Let me start this week’s column by saying a quick piece on Buddy Franklin on Friday night, mainly because everyone has had something to say over the past fortnight, and by not acknowledging him, I would be doing a disservice to the illustrious career of his.
We will not see another man kick 1000 career goals in the AFL for a long time, maybe ever. Before Buddy dropped the bag of 100-plus in 2008, we must go back to 2004 to see a man kick the century in a season, which was Fraser Gehrig.
Since then, we’ve not had a player come close to the mark. That’s just how football is these days. No matter how much we might want to replicate the old days where the full-forward plays out of the goal square with the 6-6-6 rule, football has become a game of zone defences and trying to slice it apart with precision kicking.
I hope one day we find a way where scoring is consistent and the forwards find a way to kick bags of goals on a weekly basis, but until then, I can’t see that happening over the short term.
As much as I disapprove of the mainstream media being the fun police, they do make a very valid point in regard to the crowd storming the ground after his goal and the seeming lack of security, we didn’t see much of them on Friday night… well from what I saw anyway.
Mick Malthouse got criticised for his take of Essendon winning the flag, but he was right about this. All it takes is one idiot in the crowd to do something harmful to someone else, potentially Buddy himself, and what should be a memorable moment will sour into something else. I’m thankful that wasn’t the case and we got to enjoy something spectacular.
I will say though I am a fan of the woman who spread the ashes on the middle of the SCG, Tony Jones just doesn’t have a sense of occasion. And to the man who returned the footy to Buddy, well played to you, although I’m not convinced you had always intended to return the ball. You’re not fooling me, mate.
Buddy probably won’t read this, but on the incredibly off chance he does, well done on being just the sixth player in the competition’s history to crack the 1000-goal barrier. Like a lot of you readers, I’ve watched him both close up and from afar over the years, and there’s not a doubt in my mind that he’ll go down as a football immortal.
I didn’t get to watch a lot of Gaz Senior growing up, only looking towards the 1989 Grand Final and other similar performances games where he dominated as a reference point, and I only saw the tail end of Tony Lockett’s career, but watching Buddy have the speed, the endurance base and the killer instinct to put teams away with his unorthodox set shots for goal, I’ve always found it a bit unfair to compare him to the greats of the game. Buddy is truly one of a kind and I’m just happy I got to witness a career like his.
Having said that, this column piece this week isn’t just about Buddy, it’s about the Swans as a collective. And with two wins from as many matches this season, they’re already looking the goods again. With a Thursday night clash against the winless Western Bulldogs on the horizon, three from three is looking a very tasty proposition.
Last year the Swans surprised punters and fans alike after a couple of lean seasons, finishing in the top six at the end of the home and away season. As disappointing as it was to see them bumped out in the first week of finals by the GWS Giants, there was still plenty to suggest that the Swans were on the right path to returning to the top echelon of teams.
I have loved what the Swans have been producing over the past 12 months – they might actually just be my favourite side to watch at the moment, and that’s saying something considering my team had just been in a Grand Final. In an era where precision ball movement is more critical than ever, the Swans have done a lot right with how they want to move the ball up the ground and how they defend the ground.
I had them in the top six in my season predictions episode on the A3 Footy Podcast (should listen back to it, was a great episode) and made the comment that they will be on the cusp of top four, but not ready to make the jump.
Already that is one prediction that’s looking like it’s going down the toilet. I also had Hawthorn finishing as the wooden spooners and they’re slapping that prediction around as if it’s a piece of meat.
We look at the regulars of this Sydney team – Franklin’s doing his bit, Luke Parker kicked five goals against the Giants in Round One and has been a pillar of consistency for so long, Josh Kennedy’s taking more of a back seat to this team after doing so much heavy lifting for so long, and guys like Dane Rampe and Jake Lloyd have tremendously helped hold down the fort in defence.
A lot of the deserved rave should be directed to the younger players. There have been quite a few journalists who rate Sydney’s young core of players as the best young group in the competition.
Among this group of players who are 22 or younger; Tom McCartin, Nick Blakey, Braeden Campbell, Justin McInerney, Chad Warner, James Rowbottom, Dylan Stephens, Angus Sheldrick, Errol Gulden, Sam Wicks, Hayden McLean and Logan McDonald. Eight of these players have spots in the best 22 with their name on them.
On top of that, you’ve got players in the mid-20s approaching their prime, such as Ollie Florent, Isaac Heeney, Peter Ladhams, Callum Mills, Tom Papley and Will Hayward.
Looking at their performance against the Cats on Friday night, the Swans tore them apart with their ball movement.
If we were to break down the kicking efficiency, ten players went at 75 percent or higher. Amongst this group, we’ve got Isaac Heeney, Jake Lloyd, Ollie Florent, Braeden Campbell, Luke Parker and Harry Cunningham.
