and eight intercept possessions, as well, positioning himself perfectly to cut off errant defensive fifty exits.

Guys, this one is special. He may fly under the guard of some due to playing in a smaller market team, but when you watch Tom Green – and you should watch Tom Green – his ability to make those around him better gives me the feeling that at some point in the future, his name will be right in the discussion when experts start discussing Brownlow Medal chances. It may not be in 2022, but a top-five finish before he hits 25-years-old could be right on the cards.

 

THE HEIR APPARENT

Hmmm, you may have heard the commentators proclaim Logan McDonald as the heir apparent to Lance Franklin during the game, and whilst I think McDonald will make a fantastic forward in the coming years, it is not him that will inherit the Sydney forward line once Buddy hangs them up.

It will belong to Isaac Heeney.

Heeney is, quite simply, an impact player. He does the things that change the momentum and turn a game on its ear. Whether playing forward or running through the centre, his clean hands and refusal to lose his feet in a contest make him a deadly matchup.

If you play a larger body on him, he loses them at ground level. If you play a quicker player on him, he will either stretch them on the lead, or take them to the goal square to use his strength advantage. He is a nightmare to deal with, and in a true mid/forward game, made the transition from one position to the other at the exact right moments to create chaos and confusion amongst his opponents.

It was interesting to watch how hard Heeney worked in this game. I feel as though I saw him back in the defensive half a lot more than I did up forward, but then you look up and see he had three goals to his name and you wonder whether you were just imagining his presence back there.

Nope – turns out I wasn’t – he played almost 60% of the game dropping back to chop out his defenders and provide a target on their defensive exits. The guys can truly do it all, and at 25-years-old, we are only now seeing Heeney come into his peak years.

That should be enough to scare the hell out of future opponents – he was a handful when he was still developing; trying to curtail him at the peak of his powers will be nigh-on impossible.

 

THE PARTY POOPER

Before I start this section, I have to admit, there was a part of me that really wanted to see Phil Davis play well on Buddy. There was history there, and I have a distinct memory of Davus appearing on AFL 360 late in the season in 2018 as the Giants prepared to take on the Swans in an Elimination Final.

Robbo asked Davis what it was like to play on Buddy, and you could just see Davis quietly fuming. I mean, no one asks Buddy what it’s like to play on Phil Davis, do they? He had a steely resolve about him. He answered the question but there was zero emotion about it – he answered it like a man who knew what his job was and how he was going to go about it.

He then hit the SCG and blew Franklin out of the water as the Giants prevailed. Ever since then, I have wanted another taste of the Buddy v Davis clash, but injury to both parties have prevented it. We got another taste in the preseason, with Davis restricting Franklin to one goal in three quarters before Franklin hung the boots up, and then we came to Round One,

Another win for Phil Davis in this one – I am starting to wonder whether he will be remembered by Giants fans, and the AFL world in general, in a similar way to how people view Glenn Jakovich when they talk about Wayne Carey? The last three occasions they’ve met (that I have witnessed), Davis has completely controlled the contest, with Franklin picking up more free kicks than he does marks, and Davis finding ways to work Buddy under the ball and out of the contest over, and over again.

As much as you may love Franklin and what he has done at both Sydney and Hawthorn, you simply have to afford Phil Davis the respect he deserves after this game. He looked cooked in 2020/21, but to come out under all sorts of pressure and perform the way he did on the biggest drawcard in the sport – it takes a fantastic defender to do what he did. And I will always remember him as such.

 

 GRUNT WORKER

The departure of George Hewett was supposed to leave a bit hole in the Sydney midfield according to some, but like a lot of people who make bold statements about teams and players, a lot of these people failed to look beyond what was at the Sydney Swans, and what could be if given the opportunity.

James Rowbottom was always going to step into any role vacated by George Hewett, and with his willingness to play defensively when required, the Swans were going to minimise the pain of losing Hewett by bringing Rowbottom into the best-22 to fill the void.

And that is exactly what he did in this game.

Rowbottom was the only player on the park to register double figures in tackles for the game, recording ten in this one. His willingness to work both ways and contest every ball – just the way Hewett did so successfully in 2021 – made life difficult for some of the GWS runners to find space around stoppages.

His kicking was hit and miss and remains a question mark over his game. His pass to Franklin in the pocket in the second quarter was a pearler, but at other points… well, grubbing the footy along the ground is not going to have teammates buying you a coffee after recovery. It is definitely an aspect of his game requiring some work, but if we’re assessing the entire package, what Rowbottom brings to the game far surpasses that which he struggles with. If you’re looking for something to pick at, chances are you’ll find it, but others are happy to corral or chase half-heartedly, you will never, ever have to question the heart of Rowbottom.

For what it’s worth, and to avoid confusion, as I know some of you have been confused in the past – I have never NOT rated what George Hewett brought to the table for the Swans during his time there. Not once. But, I always thought that him leaving would open up an opportunity for Rowbottom to take on more responsibility, which would mean the Swans would not lose all that much.

I stand by it – I reckon we saw it play out that way in this game.

 

THE BROTHERS MCCARTIN

Yeah, there may have been a hiccup or two at points, but with Paddy McCartin leading the game in intercept marks, and Tom McCartin making some inspired defensive plays down the stretch, it looked from the outside like the defence law firm of McCartin and McCartin has the potential to become an excellent one-two punch from defence.

A one-two-three punch if we can add Dane Rampe to the mix as well. Do you think he’d change his name to McCartin just to fit in? Go on, Dane… at least change it to McRampe.

The brothers combined for 16 intercepts and 15 one-percenters in this game, improving greatly after quarter time to lock down on the dangerous Harry Himmelberg, who struggled to remain involved after giving the Giants a blistering start to the game.

