Oh, you’d best believe I have been looking forward to writing this one.
The Swans were my favourite team to watch in 2022. You know, I compile an ebook for the premiers each year – the books contain everything I’ve written about the winning team for the entire season, including members-only content. In preparation for the Grand Final, I had both versions ready to go.
The Cats ebook came in at just over 80K words.
The Swans ebook sat at over 110K words.
Suffice to say, I was barracking for the Swans.
Alas, what happened, happened, and the Sydney Swans finished runners-up. In short, they were belted by an experienced team. The celebratory ebook was shelved… damn it.
The challenge, now, for this Sydney team is to come back hungrier and more determined. They surprised many in 2022 (not me… I was all-in) but they will not surprise anyone again.
In 2023, Sydney are just as much the hunted as they are the hunters.
And with just over a month to go before the preseason games commence, we’re narrowing our focus on this team to assess just how they’ll go in 2023.
This is where premierships are won and lost. This is where improvements are made and lists come together. New faces, new colours, old heads with renewed passion… so much feeds into the making of a contender. And as the days tick down toward to the intra-club clashes, practice games, and eventually the real stuff, questions are raised about each team and how they’re going to perform in 2023.
We don’t do things by halves here, at The Mongrel. When we do a season preview, we go all out to make sure it is the best, most comprehensive coverage you’ll receive. We pride ourselves on it. If you are going to read one season preview for your team, or any team, this series provides it.
The way it works is as follows.
Each club has a minimum of 15 questions asked about their 2023 season, their coaches, their players, and their expectations. The answers are not glossed over. We dive deep on each and every one – some singular answers would normally be long enough for an entire column. The first five questions/answers are free for you to consume. The next 10-14 for each club are for our members, including a special appearance from Mrs Mongrel to throw her two cents in the mix.
You will not read a deeper season preview than this – I guarantee it.
And with that, let’s jump into The Big Questions relating to Sydney Swans in 2023… and one of the questions isn’t even gonna touch the “can they overcome the Grand Final belting?” I’ll leave that to others.
HOW DOES 2023 LOOK FOR LOGAN MCDONALD?
What would the mindset of Logan McDonald be heading into 2023?
I know, I know… I just answered a question with a question, but hopefully, it leads us to a place where we find answers.
Heading into the 2022 Grand Final, Logan McDonald was left out of the team and replaced by Hayden McLean – a bloke that had not played since Round Eight earlier in the season. On the surface, it appeared to be a bit of a baffling decision from the Swans. In the end, it would not have mattered too much, but Logan McDonald would have had to feel the sting of being left out of the team.
To make matters worse, McLean was a non-factor in the game and Sam Reid, the other tall forward taken ahead of McDonald, limped off the ground, unable to continue after the injury he carried into the game was aggravated and he took his four handballs and hit the bench.
We all have those feelings of “what if…” in our lives. Most times, it is due to a decision we made, or in some cases didn’t make. We wonder what could have been if things turned out a little differently. I am sure McDonald has a sense of that heading into 2023.
Taken at pick four in the 2020 draft, he played 17 games for the year, including the three games leading into the finals and the two finals that put the Swans into the big one.
What is not really mentioned, however, is that Logan McDonald didn’t really perform in those two finals, averaging just five disposals, 3.5 marks, and 0.5 goals. His omission from the Grand Final side was as much about his own form as it was about being denied the opportunity. A mature player would understand this.
But Logan McDonald is just 20 years old. I am not sure where your head was at when you were 20, but mine was all over the place. Yes, being left out of the Grand Final may hurt, and he may think it was unfair, but my hope is that he has good people around him that reinforce that his destiny was in his own hands last season… he just fumbled it in the finals. This was not the club teaching him a lesson. This was not the footy world conspiring against him. This was a reflection of his form leading into the Grand Final.
There is little doubt that McDonald will emerge as a star as he continues to build his strength and stamina. He is a lump of a lad and has two seasons on his current deal with the Swans to make up for lost time. My hope is that he uses this omission to drive him to levels he has not yet obtained. With Lance Franklin going around one last time, it may be time for Logan to push his way into the team and make the Swans make some harsh calls. Whether that be at the expense of McLean, Reid, or even Buddy… McDonald should hit 2023 with a head of steam and make this season the year that he cements himself as a permanent fixture of this team, to the point where one or two quieter weeks are looked at as an anomaly, and not cause to drop him.
