The Sin City Swans – Finals Preparation, or Form Slump?

(This is the first in a series of articles analysing the teams who will have a big say in September action. Whichever team sits second at the completion of Round 19 will be the next club dissected and scrutinised. Note: I am declaring now – I am Swans supporter, and as much as I may try, my SMFC bias will be present in this article.)


The Sin-City Swans

Finals Preparation or a Form Slump


A wise man once said, sending a text to anyone at 3am in the morning is never a good idea, as is posting a rant about your team as the final siren blows.

Guilty as charged on both accounts at some point or another.


Sydney Since their Bye

Before the Swans’ bye in Round 13, they were the ‘it’ team, on a seven-game winning streak, monstering all opponents at will, with their only loss coming courtesy of a determined and dogged Richmond team.

The Swans winning streak extended to ten games after the bye, with substantial wins over Geelong, Adelaide and the Giants as the Swannies extended their break on the ladder to three wins and a massive percentage advantage over the rest of the competition. Effectively, given Sydney’s percentage, they were four games clear on top of the ladder.


In the Round 15 win over the Giants, Fox Commentator Gary Lyon, described the Swans win as a ‘super-win’, but I questioned myself as to whether we had watched the same game? To my eye there were real concerns in the manner Sydney were playing. Winning covers up a myriad of problems, but sooner or later the cracks will be big enough for all to see.


The Cracks 


  • Slow Starts

Geelong (I sent a message to HB in the first quarter that this was reminding me of the 2022 Granny) and Adelaide both had Sydney on toast at quarter time in their respective matches, while the Giants briefly hit the front in the second quarter in what started out as a dour struggle. In all three matches the Swans gave their opponents a sniff. The first crack, the Swans were gettable early.


  • Playing only 40 minutes of footy

All really good teams have the ability to find another gear and bury their opponents in a sudden flurry of awe-inspiring brutal footy. Think of Melbourne after half-time in the 2021 decider, or Geelong in the first quarter of their premiership triumph over the Swans in 2022.

In all three of the Swans post bye victories, they buried their opposition from late in the second quarter to about midway through the third. Bang, Bang, Bang, game over! There was a predictability about the Swans game plan, and unlike Garry Lyon, I viewed the Sydney style as being problematic, as what would happen if and when an opposition team applied real pressure for an entire game.

The question I had was after the GWS game was what happens when Sydney must play an entire game and graft out a victory?


  • Comfortable and Complacent 

If the term ‘drinking your own bathwater’ could be applied to the Swans, it was in the last quarter of the game against the GWS when the Swans took their foot of the throat of the Giants and allowed them to comfortably win the last quarter. Yes, the Swans won by 27-points, and yes, they looked great as they swamped the Giants in the middle quarters, but they didn’t finish the job. It was an okay win, but not a ‘super-win’.

It may seem harsh to criticise a team on a winning streak, but Geelong, Adelaide and the Giants all exposed different cracks in the Swans’ game plan, even though they were all comprehensively beaten. To the naked eye, Sydney looked destined to continue their winning streak, but the cracks were just below the surface.

Unlike the Undertaker, the Swans Streak ended at a club record high of ten wins. The bubble had to burst at some point, but it was one ‘Hell Yeah’ of a ride for all Swans supporters to start the season.


Enter Justin Longmuir and his Dockers

I heard people say after the Swans loss to the Dockers, ‘it was the loss they needed’. I don’t agree with that bull, and it is an insult to the Justin Longmuir and his band of Purple Merrymen. Longmuir orchestrated the Big Steal in their Round 16 victory over the Swans. The irrepressible key ball handlers of the Swans, Heeney, Gulden and Warner, were not only shutdown, but the Purple Hazes midfielders excelled rebounding off them.

Longmuir’s plan worked perfectly, well except for the Lizard Nick Blakey, who almost singlehandedly stole the game from the Dockers grasped. As good as Longmuir’s game plan was, the Dockers still only won by a point, and that was after a dreadful miss by Logan McDonald after the siren.

I’m not sure which team learned more about the other from that match. Fremantle played the near perfect game, while half the Sydney team had their worst performances for the year. I hope they meet again in September as it will be a ripper of a final.


What happened at Marvel against the Saints after half-time?

