Life After Buddy – How The Young Swans Forwards Can Take Over The AFL


After the Sydney Swans Elimination Final loss last year, the focus immediately switched to 2024 and, inevitably, how they would replace their champion key forward.

In what seemed to be a yearly conversation in AFL circles as to whether he would stay or go, Buddy Franklin finally called an end to his career in 2023. Whilst many thought he played on a year too long, Franklin was a crucial part of the Swans forward structure, always taking the best defender, whilst also hitting the scoreboard, himself.

However, after he was injured early in their Round 20 clash with Essendon, the Swans went on to secure an unlikely finals berth as their forward line looked more dynamic without him. This raises the question, how will the Swans tall forwards line-up in 2024?

On the surface level, we can’t expect many changes to the forward line that started the Elimination Final against Carlton in 2023, but with the age of the Swans tall forwards and another preseason under their belt, the expectations should be drastically higher.


The Young Trio


Logan McDonald

Leading the forward line for the Swans is West Australian product, Logan McDonald. The number four pick in the 2020 draft, hopes are that he can emerge as one of the top forwards in the AFL. Strong on the lead and an extremely accurate kick for goal, McDonald had his best season in a Swans jumper in 2023, kicking 32 goals and averaging career highs in almost every statistical metric.

Now, the pressure is on the youngster to show his ability to lead a forward line. With talks of a major contract offer coming from Fremantle at the end of the season, it is clear that many across the AFL see potential in the 21-year-old.

So how does he improve into 2024?

Well, he is now going to see the best opposition defender each week, so hopefully ‘iron sharpens iron’ and we get to see some excellent battles throughout the season. A one-on-one match-up with two-time All-Australian Steven May in Round One is the ultimate test for any key forward and offers a great chance to showcase how he has improved in the off-season.

He clearly thrives on being the number one target inside 50 as demonstrated by his record with and without Buddy in the side. Averaging 1.9 goals without the star forward in 2023, his goals per game drop to 1.3 when Franklin was in the side. This is a good sign heading into 2024.

His endurance is a strength, as is his contested marking, so look for him to draw intercepting defenders out of the defensive 50 as he proves that the role of a key forward isn’t just kicking goals. However, with his booming right-foot kick, McDonald should take note from the great key forwards of old and back his routine from anywhere inside 55.

With first class service inside 50 coming from the likes of Errol Gulden, Chad Warner and Braeden Campbell, McDonald should have plenty of chances to expose opposition defences in 2024.


Joel Amartey

Working alongside McDonald in the forward line is 24-year-old Joel Amartey. With hamstring injuries plaguing his career so far, Amartey played more matches in 2023 than all of his previous seasons combined, as he became a critical part of the Swans forward-line.

The most athletic of the tall contingent at the Swans, Amartey has an excellent contested marking game. Initially brought into the side as a part-time ruckman, it is clear that Amartey does his best work inside 50.

He managed three bags of four goals in 2023, against Hawthorn, West Coast and Essendon. But on two of those occasions, he scored all four before halftime with his endurance a clear weakness of the forward who would regularly go missing after halftime and was often the victim of being substituted.

Hilariously, he became the first person to poll three Brownlow votes after being subbed off at halftime in that match against Hawthorn, but arguably his most important role comes in impacting his direct opponent.

In the Round 21 encounter against the Giants, Amartey was able to completely nullify the influence of arguably the game’s best backman, Sam Taylor by demanding the football and therefore not allowing Taylor to drift off and do what he does best.

As a low possession player, this may be his best way of impacting the game; demanding the footy early and forcing the defender to man up. With three talls, the Swans are set to stretch opposition defences. Forcing the intercept defender to play one-on-one will create more opportunities for himself and teammates around him.

After a disappointing finish to 2023, Amartey will be out to prove his doubters wrong this season in what shapes as a make-or-break season for the forward.


Hayden McLean

The final third of this young trio is South Australian product, Hayden McLean. Arguably the greatest improver at the Swans in 2023, McLean started the season with doubts over his position in the side. However, as the season progressed, it became apparent how important he was to the team.