There’s also another man that kicked the ball at an efficient rate and that’s a man by the name of Paddy McCartin. Everyone practically put a line through him a few years ago due to all the concussions he sustained, but we could be in the presence of one of the greatest comebacks to footy in the modern era.
Not only is he beating concussion and not only is he healthy and fit and playing again, but he’s also playing well. At St Kilda, there were a lot of struggles seeing him play as a key forward. There was no confidence in his kicking, and he had a mightily challenging time in a Saints team that was also struggling for form.
At Sydney, he’s bucked all of this. He’s playing with a reinvigoration that not many had seen coming. His brother Tom was drafted at the club, he was drafted by the Swans in 2017 as a key forward and spent a lot of time in 2018 playing in that position.
There were some signs, but it wasn’t until the following year that the Swans saw more potential in him playing as a key defender, the kind of key defender that shuts down the direct opponent, as opposed the intercept marking defender, which Paddy has spent a lot of time in honing down at Sydney’s VFL side last year.
These two are going to cause so many problems for many forward lines. Aaron Naughton is already weeping that he is going to have put up with these two on Thursday night and that’s before he’s got to worry about that calf of his.
The younger McCartin kept Tom Hawkins to just 1.2 from seven disposals on Friday night, after he tore apart Essendon in the opening half the weekend prior. Meanwhile, Paddy took seven intercept marks against the Cats and played a massive factor the week before against GWS, taking four intercept marks in a game that was up in the air until the last quarter.
I hope that Paddy can get a seriously clean run at it. Watching him being able to run, compete and impact games is part of why this Swans team is incredibly fun to watch right now.
I can say that about a lot of the Sydney players, though, and what they bring to the table. Nick Blakey and his blisteringly good pace across half-back has been fun to watch. Chad Warner attacking contests at a ferocious pace is everything I love about him and his polished disposal is improving with every game.
Justin McInerney’s speed and his smarts on the wing have been fun to watch, James Rowbottom taking over George Hewett’s mantle as the grunt guy in the middle has been extremely fascinating because he’s taken on the role with aplomb, tackling and winning the contested ball at will.
But I suppose one person that deserves recognition over the past 12 months has been Isaac Heeney. I’ll admit it, there have been many times where I have found myself saying that I did not believe the hype.
He came into the AFL basically when I started writing about the sport in 2014 – I saw he had the athletic attributes and his skill was exceptionally good at Under-18 level, but for years he always leave me the impression of just the kind of guy who would drift in and out of games as he pleases.
He kicked three goals in Round One and backed it up with five goals against Geelong last Friday night. I did make the prediction that he’d kick between 40 and 50 goals this season and so far, he’s almost a fifth of the way to 50.
I find it interesting to see just how much time he splits between forward and midfield. Up forward he is a menace for the defenders because he’s got the speed to burn the taller defenders, but the leap and the strength to beat defenders similar to his size. Obviously, Tom Papley out for the first month and bit has certainly helped claims to be more of a forward threat.
But his abilities out of stoppage have been always solid. Against Geelong in Round One, Heeney attended 47 percent of the centre bounces for Sydney in a game that featured plenty of them, being a moderately high-scoring game.
Against Geelong, he only attended 19 percent of all centre bounces, which meant he spent a lot more time forward of centre, but he still managed to get his hands on the ball 21 times and his pressure was good – five tackles and 14 pressure acts are very solid numbers for someone who plays primarily forward of centre.
Sydney’s forward line is something to behold. We know Franklin is there and when fit, he can do amazing things. Parker is more than capable of a match-winning bag and players like Will Hayward, Sam Wicks and Errol Gulden also hit the scoreboard constantly when they are playing down there.
Keep in mind, Logan McDonald is still a work in progress, and Hayden McLean is building on quite nicely pinch-hitting as ruck behind Tom Hickey. He puts goals up and he competes hard every week – cannot fault that from your big guys.
Once Papley comes back into this team, the forward line gets that little extra potent. He has averages of 1.68, 1.53 and 1.87 goals per game in his past three seasons – in fact, he’s averaged well over a goal per game in every season and (with the exception of the shortened 2020 season) has played 20 games or more in each year.
If you’re a Sydney fan, you’ve got first-row seats to something special. It may be this year, or my prediction might actually come to fruition and it may take another year to genuinely propel into them into the role of contenders.
Either way, we’ll know a bit more about them this week, as the Swans face a big test this Thursday night against the Western Bulldogs, a side that is now already facing some pressure to keep up with leading pack, having lost both of their opening two games for the first time since 2018.
The Dogs will be out with something to prove, but so will the Swans. Not only can they wow fans with their spectacular footy, but they have the drive and the discipline to clamp down the opposition if they can get a run on.