Walking away from this clash, there will be positives and negatives to ponder for both teams. There were periods when each team looked unstoppable, with the structure, commitment, and execution of their opponent causing me to question where their heads were at.

It was a game with one of the wildest momentum swings we’ve seen, with the Hawks jumping out of the gate and looking like they were going to eviscerate the Swans, but as good teams often do, Sydney was able to compose themselves and attack again with a renewed vigour.

You’re going to read a lot of articles about this game that focuses primarily on the start and the finish, as it appeared as though the teams swapped jumpers. The Hawks hammered the Swans early, in a very similar way to the Geelong game last week, and the Swans finished the contest by ramming home nine last-quarter goals to run away with what looks, on paper, like an easy win.

It wasn’t. There was so much more to this game.

The middle two quarters saw a Sydney team squander repeat opportunities to establish complete control of the affair as the Hawks held on for dear life, despite their grip slipping with every tick of the clock.

As always, The Mongrel is going to dive deep into the game and find the little things that mattered, the big things that mattered more, and the huge things that mattered most. Let’s jump in.

 

 

SYDNEY CAN WIN THE FLAG

I’m probably preaching to the choir – I know you guys believe.

I am painfully aware that all it takes is one bad day in September for everything to go horribly wrong, and though people are ready to hand Melbourne the premiership cup in April, I am not so eager. Teams like Brisbane and Sydney… they’re damn well contenders, and can cause one of those bad days to occur to a team, no matter how dominant they appear.

Look at 1999, and Carlton upsetting Essendon.

Look at 2008 and the Hawks derailing the Cats.

Look at 2018 and the Pies bringing the Tigers undone.

Plenty are counting their chickens before they’ve hatched, and whilst the Swans are just as prone to having a bad day (as it was against the Dogs), they definitely have the tools to give the Dees some enormous issues and punish them.

They have a powerful forward line, a strong defence, an accountable midfield, and above all else, a confidence that they can claw their way back when the chips are down. We saw that today – the Swans were the hunted. They were reactive, panicked, and being forced backwards. They needed things to change and needed it in a hurry.

And then… they changed things.

Good sides can do this. Great sides can flip the script and turn the game on its head. From the period when the Swans composed themselves, they became the dominant team. It was them making the running. It was them hitting the packs hard. It was them with the clean hands, and it was them dominating every stat category worth dominating..

The only thing that let them down was the conversion, with their set shot kicking the main culprit. In every other facet, they were far and away the better team after the first 15 minutes of footy.

There are a few teams in this league that would have gone into their shell after the Hawks got the jump. The Swans… well, they opted to fight fire with fire, and they just so happened to have a lot more firepower. On the road, down five goals… some would have suggested we stick a fork in the Swans for the day.

I have a suggestion for those people – learn. Watch what the Swans did from halfway through the first. Take note of the competitive spirit o this group. And prepare for them to have a deep run into September. The Hawks will surprise a few teams this season. They already have surprised a couple, but the good teams can take a few punches, pick themselves up and recover, and that is exactly what the Swans did in this one.

They got rid of the dinner suits, put on their work boots and did the hard stuff necessary to win. And I would be very surprised not to see them AT LEAST make an appearance in the second-last weekend of September. Whether they can go all the way… well, I don’t want to put a ceiling on it, but all it takes is one bad day in the finals, and things change quickly.

The Swans strike me as a team built to create, then capitalise on one bad day.

 

CALLUM MILLS IS THE BEST TWO-WAY MID IN THE GAME

How would you like to be Callum Mills’ lover?

A random question, I know, but I can relate it back to the game, so I am using it.

He is patient, as evidenced by his time spent in defence, honing his craft to become the player he is now.

He works diligently and with a minimum of fuss to ensure everyone is satisfied.

He is able to slot himself down back and make a real difference.

He gets good penetration and has wonderful hands in close, and knows how to hit the right spot.

What do you say – sold on Mills for your next Sunday evening?

Of course, I am talking about his football, right? Of course I am, and if you paid particular attention, you would see everything I mentioned above manifest in multiple ways as he carved out yet another stellar effort in the middle of the ground.

Oh, he was a slow starter, as were most of his teammates, but when John Longmire sent him to man-up on Tom Mitchell at the start of the second quarter, two things happened. Mills became the most important and influential player on the ground, and Mitchell drifted out of the game.

Need proof?

I got ya covered.