WHERE DOES AARON FRANCIS FIT IN AT SYDNEY?
This is a bit of a tough one, and without being privy to how players are travelling just yet, I think Aaron has a fair bit of work to do to carve out a place in this side.
Having watched him at Essendon, he has never really quite hit the levels expected of him when he was drafted at pick six overall, back in 2015. A combination of initial homesickness, injury, and dealing with mental health issues have prevented him from reaching his potential.
His more recent role at Essendon was that of intercepting half-back, but with just four games in 2022, it is difficult to get a real gauge on where he at. That he had just one game of those four where he had more than ten touches is a bit of a worry.
Prior to that, Essendon had tried him as a forward here and there, so there is the potential to play at ether end of the ground.
The problem for Francis is that Sydney aren’t exactly lacking when it comes to marking players. Down back, Francis will have to contend with McCartin and McCartin… a great name for a law firm. The defence NEVER rests! Dane Rampe is still a very serviceable player, although he does tend to go into self-preservation mode a little more than he used to, and they have talent like Robbie Fox (close to their best in the Grand Final) and the yet-to-debut Will Gould in consideration.
Up forward, things are no easier.
Lance Franklin holds down the number one forward spot, but Isaac Heeney, Logan McDonald, Sam Reid, Hayden McLean, Peter Ladhams, and Joel Amartey are all jostling for time in this team. Francis just joins the Sydney traffic jam (I blame all the one-way streets, personally).
If there are upsides to focus on, they would be that the Swans now have added depth at either end to draw on should the injury bug bite them this year. They also have an example of what players are capable of when you show a little faith in them – the Paddy McCartin story is a great one, and I am sure that Francis would be buoyed by the fact the Swans were willing to give Paddy every chance to excel after time out of the game. Francis will be looking to replicate his success and will be given every opportunity to do so if he’s good enough.
Aaron Francis is one of the great unknowns when it comes to the 2023 season. How much he can impact this Sydney team may well come down to how serious he is about his footy, and how desperate he is to salvage his AFL career. He is contracted only for 2023 and has moved even further away from home than he was when based in Victoria – this tells me he is willing to do what it takes to re-establish himself.
If Francis can force his way into the side early in the season, he may very well become a player that is impossible to drop. He is one whose future is definitely in his own hands as we approach the new season. I reckon by Round Six, Swans fans will know exactly what they’ve got in this bloke.
Fingers crossed he is another string to an already deadly bow.
HOW VALUABLE IS RYAN CLARKE?
There were two games in 2022 where Clarke demonstrated just how important a defensive forward can be to a team.
No, scratch that – there were about eight games where he danced with a potent half-back and stepped all over their toes. I just want to concentrate on two of those occasions.
In these games, he was matched up against Nick Daicos, and on both occasions, Clarke proved too diligent, too professional, and damn it, too good in his role for the young star to handle.
If we head back to his Round 22 outing, Clarke put the clamps on Nick Daicos for the first time in his career. Now, I know Collingwood supporters may jump onto AFL tables and come back stating that Daicos had 20 touches and kicked a goal, using that to argue that he actually played well.
Nup – they’d be wrong.
Daicos was mauled by Clarke, with three of Daicos’ first four touches coming by running down to take the kick ins. By halfway through the second quarter, Craig McRae had seen enough and moved his top draft pick to the wing to get him the hell away from Clarke.
For the remainder of the game, every time Daicos drifted back to defence, Clarke was there to meet him… like an overly-affectionate octopus. I’ve never been hugged by an amorous octopus (I swear, he was just looking for his keys in my pocket) but I do suspect that they don’t let go all that easy.
They met again in the Prelim, with Clarke again all over Daicos, blanketing him in the first quarter. Daicos had five touches – Clarke’s pressure caused just two to be effective. One of those effective kicks was from the kick-in. The second quarter saw Daicos with three effective touches. Guess where they came from?
Yep… kick ins.
Ryan Clarke became a nightmare to deal with in 2022. Names on his list of victims read like a who’s who of rebound players – Bailey Dale, Jack Sinclair, Jordan Clark… all were completely shut down by the Swans’ defensive forward. And that should continue into 2023.