Whilst I am sure that most tuned in to see Buddy on his quest for 1000, the return of Paddy and the duo he formed with his brother in defence is another wonderful story about these Swans in 2022. No wonder I like covering this team so much.

 

THE BAD

 

A DEPTH PLAYER, AT BEST

In our season preview of the Giants, I asked the question about Jarrod Brander – what can GWS fans expect of him in 2022?

The answer was pretty blunt – not much, and that assessment was on point watching him in this contest. With Jesse Hogan sidelined and Toby Greene still serving his suspension from last season, the door was wide open for Brander to make a great first impression on the Giants.

And that’s the issue with first impressions – you only ever get one shot at them.

Speaking of shots, Brander failed to make the most of his, missing set shots and not going hard enough at crucial loose-ball contests. One of his weaker efforts in the last quarter saw a desperate Tom McCartin throw himself at a ground ball as Brander looked to go off the deck to kick a goal. Had he followed through with the effort, chances are that McCartin takes his legs and Brander would have been gifted a free kick ten metres out from goal.

But Brander didn’t follow through with it. He kind of just… stopped, allowing McCartin to make the play while he stood by and allowed it to play out. It was a moment that our own Daniel Jon Kershaw took great delight in, having called Brander not up to AFL standard several times during the game. His lack of desperation and commitment to winning the footy in this instance more than confirmed it.

Brander was a top ten selection by the West Coast Eagles, who gave up on him after the 2021 season. He obviously has talent, but his application was lacking in this game. Without a significant uptick in that facet of his game, I doubt he will get a better chance to prove himself than he will with this GWS crew right now. If there is one positive, he managed to get four shots at goal and could have had that fifth one had he gone off the deck. If he kicks a couple more of them, this discussion is markedly different.

That said, no Greene, no Hogan… if Brander cannot impose himself on a game in the very near future, I am afraid that 2023 will see a league with no Brander.

 

THE UGLY

 

BARRACKING ON COMMENTARY

Righto, Dwayne… we all wanted to see Buddy kick a thousand goals. My guess is that everyone who wasn’t a GWS supporter would have liked to have seen him catch fire late in the game and slam on a few goals to reach the milestone.

The problem is that it was painfully obvious that YOU wanted to see it happen and you’re supposed to be in a role where you’re offering play-by-play commentary and giving each team a  fair shake. In this case, you failed miserably.

One instance in the last quarter was so lopsided in terms of your support for Franklin that I was thankful one of your colour commentators took the time to correct you. Buddy had hold of Phil Davis and dragged him to ground after being bodied under the contest. It was apparent that a frustrated Buddy was looking to draw a free kick and force the umpire’s hand, one way or another.

So, he dragged Davis down on top of him, prompting Dwayn-o to yell “Was he held?”

No, mate… he wasn’t held. He was doing the holding. Call the damn game and stop barracking. I know you were desperate to have your voice on the call for Franklin slotting his thousandth goal, but at least try to offer something relatively balanced when you’re commentating on a game played at such a level as this one.

 

OTHER BITS

 

Very interesting ruck battle in this one, with the Swans using Tom Hickey’s endurance to attempt to stretch Matt Flynn at points, and the GWS big man rising to the occasion. I was pretty impressed with Flynn’s work in this game right up to the point he had to dispose of the footy. In the case of ruckmen, it often appears as though the distance between their hand and their foot is too great to make a connection. This was especially the case with Flynn, who looks like a man with two left feet… unless he is a left-footer. In that case, he looks like a man with two right feet.

Six of the top seven disposal winners on the park were Giants and for long stretches, they did look like the better team. I have to admit, seeing their midfield playing well and then glancing at the scoreboard to see just a couple of points in it, you always had the feeling that Sydney had another gear to shift into, whilst the Giants were playing at close to their optimum but could not put the Swans away.

I didn’t much like what I saw from Lachie Ash in this one. Deployed mainly on a wing, he was second to the footy way too often and had players like Dylan Stephens and Justin McInerney show him a clean pair of heels on a few occasions. That is quite unlike him.

Every time Errol Gulden got his hands on the pill, something good seemed to come of it. Matched up for large parts of the game on Lachie Whitfield, Gulden’s ball use is the sort that forwards love. Whilst many look to get it as deep as possible (we’ve all been there fellas, right? Right?!?!), Gulden actually looks to place the ball to his teammate’s advantage. It sounds like such a fundamental thing to do, yet so many fail this test over and over. Not Gulden – he is a player.

The Swans’ run was potent again in this game, with Justin McInerney and Nick Blakey both dropping the hammer at points. Blakey has a home at the moment off half-back, but there are times I wonder whether he could put on five or six kilograms and become a potent centre half-forward. As good as he can be running from half-back, there is just something about him that screams dangerous forward to me.

The fact Blakey was able to remain a factor despite getting a but if defensive attention from Matt de Boer is a feather in his cap. MDB remains the premier defensive mid in the game, which kind of begs the question as to why he didn’t concentrate more on a midfielder than on Blakey at half-back?

I have to ask – is Josh Kennedy’s spot in this team under threat? He is playing off half-back at the moment, but the Swans are expecting Jake Lloyd back and it does not seem as though JPK is a natural in the role. I know many teams use the flank as a retirement home for star mids, but I feel as though Kennedy still has a bit to give in the middle of the ground. He’s getting close to some record-breaking stat numbers… maybe the Swans are nursing him through the start of the year and will look to get more out of him as the season progresses? I’d hate to see him struggling to maintain his spot in the team after all he’s provided over the years.

 

And that might just do me for this one. It was a high quality game and as a neutral, I loved what I saw from both sides.

The Swans have Papley, Warner and Lloyd to squeeze into this team, whilst the Giants have Preuss, Greene, and Haynes to slot in eventually. All add dimensions to the style of their respective teams.

 

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