In the first quarter, the Hawthorn engine room was up and running in top gear, and it was Mitchell with his work in close as the catalyst. He had 12 touches and a couple of clearances as he worked to set up his teammates at stoppages, and created using second efforts and quick-fire handballs. The Hawks were only going to go as far as Mitchell, and Jai Newcombe, to be fair, were going to take them. Longmire knew something had to change, and he put the onus on Luke Parker and Callum Mills.

Both responded as you’d expect.

In the second quarter, Mills racked up 12 disposals of his own, restricting Mitchell’s influence to four disposals. Mills was everywhere, using deft bodywork to run Mitchell out of the play and collecting the footy, himself. And when he wasn’t winning the footy, he was clearing a path for Parker, Chad Warner, and James Rowbottom to go to work.

Mills finished with 37 disposal, with 33 of them coming after quarter-time. Mitchell had 26 touches, with 14 of them coming in the final three quarters.

That, my friends, is how you play midfield footy, make your touches count, and shutdown the opposition. Callum Mills, my hat goes off to you, young man – fantastic game, and one other mids should watch and attempt to emulate. He did it all.

 

LUKE PARKER AND ERROL GULDEN PLAYED HUGE ROLES IN THE SWANS’ LIFT

I know I just wrapped up Callum Mills as one of the reasons the Swans were able to power back into the game, but it is never just a one-man band with this Swans team. There are always multiple weapons that fire simultaneously.

Parker was a beast in close, with his second efforts and things that don’t get recorded, like little deflections and a hand in to prevent the opposition getting a clean disposal away are a couple of things I noticed that might only seem small, but make a big difference. His desperation at the contest, and strength to stand up to physical treatment makes the others around him walk taller, and through the middle of the game, he was colossal for the Swans.

He finished with 29 touches, had seven clearances, but if there was a stat kept for toughness, Parker would score off the damn charts. I often wonder which players are the heartbeat of teams – which players lift their sides on will alone, and I reckon Parker is that for the Swans. He has consistently been wonderful for years on end, but given the high-quality he was surrounded by (JPK, Hannebery) he always seemed to be forgotten when people discussed the elite mids of the game. Well, he is not forgotten here, and if you want to see exactly why he is rated so highly at The Mongrel, watch his second and third quarters again – that is how you lead by example!

The addition of Errol Gulden in this section may surprise some, but it probably shouldn’t.

You see the Sydney fighback didn’t just happen in the second quarter and continue through to the last quarter – it started way earlier than that; about halfway through the first quarter, way before Horse had the opportunity to address his troops, and it was Errol Gulden, applying himself at the contest with intent, and working his backside off that changed the tone for the Swans.

Gulden’s work from the wing, hunting the footy and throwing himself into the contest, set the agenda for the remainder of the game for the Swans. How can a bunch of blokes watch the way he was applying himself and not follow suit?

This will most likely get glossed over, as his strong suits are viewed as his run and carry, as well as his delivery, and whilst they are both deadly, his work under duress when the Swans desperately needed someone to put their hand up and take the game on really stood out to me.

 

DANE RAMPE’S FORM IS OF HUGE CONCERN

He was getting pantsed by Jack Gunston in this game, early. Often caught behind and scrambling to stay in the contest, he gave away three first-quarter frees to the veteran Hawk and looked all at sea when the opposition moved the ball quickly into attack.

This is no knock on Rampe overall – his ability has been detailed on this site multiple times over the last few seasons, but given the role he occupies, the way he is going about his footy at the moment speaks of a man that is starting to struggle with his place in this team.

The Swans are flush with young talent, and I am sure Rampe feels the pressure pushing up from underneath. At his best, he is still capable of being one of the best defenders in the game, and the longer the game went, the better he seemed to get. However, when the Hawks were pressing in the early stages of the contest, the man that looked most likely to either infringe or be beaten in a one-on-one contest was Rampe.

Let’s spit some facts – Rampe is no spring chicken. He turns 32 in just over a month and is not the same player he was a couple of years back. Even with all his post-climbing shenanigans, Rampe was still one of the premier defenders in the game – I am not sure he is anywhere near that bracket right now. Playing on Gunston, he was not matched up on an opponent who was young, spritely, and could run him off his feet. No, this should have been a contest he controlled, but instead, it appeared as though he was playing panicked, reactionary footy, and it is as though umpires can sense that in a defender.