Yes, it should… but coaches have a bit of a knack of doing their homework when it comes to things like this. If they find one of their prime movers targeted by the stopper, this time there will be a Plan B, C, and D.
Ryan Clarke found his groove in 2022. After looking like his career was in a tenuous position, you have to give both him and John Longmire a hell of a lot of credit for the resurrection. Now, as the opposition attempt to find ways to mitigate his influence, Clarke and Horse will be looking for a new crop of names to add to his list.
And I expect other teams to start employing these types of defensive forward tactics of their own given how successful Clarke was in the role.
HAS OLLIE FLORENT FOUND HIS CALLING AT HALF-BACK?
I thought he’d found his position as a wingman in 2021 – he seemed like the best man for the job. Great runner, good skills, never stops moving…. and then the Swans simply moved him to half-back and it was like he was born to play that role, as well.
Those who have read my stuff for a while know that I was always on about the effectiveness of the Swans when they keep Florent involved in the game. For mine, there were simply too many occasions where he had a disposal total in the teens as a wingman, and many of those games correlated with poor Sydney performances, but the move to defence saw him take the role very seriously, playing tightly and denying his man possession of the footy. Possessions mattered a lot less in that role, and it seemed to suit him.
He could have slotted in as the heir apparent to dual Skilton Medallist, Jake Lloyd, and been the peel-off player looking to rebound, but Florent embraced the defensive side of the game to the point where a return to the wing no longer seems like the right move.
The Swans have been blessed with players that can play multiple positions. Recently, we have seen that from both Florent and Justin McInerney, who we will cover in a little while. They also had Jordan Dawson on the books, who continued to play his “everywhere” role at Adelaide. Errol Gulden, Dylan Stephens, Isaac Heeney, Callum Mills… all are pieces of a puzzle that fit in multiple places.
Longmire seems determined to have an interchangeable set of parts to move around the park and with Florent making it apparent that he can take a role that was previously thought to be off the table, he adds to the depth at multiple positions for Sydney.
HOW LONG IS THE APPRENTICESHIP OF BRAEDEN CAMPBELL?
It might be a while, yet.
I heard a few Sydney supporters lamenting the fact that Braeden Campbell was spending the time he did play running off half-back, claiming that he should be inserted into the midfield mix to get reps under his belt in the position he will end up playing.
Those people have short memories.
Whilst I am ready to hear arguments for throwing kids into the middle, I love the way the Swans have gone about building their list over the last little while. They have done it with patience and with a vision, and the proof is in the pudding.
The best example of this patience is the way Callum Mills has refined his game to become one of, if not THE best two-way players in the game right now. His formative years were spent refining his craft as a half-back, just the way Campbell is being brought along, and if the club gets similar results this time around, it will be time well spent.
What we saw in 2022 across the league was a lesson in how to bring players along in a system, and how not to.
At Collingwood, you had Nick Daicos permitted to play the same role Campbell is allocated at Sydney, and Callum Mills occupied before him. That is the patient approach – the correct one. And then, you had Jason Horne-Francis at North Melbourne, hurled into the thick of the midfield action immediately and being found out as a result.
Not every player is Sam Walsh. It’s a lesson some clubs are forced to learn the hard way. Some players, too, apparently. It’s a lesson Sydney already understand.
If there are moments of frustration from Campbell, questioning whether he could get more of a run elsewhere, he does not have to look too far and wide to seek answers. All he has to do is look at his captain. Mills moved into the guts only after his body matured enough to take the hits and give them right back. He is a better player now – a more complete player – for his time spent in defence, and from taking a back seat to Sydney royalty, like Luke Parker and Josh Kennedy.
Now, it is Mills’ turn to impart some wisdom, and the first lesson being taught is good things come to those who wait. Campbell will be an excellent player. His left foot is a weapon impatient teams would kill for right now, but in Sydney it is a weapon that will fire the Swans out of defence and through the guts as he bites off some tough kicks and makes them.
And then… when he is ready, that is when he will shift into the midfield and truly make a big splash.
This ends the free component of the article. The next six or so thousand words are for our members. Want to join us?