Picked primarily as a tall forward, McLean was forced to spend plenty of time in the ruck last season as a result of constant injuries to Tom Hickey and the rest of their tall stocks. Back in Round 18, the decision to use McLean as a sole ruckman was one of the turning points in the Swans’ season. By playing McLean in the ruck, the Swans were more dynamic around the ground, as his excellent work in contested marking contests often caught out the opposition ruckman.

By the time that Tom Hickey returned to the Swans’ side, it was apparent that McLean had gained invaluable experience from his time in the ruck. A career-high four goal effort against the Giants in Round 21 was a match-winning effort, whilst his 17 disposals and 12 marks against the Blues in the Elimination Final were a key reason why the Swans almost pulled off an unlikely comeback win.

Heading into 2024, expect McLean’s role to differ slightly with the recruitment of Brodie Grundy. Whilst McLean will still give Grundy a breather, expect Grundy to do much more work around the ground, allowing McLean to settle into his work in the forward line.

After such an impressive finish to the season and his spot in the side no longer under pressure each week, McLean should be getting to another level in 2024.


The Rest

As with any side, key position depth is one of the most important things on an AFL list and the Swans felt that last season as their injury list mounted early in the season last year.


Jack Buller

The Swans also have young tall, Jack Buller, on their list. He was picked up in the mid-season draft last season. After bursting on the scene with five goals in his first VFL game for the club, the 22-year-old was given his debut less than two weeks after being drafted. However, gathering just two possessions against the Brisbane Lions, it was clear that Buller wasn’t up to the level of AFL competition just yet.

With his first full preseason under his belt, Buller offers the most room for improvement heading into 2024. The tallest of the young group, his form in the seconds to start the season will set the tone for his future place in the side.


Peter Ladhams

Arguably one of the most disappointing trades in recent history for the Swans, South Australian, Peter Ladhams has failed to find any form since his move from Port Adelaide in 2021. Often criticised for his effort and decision-making, Ladhams has regularly found himself in trouble as a result of showing too much aggression.


… Ladhams also shows plenty of promise in what could be an excellent partnership with Brodie Grundy. Although many may see Ladhams only making the side if Grundy gets injured, it has been clear at times that the 26-year-old plays better as a pinch-hitting ruckman, whilst he sits forward clunking marks inside 50.

With Lachlan McAndrew the main ruckman in the VFL side, Ladhams should be developing his skill set as a forward that provides an advantage when heading into the ruck against poorer opposition back-ups.

It is known in footy that sitting over 200cm always guarantees you extra time on a list, but that time is running out for Ladhams, who needs to show something early on this season.


Sam Reid

Unlike the rest of this young tall forward line, 32-year-old Sam Reid is reaching the twilight of his career, yet his impact upon the club could arguably be the most important.

After missing the whole of the 2023 season, many were surprised when the veteran re-signed with the club for 2024. A critical part of the 2022 side that made the Grand Final, a lot is forgotten about his role in the side due to his absence. Whilst he is not expected to start the season in the best 22, expect most of Reid’s impact to come off the field as he educates the younger contingent.

However, injuries happen, and Reid might not be as far down the pecking line as expected. If Buller and Ladhams aren’t showing enough in the VFL, you know exactly what you are going to get from Reid, who has been a reliable servant across his Swans career.

In most likely his last season in the AFL, we might get one last run from Reid, who will be keen to make up for the 2022 Grand Final.


How high is the ceiling in 2024?


Well, with a supporting cast of All-Australian’s Isaac Heeney, Tom Papley and Luke Parker, what is stopping the Swans from having the most feared attack in the competition? With moves in the off-season addressing their poor clearance numbers in 2023, expect more opportunities inside 50. Another year of development for their tall unit should see them stretch defences further, as well.

Whilst many Swans fans may have hopes for Logan McDonald to kick a certain number of goals or Hayden McLean to collect 10+ marks every week, the success of the Swans forward line will come down to how they work as a unit. Every opposition defence has their own strengths, but this Swans attack has enough quality and variety to challenge every side in 2024.