Sydney v Hawthorn – The Big Questions

I’d like to tell you that I came into this game expecting a red-hot contest, but I am not a complete and utter liar.

The truth is that when I was asked how much of a headstart Hawthorn would need to have a chance against the Sydney Swans, the answer came quite easily – ten goals. And that was just to have a chance – not to win.

These teams are at vastly different points as AFL teams, with the Swans having gone about a rebuild in just about the most successful way possible – without bottoming out. The Hawks, well, they’re as bad as they have been in quite a while and it is going to take something pretty special for them not to be whacked every single week.

This week was not that week.

Sydney were a class or three above the Hawks. They were more desperate, better with the footy, better without it, and simply displayed both more urgency and composure at the same time. Crazy combination, huh? But it was true.

The Swans looked at this as a bit of a trial run for life without Buddy, with the champion goal kicker on the sidelines after a high hit on the Suns’ Sam Collins last week. And without their main target, it gave others the chance to shine.

And shine they did.

Three late goals to Hawthorn gave the scoreline a shred of respectability, but this was all Swans, all day long.

Let’s jump into The Mongrel’s Big Questions.



Earlier in the week, I wrote about the way the Swans would use this encounter to test their forward line of the future. The main man in that piece was Logan McDonald.

I may have missed Joel Amartey as part of the piece. What a goof, that was.

Whilst McDonald jumped out of the box for two early goals, it was Amartey getting the better of just about everyone on the park as he reacted faster on the quick kicks inside 50, worked up the ground as well, and generally made life extremely difficult for the Hawk defenders, who were so far outmatched that it wasn’t funny.

The last time Joel Amartey got this much attention would have been when his mates piled into the game to start the “Amartey Party” back in 2021. It’s clear that he has developed as a player since then, attacking the ball hard in the air and buttering up well at ground level.

His combination with McDonald gave the Swans nine goals, but it could have been double figures, with Amartey missing a gimme at one stage.

Life without Buddy is not something anyone is looking forward to… except maybe Sydney opponents, but when you see the young talent coming through to pick up the slack, I am sure Sydney supporters feel a little more secure about the future of their club. With Amartey and McDonald emerging to take the reins from Franklin, this Sydney attack, with Heeney and Papley lurking around like hyenas, has the potential to be a huge weapon for years to come.

And until then, they have one of the greatest forwards ever to play the game to come back into the side.



It was a strange one – not because I don’t like when coaches try something new, but rather because it was a clear case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

If you asked me to pick a winner in the Hawthorn team to halftime, Hardwick would have to be considered. When you factor in that Sydney were pulverising the Hawks, the fact that Hardwick had managed to restrict Tom Papley to no goals and just six touches gives you an indication as to how hard he was working.

So, when we saw him lining up as a forward to start the second half, I was surprised to see that Papley was now being given a free run inside 50. The results were as you’d expect.

Hardwick was ineffective as a forward, mainly because the footy was rarely in his vicinity, whilst Papley took the opportunity to get off the leash to pick up 11 touches and two goals in the second half, ending up as one of the Swans’ best after halftime.

Now, if you have a young team and want to experiment with the lineup, that’s one thing, but can any of you envision a world where Sam Mitchell plays Blake Hardwick as a forward for a period of longer than one game?

I sure as hell can’t, so it leads me to question why he’d entertain the thoughts of it now, when his efforts in defence were one of the very few aspects of the game where the Hawks could have claimed a minor victory.



Oh geez, there were so many, but the one that stood out the most to me was the ball movement from defence. The Swans seemed as though they were determined to get the footy moving as quickly and effectively as possible each and every time they had possession. From kick-ins, the give-and-go setup was used whenever there was an option, with a host of defenders like Nick Blakey, Dane Rampe, and Braeden Campbell happy to take the 25 metre chip kick, only to run and receive the handball back and take off down the field.

In effect, that tactic gained the Swans a tonne of metres as the player kicking in picked up two touches and would run and carry for 20+ metres, as well. It was a little too easy.

At the other end, the Hawks would also take that 25 metre chip kick, and… well, that’s about where things ended. There was nobody running for the overlap, nobody making good position in order to be the next in line, and when blokes like James Sicily marked in the back pocket, it was stagnant, slow, and predictable as to what was coming next – a 50 metre kick down the line to be killed or intercepted by the Swans.

It was in these moments you could tell the difference between a team that was well-drilled, used to playing with one another, and a team that was learning the ropes, attempting to keep the footy safe, and scared to take a risk, as whenever they did, it came undone.

The result saw the Hawks penned into their defensive half of the ground far too often and unable to do anything at all about it. It was a seasoned contender against a team of greenhorns.



Mills is the type of player that you know is doing his bit and then you finish the game, go over your notes and you realise how many times you’ve jotted his name down – sometimes for doing something big, like running forward and snagging a goal, and other times doing some of the harder stuff – putting his body on the line, winning the contested ball and making his outside runners look great, or just applying that little bit of pressure to cause a turnover, or make sure the kick is ineffective.

Sydney gave him the perfect apprenticeship, playing him off half-back for a while before unleashing him into the midfield. In the interim, he got to learn his craft from players like Luke Parker, Josh Kennedy, and Dan Hannebery at his peak.

He also inherited their selflessness, often moving the ball to positions that do not make him look like the star, but do make his teammates seem like they are.

A leader, a star, and a man who does not need the acclaim others in the league seem to, Callum Mills is the quintessential modern leader of a club. The Hawks need to find their own version of him, or hope that someone like Day, Josh Ward, or Cam Mackenzie morph into something akin to what Mills is in Sydney. He is just about the perfect player to lead a team.



