Down by over four goals against the reigning premiers, the Sydney Swans seemed to be right where the Demons wanted them.

Because that’s what Melbourne does, isn’t it? They get four or five goals up and then the grind begins. They dare you to try forward handball and close you down. They want you to take them on, and when you do, they hurt you going the other way…

… unless you hurt them first.

In a spirited second quarter, the Swans tested the Dees, fighting their way back into the contest on the back of sheer force of will. At halftime, Sydney walked to the sheds with the lead, and the game had suddenly changed.

Flashbacks of Round 11 must have danced on the periphery of the Melbourne players’ minds as Sydney refused to go quietly into the MCG night. And though the Dees seemingly wrested control back from the Swans in the third quarter, Melbourne failed to put their advantage to good use, kicking just one goal despite having most of the play in their forward half.

Sydney then piled on four goals to one in the final quarter to pick up their second-straight come-from-behind win, and a huge statement win on the road.

Let’s jump into the Big Questions.

 

 

WHERE HAS THIS VERSION OF SAM REID BEEN?

There were a lot of questions about how this Sydney team would cover the loss of Buddy Franklin after he put one on Trent Cotchin’s chin last week, and I guess we quickly discovered the plan, as Sam Reid put his hand up and looked anything but a fill-in forward for the Swans.

It’s hard to isolate which part of Reid’s game impressed me the most – four contested grabs, with a couple at crucial points of the game, ten tackles as a forward, the three goals, the nine score involvements… in a Franklin-less side, his presence created havoc for the Demon defenders who struggled to contain him and another bloke I’ll talk about in a minute.

I’ll put my hand up here and admit that I considered Sam Reid an afterthought this season. Looking at Logan McDonald coming through, and with Hayden McLean emerging as a forward option, it seemed as though a couple had gone way past him. Throw in the recruitment of Peter Ladhams and the development of Joel Amartey, and you have a group of players that seemed to be ready to force Reid out to pasture.

But he wasn’t ready to go just yet, and thank the lord he didn’t.

I know Reid has had a few excellent games over the journey – a quick perusal of his career stats will give you five or six games where he played blindingly well, but at 30, and with a body beaten up and run down by injury over the years, I was not expecting this type of output from him at all.

Against the best team in the game, Reid put together his most complete game this decade, and it is handy to know that he even when Buddy comes back in and the squeeze for spots sees him back on the sidelines, John Longmire has this experienced piece that can come back in and fit perfectly.

 

HOW BRIGHT DOES THE FUTURE OF THIS SYDNEY TEAM LOOK?

And more to the point, at what point do we stop talking about what they can do in the future, and start celebrating what they’re doing at the moment?

Right now seems like a good time.

You get the feeling that Logan McDonald relished being in a situation where he was “the man” this week. With no Buddy to command the footy, McDonald attacked the contest hard and unlike most young big men, kept his feet well to inflict plenty of damage at ground level along the way. He finished with three goals in the type of performance that would have Swans fans salivating at the prospect of eventually having him mature into the logical replacement for Lance Franklin.

But he is not the only kid flourishing in this Sydney team.

Errol Gulden was classy with the footy, picking up 17 touches and using his skills to set up teammates. Chad Warner continued on his merry way of bursting from packs and sowing the seeds of panic in the opposition. Justin McInerney went head-to-head with Ed Langdon and limited his influence. Tom McCartin is holding down a key defensive position at 22, and Nick Blakey was once again of high value running off half-back.

When you consider all those players I listed above are aged 22 or under, you start to get the picture that this team is built for sustained success. This is particularly so when you come to realise the team’s stars include Tom Papley (25), Callum Mills (25), Isaac Heeney (26), and Ollie Florent (23). This side is not built for one crack at the flag – no, no… it is built for a continuous assault on the top four and possibly multiple premierships over the next few seasons.

Earlier this season, I predicted the Swans had the capacity to win the flag. I read comments… I see what people say to each other – some of you mocked me for saying that. Some said “he doesn’t know what he is talking about”, and you know what? For the most part in life, they’d be right.

However, in this case, looking at this Sydney Swans list and being aware of what they can do when they play their best footy, I don’t think I am too far off the mark. Knocking over the Tigers after being down five or so goals… others have done that this season – I understand your scepticism, but the way they fought back against Melbourne… do you really still need to be convinced?

Do I expect them to win it all? No, I expect Melbourne and Brisbane to be fighting tooth and nail on the last Saturday in September, but would I be surprised if there is a team in red and white running out to go into battle on that day?

Not at all. This team has all the tools to be special. Now, they just have to put them to good use.

 

SHOULD MELBOURNE BE WORRIED ABOUT BEN BROWN?

After a good start to the season, it has been a pretty lean few weeks for the former Kangaroo.

