GWS v Sydney – The Mongrel Review


The final result on the scorecard isn’t representative of how this game played out. GWS won, ultimately deservedly, but for the second home game in a row the Sydney Swans learned that if you don’t actively decide to win a football game, you are going to lose.

From the off, Sydney’s approach to the game felt arrogant. They have the better team on paper, even without half a defence, and (as we all know) games of football are played on paper. The vibe seemed to be that they rock up, hang out for four quarters, and at the end of it they collect their hard-earned win. Unfortunately for the boys in red and white, footy isn’t played on paper and wins don’t come off conveyer belts after fixed periods of time.

The first half felt like Sydney were playing with their food, and their food looked lively. One of GWS’ key strengths across their squad is their modularity, which can be a double-edged sword at times but was put to good effect here. This is as easy a jumping off point as any into


Zone Defence

It’s a hot topic in recent weeks – what’s a zone defence, why do teams play it, will it stop Nick Daicos, so on and so forth. For GWS, their zone allowed them to maximise their unique roster construction. Convoluted analogy time.

Across the backline, GWS have a bunch of blokes who are outstanding in one area but, on the whole, average (or above average, let’s give them some credit…)- like the first Pokemon team you ever built with a level 80 starter and a bunch of other critters who weren’t much use when you actually needed to call upon them. The easiest example is Nick Haynes. Nick Haynes is an incredible intercept mark, reads the play fantastically, and has defensive awareness to rival anyone in the AFL. Nick Haynes is also slow. Quick enough in a sprint, but turns slowly and is susceptible to being beaten face up. Nick Haynes is the bloke you want in a 1v1 or sweeping across as the extra man, but he’s not the bloke you want following Buddy Franklin up the ground. Enter Callum Brown. Callum Brown is a bulldog. He’ll get in your area and make life hard for you in the open field, but up against someone craftier in finite space he struggles. With those players understanding their assignments and the triggers for each, the GWS defence stifled a Sydney team who weren’t able to create and exploit mismatches.


Beating a Zone Defence

Sydney didn’t seem too concerned about the zone defence (see aforementioned arrogance). They were down five points at quarter time, down 10 at the half, but y’know, the better team wins the game. Famous maxim. Something changed at half-time.

I don’t know what John Longmire told the boys in the rooms. Maybe he said that they’ve gotta win the game to win the game. Maybe he said that GWS have been presenting their throats to be stepped on (metaphorically) and it’s time to go up the gears and take advantage of that fact. At the end of the day, the third quarter is where the Swans nearly won the game. It’s also where they lost it.

Sorry for the tangent.

Long story short, you beat a zone by outpacing a zone. The zone relies on players being able to read the play to comprehend where they should be, and if you can catch them by surprise or catch a player out, you can make them pay. Case in point, Sydney scored five of their six goals in the quarter from turnovers.

I don’t want to take anything away from either team here. In this third quarter, Sydney played like a team who’d found the solution- and in many ways, they had. Turn the ball over, score the ball, win the game. Their squad is built to play on the run, play fast, and the players are intelligent and tactically versatile enough that this GWS system was something that they should’ve absolutely run over. The problem is that it did work, they saw it work, and they didn’t do enough about it- 3 goals in the first five minutes resulted in only six for the term, with GWS’ two late goals turning a dominant quarter into a 12 point three quarter time lead.


The Shootout

GWS knew how many defenders Sydney were missing, but more importantly, Sydney knew how many defenders Sydney was missing. When you’re playing a team with a depleted backline, you feel like it’s going to be easier to score and you might take more chances as a result, and it felt like GWS did. The modularity in their forward line means they have no true tall forward, in the conventional sense, but meant they could play Greene, Hogan, Cadman, Perryman at the tip of the spear while letting the rest swirl around them. If you’re Sydney, you should know that you’re probably going to concede more than you do on average, which means you probably need to score more than you do on average to get over the line. At no point did it feel like that realisation actualised itself on the ground. Sydney scored the first two of the final quarter- and three of the first four- meaning they had a 23-point lead after 10ish minutes.

That’s normally the game dead and buried, and another goal probably would’ve done that- but there’s a complacency that feels like it’s becoming baked into this Sydney team that means that they were content to hold on to the win rather than play like a team up four goals and gallop home.


Four Points In the Bag

I don’t want to harp on about the complacency, the arrogance, whichever is the most relevant simile. Don’t like to be too negative. Don’t want to sound like a disappointed Swans fan. However, as a disappointed Swans fan, it bleeds in a bit.

The hottest take I have on this game is that John Longmire thought he’d won this game before the first bounce. The Giants haven’t been good, Sydney haven’t been playing to their ceiling, they’ve got Collingwood next. It should be a walk, so he’d be forgiven for having an eye on next week and trying some shit. What shit? Ryan Clarke tagging Lachie Whitfield. Aaron Francis as an unspecified defender.

Lachie Whitfield isn’t Nick Daicos, but it felt like Horse was treating him as a sharpener for Sydney’s premier tagger. Get your practice in on Whitfield in an easy win, do the hard work next week. Not how this unfolded at all.


‘Squad Players’

If you don’t watch a lot of GWS- and I’m prepared to contradict myself in the next subheading- you might not know the level of some of the players in the squad. Maybe not the right phrasing, but they’re a classic team whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and I want to draw attention to a couple of blokes who (dog whistle alert) would get significantly more praise if they were at a bigger club.

Brent Daniels doesn’t explode off the stat sheet, but explodes off the screen. One of GWS’ roaming pack of medium-sized forwards, averages 3.3 tackles and almost two goals, but what really stands out is his straight-line pace. It’s an old hockey adage that you can’t teach size, but for a player like Brent Daniels he always seems to have more impact with his disposal because he gets separation from his man as quickly as anyone in the competition, and knows what to do with it. Kicked a truly important goal late in the third.

On the other end of the spectrum, Lachie Ash is an absolute hoover off half-back. Dips into midfield, wins his own ball, and on broadcast goes from ‘who’s that bloke again?’ to ‘oh it’s bloody Lachie Ash again’ in a quarter and a half, at worst.

I know you know that Josh Kelly’s a good footballer. Do you know exactly how good a footballer Josh Kelly is? He’s got numbers that rival anyone in the comp, excels in all areas, passes the eye test with flying colours. He’s one of those players that’s just enough in the discourse that you feel like he can’t be underrated, but… Josh Kelly’s underrated.


Toby F. Greene and the F is for-

Told ya. Contradiction time. You’ve gotta watch GWS’ other guys, but this fourth quarter was all about Toby Greene.

Every subsequent storyline runs through Toby Greene, in much the same way GWS do. From the off, he played to the occasion and played like he knew exactly what he needed to do for this team to get the win- which was everything.

Quick stat sheet breakdown – four goals straight, 11 contested possessions, 11 score involvements, six inside 50s, two frees won, two centre clearances won. And a partridge in a pear tree, might as well.

I feel like he woke up this morning like a kid on Christmas in a Hollywood movie. Went to sleep in his kit, screamed around the house that it’s the big day. At his best, Toby Greene is a mismatch nightmare, the kind of bloke that can cause any defender fits. Against this significantly depleted defence, he played like he knew that no matter who Sydney threw at him, he could blitz 1-on-1 and create something. It’s one thing to know that, intuitively- I feel like he feels like he could beat anyone all the time- it’s another thing to go out there and do it. Such was the quality of Greene’s game that I felt like he would’ve been a worthy winner of the Brett Kirk Medal even while the Swans were three goals up halfway through the fourth, before he kicked two of his four for the day, including the winner. Absolute mammoth game from the GWS skipper, who’s only coming into his own.



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