The draft and free agency hunting. That’s about as clear as I can be.

I’ve heard Sam Mitchell speak about the group already having the core of the next premiership side, but it is so difficult to see at this point in time.

The commentators talked up James Worpel – he is out of contract and kicks like a mule.

Will Day showed a bit and looked good when moved into the centre. He’s also out of contract and has put talks on hold. Uh oh…

I’m not sure what Conor Nash is as a player, and Finn Maginness should either be tagging someone, or sitting on the bench – there is no real in-between for him at the moment.

And then we get to Jacob Koschitzke. I know he is only young, and that is his saving grace, but other players in the 22-23 age bracket include Darcy Fogarty and Aaron Naughton, with a younger cohort including players like Logan McDonald, Mitch Georgiades, and the King Brothers. I am not sure he is ready to make up ground on those guys at the rate required.

The Hawks may have a handful of players that will be part of the next era of success, but there is a heap of work to do with those guys, and a heap of players currently on the list that are definitely NOT going to be there when the Hawks rise again. Mitchell may have been premature in announcing the level of talent he believes he has at his disposal – he may have overestimated some.



The short answer is – wherever the hell he wants to play.

I know that’s a bit of a cop out, as there has to be a designated role for a player as talented as Errol, but at this point in time, he is genuinely the type of player who can be deployed anywhere and do a great job of it.

Put him in the middle – he’ll tear it up. Throw him out on the wing and he’ll torch a team on the outside. Try him at half-forward and he’ll hit the scoreboard, and try him on a half-back flank and you can expect the forwards to be licking their lips as he is released through the middle of the ground.

Taken in the same draft as Logan McDonald and Braeden Campbell, Gulden currently looks like the most rounded of the three, with his skill with the footy now matched by his hard run and strength in the contest. I kind of feel he ran out the second half of this game in second gear, having been one of the catalysts for the Swans’ big lead when the whips were cracking.

Actually, he was one of those who were cracking the whips in the first half – 15 touches of his 23 disposals coming before the main break.

Eventually, I can see him becoming one of those dreaded mid/forwards that everyone raves about, but until John Longmire settles on a spot for him to occupy regularly, Errol plays where Errol wants, and you’d have to be either slightly crazy, or a bit of a control freak to want to rein him in.



A yay from me, but a reserved one.

He had some nice moments, playing largely a lone hand in the ruck against Ned Reeves and Lloyd Meek. I suppose the fact that he was able to get into dangerous positions around the ground and had Reeves subbed out gives him the win, but there were a few instances where he had opportunities to capitalise on the situation, but made a poor choice – his double fist toward the line when an uncontested mark was on the cards just one of them.

Tom Hickey is a few weeks away, yet, and Ladhams will likely grow in confidence as the games tick by. I can genuinely see him and Hickey tag teaming in the ruck, but the form of blokes like Joel Amartey is going to make him earn his place. In rder to do that, he may have to drift forward a little more and hit the scoreboard. He is very capable of doing it and would add another dimension to the Swans’ forward line if he is able to snag a goal or two here and there.



The flag, baby!

I’ve been on this team for two years – their weaknesses are minimal and their core group of players, aged around 21-26 are getting better and better.

Someone I failed to note above was Justin McInerney, who kept his space all game long playing on the wing. Others in the role went kick chasing, but if you watch it back, check out the way McInerney does not overextend himself and get into positions where he is hurting his own team. When his teammates look up and need someone on the fat side of the ground, he is inevitably there.

That is team-first football.

He is not going to get into the best players list playing that type of footy, but close watchers of the game realise the value he adds. Why am I pointing this out?

Because this is how the whole Sydney team operates. They work FOR each other, as opposed to going into business for themselves. They run to position, they shepherd, they trust in each other to beat their direct opponent and they cover for each other when things go awry.

This time last season, I remember sitting back and watching this team for review. Immediately after the game, I declared this team could win the flag. I still believe this is the case. Sure, they have not encountered strong opposition just yet, but they have done it easy so so far in 2023 and any talk of this “runner-up hangover” has already been put to bed.

When the competition is down to the final four teams of the season, my bet is that the Swans will be right in the mix. And when you get to the Preliminary Final stage… anything can happen.




Not many quickies this week – the Swans were all over the Hawks.

Tom McCartin had some excellent moments. His one-on-one win against Luke Breust at ground level was indicative of how well this team went on the day.

Speaking of Breust, you could see how poorly the Hawks were going just by watching him – how often do you see him drop a chest mark?

Karl Amon was good on the wing. But was pushed back inside defensive 50 so often that he didn’t provide the inside 50 delivery the Hawks need from him.

James Sicily was nowhere near urgent enough – made Jack Lukosius look absolutely frantic in comparison.

No better sight in footy than Nick Blakey darting off half-back, but I reckon he left his compass at home, today. Ran into traffic a bit too often.

Loved Dylan Moore’s game – the Hawks were smart to lock him away. He is a gem.

And the defensive pairing of Ollie Florent, who basically did as he pleased, and Jake Lloyd, really cut the Hawks to shreds all game long.


That might do for me – as you can well see, I am on the Sydney bandwagon again. They are a high-quality unit. As for the Hawks, well, at the moment, they’re a very low-quality unit and watching their games this season will be a bit of a chore for all but the rusted-on fans.

Massive thanks for supporting The Mongrel – without you, there is no us.


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