In this game, he contributed just four disposals and couldn’t hit the scoreboard, but it is not the lack of scoring that worries me – it is the complete drop off in efficacy from Brown in just about all facets of the game.

So, from Round 10-12, Brown has managed zero goals, but has also managed to average just two marks, and 4.6 disposals. It’s as though he has channelled 2020 Ben Brown and doesn’t know how to get rid of him. What made Brown a valuable addition to the Demons last season was his commitment to the contest, often flying to ensure the ball was brought to ground for his crumbers.

We’re not seeing much of that at all in recent weeks.

The Dees lost Tom McDonald before the game, which prompted Max Gawn to spend more time up forward, but what Max was producing is the type of thing that Brown should be. He was knocked off the contest too easily and hardly looked like threatening the Swans’ defence at all. This left Gawn playing a lone hand in the air, with Bayley Fritsch chiming in with his elusive medium forward play.

I’d say that Brown would be feeling the pressure from underneath, but Sam Weideman was dropped this week due to his lack of production, so it seems as though the Dees may have a little problem with their marking forwards…

I have faith that Brown can fix whatever the issue is, but I hope it does not result in a few weeks in the VFL for him to find it.

 

CAN WE HAVE SOME JAKE LLOYD HATERS PUT THEIR HANDS UP, PLEASE?

Just one instance to point out his value in this one. There were several, but even the most avid Lloyd detractor would have no leg to stand on, here.

Late in the fourth quarter, it was Jake Lloyd’s turn to go. Caught under the footy, not knowing what was coming, Lloyd did not flinch, standing his ground and taking an overhead mark with the pressure coming from all angles.

This was one of those occasions I am sure many Swans fans had their hearts leap into their mouths. Despite being a two-time Skilton medallist, there is this perception that Lloyd isn’t worthy of being part of this team in some circles. I am consistently reading about whether so-and-so should replace him in the team. I get it – he isn’t the most appealing player in the world; the blokes who peel off and receive rarely are. That said, it’s not often you see a player who has two B&F awards get the treatment Lloyd does.

Inside the club, it is obvious that he is incredibly respected. You don’t hand out your season’s top honour to blokes who have not earned the respect of the coaches or playing group – it’s close to impossible.

Yet, he has been on the receiving end of the supporters’ ire often.

Whenever it comes to Lloyd, I smile when I see moments like the one that occurred late in this game, because as much as a few loudmouths love to lay into him when something goes wrong, they get strangely quiet when he does something like this and plays a big part in the Swans overcoming the odds. If you’re one of them, at least have the guts to put your hand up and say you were wrong, even if your ego takes a little hit in doing so. It’s not that bad… and you’ll get to give a little respect to a bloke that deserves it in the process.

And if you’re so desperate to replace him, keep your eye on the way Ollie Florent is developing back in defence. Still quite understated in his role currently, he is the one with the kicking skills that could eventually usurp the position of Lloyd…

… but not until Lloyd is good and ready to move.

I say Florent because I believe that Braeden Campbell will move into the midfield  before he takes over the number one rebounder role.

 

HOW DO YOU WEIGH UP QUALITY V QUANTITY?

So, we take a gander at the stats in this one – seven of the top disposal winners wore red and blue. And if we want to be pedantic, nine of the top 11 disposal winners played for Melbourne.

The Dees were +43 in disposals but fell into the trap the Western Bulldogs seem to too often – they over-possessed the footy, handballing the extra once or twice when a kick to a contest was the better option. Oh, I know teams don’t like kicking to contests, but you know what is even worse?

Turning the footy over because you’re screwing around with it, and that is what the Dees did a little too often in this game. Christian Petracca was messy. Tom Sparrow made fundamental errors and in one case, missed the running Clayton Oliver by several metres on a three-metre handball, turning the footy over when a scoring shot beckoned. Jack Viney had eight turnovers, though many of them were due to the nature of his game – it’s tough to be clean when you’re fighting for the footy against two or three opponents. But overall, the Dees just lacked good ball users as they worked the footy forward.

As the game progressed, I started to wonder whether they could have moved Angus Brayshaw onto a win to give a little more precise delivery. As much as I like Ed Langdon, he seemed a little off in this one after his fast start, and his normally potent run was well countered by Justin McInerney. Melbourne were just lacking, and the Swans made the most of their indecision.

Sydney were better with the footy in hand, better at spotting up targets inside 50, and after wasting their shots in the first quarter, Sydney started to find the big sticks with more regularity. They simply did more with less and lulled the Dees into the style of game that destroys weak teams.

It’s a pity it gets shaky against the good ones.

Have you ever heard the bloke in the crowd yelling “just bloody kick it” when the players have those two or three extra handballs? He would have lost his voice if he were barracking for the Dees in this one. The stats look nice – yes – but when you combine Melbourne’s eagerness to move the ball short distances and back again with the manic pressure of Sydney, it’s no wonder they fell over.