Whilst the recruitment of Paddy McCartin, and the role he has been playing, have perhaps seen Rampe’s natural game curtailed a little, he will need to start operating at a higher level, as if forwards are able to isolate him an get good results,  guess what? Every team will start to isolate him and get good results

A couple of big weeks are required from Rampe, and against the Lion next week would be a great time to start, especially considering the Swans will be without Paddy McCartin due to concussion protocols.

 

DYLAN MOORE IS TO HAWTHORN WHAT TOM PAPLEY IS TO SYDNEY

High praise, but not entirely hyperbolic.

Moore has been the catalyst for the Hawks’ fast starts in recent weeks, with his hard attack on the footy, and clean hands in the forward half a weapon teams ae having a terribly difficult time containing. He knows where the goals are, as well, slotting one in the first and contributing to a couple of others.

Moore is just 22 and has built the type of game that will see him take over from Luke Breust as the Hawks’ best small forward in the next year or two, if he is not grabbing that title at the moment. Already in 2022, he has amassed 11 goals ad 7.2 score involvements per game, which should, but probably won’t thrust his name into All-Australian calculations at this point of the season.

Speaking of Papley, did I hear that he is a chance of returning next week? Who do you remove from this Sydney side to accommodate him?

My first guess is James Bell. My second guess is also James Bell. He probably needed to do something pretty special in this game to hold his place, but six touches and one tackle aren’t what I would classify as special… not in a nice way, anyway. With Papley back, this Swans forward line is starting to look even scarier…

 

PETER LADHAMS HAS ENORMOUS POTENTIAL, BUT HE NEEDS HIS HEAD SCREWED ON RIGHT

With 19 touches, seven marks, and 34 hitouts, the game of Peter Ladhams will most likely be looked at as extremely positive again this week, after his career-high 24 touches last week.

And it was.

After halftime, anyway.

I was really disappointed with the way Ladhams attacked the contest in the first half in a game he should have taken by the scruff of the neck a shaken the life out of it. He had five disposals and 15 hit outs before the main break before coming to life after halftime and imposing his will. The thing is – he was playing against Max Lynch – currently barely a ruckman’s armpit, and should have crushed him early and often. Instead, he was tentative and appeared a bit lost around the ground.

I am not sure who had a word to him and gave him specific instructions after the main break, but Ladhams emerged as a force in the third quarter, with six touches and three marks as he willed himself into the game and manhandled Connor Nash in the ruck. THIS is what is required of him at the first bounce – not once someone has given him a rev up in the dressing rooms.

At halftime, all I could think about was naked ladies… errrr, I mean how much the Swans missed Tom Hickey. After halftime, it was like Ladhams had channelled the Ruck-Jesus and monstered the Hawks at stoppages. Against the Big O next week, Ladhams cannot afford to coast for a half. If he does, the game could be over before he hits his straps.

 

THE BEST AND WORST OF THE CHAD

You cannot dispute that when Chad Wingard plays well, he has the capacity to set the Hawks alight. His first quarter was evidence of this, as he put himself in the right spots continually and gave Harry Cunningham fits.

And then, just as you thought he could have a huge influence on the contest, he was gone – statless in the second quarter as the Swans muscled their way back into the game.

I know that Tim O’Brien was a much-maligned player for “almost” taking big marks and “almost” being the type of player the Hawks needed (he’s the Bulldogs’ problem now), but in a lot of ways, Chad Wingard’s career at Hawthorn has been just as “almost-ish” as that of Tim O’Brien.

Chad is an AA-Calibre player who has not gone anywhere near that level of play in brown and gold and the fact that the commentators were excited about his one good quarter of footy probably proves the point that he does nowhere near enough considering his talent.

 

THE MATURING SWANS HAVE THE BEST NEXT-CORE GROUP IN THE LEAGUE

I want to throw some names at you – tell me which one of them had a poor game.

Nick Blakey, Chad Warner, Tom McCartin, James Rowbottom, Justin McInerney, Errol Gulden – anyone of them stink it up?

Didn’t think so.

This is the group that will power the Sydney Swans for the next seven or so years, and if you’re a Swans fan, how can you not be excited about what you see?

The charging runs from Blakey break the game – he causes so much chaos that structures break down when he bolts from defence. The hybrid forward/mid game of Warner – he is playing as well as anyone drifting between the middle and half-forward. Tom McCartin – resolute in defence every single week. Justin McInerney – en route to establishing himself as the best wingman in the game. James Rowbottom – a hard worker that relishes the contest. And Errol Gulden… guys, he could be the best of the lot of them.

I’m leaving a few out, I know, but this cohort of talent is just about as good as it gets in the AFL right now. They are ready for success – they’re hungry for it right now, but will remain the foundation for the Swans to build on and experience a run of sustained success.

Sydney has done an incredible job of building this list – or rebuilding it on the fly. How can you not be impressed?

 

I AM HOPING FOR NOTHING ELSE TODAY THAN PADDY MCCARTIN TO BE FINE

If you’re a football lover and saw the image of Paddy McCartin with his head against the locker after being subbed out of the game due to concussion protocols, your heart would have sunk.

Mine did, and though we all hope for the best, there is that little man on our shoulder that whispers the worst into our ears.

I want him to shut the hell up on this occasion.

I reckon Dermott Brereton echoed what we were all hoping for – that McCartin was just disappointed in having to go through the protocols and sit the remainder of the game out. Anything worse than that would be a clear indication that the footy gods are being lax in their duties.

Fingers crossed.

 

UNWARRANTED PRAISE THIS WEEK

Heard a few people talking up the game of James Sicily in this one.

Don’t believe the hype.

21 touches, 11 marks and ten rebound fifties may look good on paper, but his kicking was way off the mark early in the piece, and if we’re looking for a Hawthorn defender to praise, Sam Frost, despite having three kicked on him by Buddy Franklin, was far more worthy of your affection.

I like what Sic is doing this season, but this wasn’t his finest game.

 

THIS WAS THE BEST-UMPIRED GAME FOR TACKLING THIS WEEK

I’m a big fan of rewarding good tackles. As a matter of fact, I love when a player does the hard work, chases down an opponent, wraps them up ad pins the footy to them. What I love even more is when this skill, and it is a skill, is recognised and rewarded.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been charting the free kicks paid in every game with a particular emphasis on how many are paid for holding the ball/incorrect disposal. To say I have been disappointed is an understatement. In a couple of contests, we have seen as few as three holding the ball decisions paid for the whole game – what is the point of tackling when there is more chance of the umpire finding something wrong with the action than there is he’ll find something right with it?

That changed in this game, and the umpires should be commended.

There is a delicate balance when it comes to allowing the game to flow ad penalising illegal disposals and, for the most part, I feel the umpiring leans towards the former, but in this one, they got the balance just right.

There were 17 holding the ball free kick paid in this one. Considering that there were 118 tackles laid for the contest, it does not constitute a huge number – just 14.4% of tackles resulted in winning a free kick, but it is a damn sight better than some of the other games I have clawed my eyes out whilst watching.

For the record, the Swans had nine holding the footy free kicks to the Hawks’ eight but for the most part, I felt as though the very good tackles were rewarded, the good ones resulted in a stoppage, and the poor ones were treated as such, either being called play on, or being penalised for being outside the rules. I don’t get to say this that often, but the umps got I bang on in this game and should be commended for it

 

BREAK GLASS IN CASE OF EMERGENCY

He’s still there, people, just in case the Swans need someone to come into the game and plonk themselves in the middle of the ground.

Josh Kennedy is no spent force. Not yet, anyway. He is slowly inching toward AFL records for contested touches and clearances, and though this has been laborious due to the nature of his game time, he will get there in 2022. And he’ll also be ready when the grounds get a little heavier, the big bodies start to win more of the footy, and the Swans need someone who can crash in and win his own footy to help out the young midfield stars.

Some of the commentaries around JPK has sounded like a eulogy, but I have a feeling before all is said and done in 2022, there will be one game, or one stretch where he reminds everyone just what an incredible player he was… and possibly still is.

Horse has not had to break the glass just yet, but he does keep a little hammer close by, just in case. You know that if he has to use it, Kennedy will respond.

 

THE BARGAIN

He went right out of the game after quarter time, but the start of Jai Newcombe, for the second week in a row, indicates that the midseason draft can be a goldmine if teams use it wisely.

At quarter time, the two best players on the ground were Tom Mitchell and Jai Newcombe, and though he was unable to maintain the rage, his work was impossible not to notice in this game. The Hawks have found a gem in this bloke, and if he is able to infect some others with the type of manic enthusiasm he has for the contest, the Hawks will be a hard team to hold down for too long.

 

Massive weekend for Sydney – can’t speak highly enough about the way they took the best the Hawks could give and turned it around so convincingly. Be proud, Swans fans.

 

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