 

WAS THAT THE MOST COMPLETE RUCK PERFORMANCE SINCE MAX GAWN KICKED FIVE IN THE PRELIM?

It actually got to the point where Peter Ladhams looked as though he didn’t want to compete anymore.

Max Gawn was everywhere, doing everything in this game and nobody could stop him. With three goals, six contested marks, and 28 touches, Gawn was as dominant as I’ve seen him, and threatened to drag the Demons over the line.

Gawn started both the second and fourth quarters at full forward. In what turned out to be a masterful piece of coaching from Simon Goodwin, Gawn snagged goals on each occasion within a minute or so of the ball being bounced. Taking Tom McCartin to the goal square, Gawn simply used his reach to his advantage, protecting the footy and clunking marks. He finished with three goals for the game, with the other coming from a running snap, but it was in the air that Gawn was brightest.

Peter Ladhams, Joel Amartey, Sam Reid… it didn’t matter who John Longmire threw at Gawn – he swatted them away like annoying flies en route to being the best player on the ground.

It was a shame that a performance of this magnitude came in a losing side.

It’s funny – despite Gawn’s dominance, I don’t think Peter Ladhams was terrible by any stretch. He competed hard against the best big man in the game, but he just ran into an absolute buzzsaw that is Gawn in full flight. Still, he was able to take advantage of Luke Jackson at points to win his own clearances.

 

HOW DID SYDNEY GO IN TERMS OF STIFLING CLAYTON OLIVER?

It was an interesting setup from the Swans, with James Rowbottom taking on the task of restricting the influence of Oliver at stoppages, but not in general play. So, in this regard, we’re not talking like this was a hard tag, or anything.

No, these were two blokes going head-to-head at stoppages and then making their own way around the park.

Rowbottom was pretty good in matching it with Oliver. Whilst the Demons champ managed seven clearances, Rowbottom was able to chime in with six of his own. If you were offered those numbers at the start of the game, you’d take them.

Around the ground, Oliver managed to find the footy, as he always does. His 29 touches means that he collected the ball at a rate of close enough to two touches for every one that Rowbottom was able to gather, but that is not Rowbottom’s game, is it? He has a career-high of 24 – he isn’t going to be able to hang with Oliver in terms of pure numbers.

So, we go back to quality versus quantity.

20 of Oliver’s touches came by hand, meaning the Dees were missing those bursting runs out of the middle and the long ball inside 50 to genuine one-on-one contests. Instead, we see that which has come up several times in this column – overuse.

Oliver averaged just 9.41 metres per disposal in this game.

In contrast, Rowbottom averaged 23.81 metres for every one of his 16 disposals.

That’s called getting bang for your buck, particularly as the Swan ran at 81% disposal efficiency, and Oliver was at 72%.

 

IS TOM PAPLEY EVER OUT OF A CONTEST?

It doesn’t look like it, does it?

He is a scrapper. He will throw himself at the loose ball, dive in to knock the footy loose when an opponent is just about to break away, or make two or three efforts to make the sure remains alive inside 50.

Papley would be the type of bloke you’d hate to be matched up against when the coach pairs you up and kicks the footy out to make you go and fight it out to get it back to him. He is tenacious, gritty, and would be a horror to compete with. To see him slot the goal that would ultimately be the sealer for the Swans was somewhat satisfying. After watching him do the hard stuff all game, it was fitting that he got to put a bit of icing on the cake.

 

ANY OTHER BITS

I can’t believe I have reached this point and am only now mentioning Callum Mills.

It is probably indicative of his place in the game at the moment – highly effective, yet flying under the radar. His ten tackles rounded out another complete performance from him in the middle as he fell just three marks short of becoming the seventh man in history to achieve double figures in the big four statistical categories (kicks, handballs, marks, and tackles – the quadruple-double).

Massive game for Jack Viney, who is another bloke, like Papley, you’d hate to be matched up against in competitive drills at training. He only knows one way to go about it, and if you happen to be in the way… it’s never pretty.

I’m not quite sure on this one, and may have to go back and watch again, but the role of Joel Amartey… was he out there to limit the impact of Jake Lever, or was I just looking for something to be positive about from a bloke that managed just three touches? Lever had five intercepts and eight one-percenters but seemed to flitter in and out of the contest for eight disposals.

And that might do me… I’m pretty tired.

The Swans get the bye next week to rest up and hit the back half of 2022 with some momentum. They get Port Adelaide in their first game back in what should be a belter.

As for the Dees, their Easter Monday clash against a rejuvenated Collingwood now takes on a different tone. They’ve gone from being locks for top spot to being in a battle with Brisbane and possibly Freo. Things could get very interesting here, depending on their response against the Pies.

Massive thanks to our members, as always. Without you, there is no us.

 

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