St Kilda have a habit of exposing the Sydney Swans. In the last game of 2022, the Swans and Saints faced off in Daniel Hannebery’s last game. Hannebery, a former Swans champion topping up his superannuation in his last year at St Kilda (a lot of Saints supporters don’t believe they got bang for their buck with Hannebery), so it was probably appropriate it was Hannebery’s game that day that nearly dragged the Saints over the line after being a mile behind. St Kilda didn’t win that day, but Hannebery and his mates exposed a major flaw in the Swans gameplan that was opened up by Collingwood in the last quarter of the 2022 Preliminary Final, and then ripped apart by a ruthless Geelong in the Grand Final a week later.

Last Sunday the Saints applied continuous pressure on the Swans in the second half of the match and came from over six goals behind to hold the Swans goalless in the last quarter and record a narrow two-point victory. I’ll repeat that, Sydney was held to three goals in the third quarter and was goalless in the last quarter as the Saints over ran them.

Why? How?

Simple answer to above is, the Swans just didn’t have the legs after halftime. Without underestimating the performance of the Saints who got a sniff and then willed themselves to victory, the Swans looked and played flat, and for the second week running, Logan McDonald again had the chance to ice a late victory. At least he was closer to kicking a goal this time.


Three Losses by a combined total of eight points 

In 2022 and 2023 Collingwood made an artform out of winning close matches, which carried them through the finals last year and to ultimate glory. The Pies refused to loss close matches, whereas Sydney this year have lost their three matches by five points, one point and two points. In some ways, it is a real first world problem, but the Swans had the chance to win all three and it may be a problem that could haunt them in September.

With seven weeks left in the season, the Swans will get the chance to atone and win a close match.

As a biased supporter for one moment, I would probably prefer for the Swans to be beaten by four or five goals if they are having an off day rather than having a trio of narrow losses. Narrow losses not only hurt, but they say a lot about a team’s character.


Has Sydney Upped their training loads?

In 2021, 2022 and 2023, Melbourne, Geelong and Collingwood knew from a long way out they had enough wins under the belt that they could start preparing for September in late July or early August without fear of missing out on the coveted two home finals. Successful clubs often talk about upping their training loads sometime after the midseason in a bid to be primed for September, and it is likely the Swans are in different training sphere to the clubs directly below them who ‘must’ train week to week to keep winning just to maintain their ladder position.

The hierarchy at the Swans would never say it publicly, but with the confidence of being two games and percentage on top, the Swans could already be in an upped training regime preparing for September. Other than the players being tired from the training track, it is hard to fathom the Bloods non-Bloods performance in the second half against St Kilda.

Being biased again for a paragraph, I said to a mate at the start of the year that as much pleasure as the Swans have given me in 2005 and 2012, I want just one year where they are the ‘it’ team. The Swans are presently on top with games to spare, and in a position to prepare early to have a real tilt at September glory. In most aspects my club is exactly where I want them to be, but as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.


Hardening the Playing Group for September

2024 is the longest season in AFL history, so issues such as player fatigue, form loss, injury, and other factors need to be handled differently than in the past. Sydney is in a unique position where they can start to manage players, reintroduce a couple of well-seasoned players, as well experiment with fringe players to verify who will make a point of difference in September.

Come the end of the season, the Swans should have a list of around 30 players ready for selection during the finals. It is important the players who are on the edge of selection are kept hungry just in case they are called up. For example, Brodie Grundy is possibly the most important player in the Sydney line-up given his impact this year, however Peter Ladhams (who owes the club after suspension late last year) needs to be ready to step in to replace Grundy if something untoward happens to him, or if Horse wants to use him as a second ruckman if Hayden McLean misses a game or two.


Callum Mills, Luke Parker, Issac Heeney and Joel Amartey and Logan McDonald

Issac Heeney has just been suspended for a week, however, even if he was not suspended, he looks like he needs a rest for a week just to be freshened up. The week off will prevent him from winning the Brownlow, but it may be a blessing in disguise.

(Omen: in 1996 Corey McKernan was the first player ruled ineligible for the Brownlow because of suspension when he tied with Michael Voss and James Hird on 21 votes, however it barely made a ripple to North Melbourne’s dominant performance on Grand Final day.)

Callum Mills (captain) and Luke Parker (former captain) will most likely return this week against North Melbourne, which begs the question which players will be dropped or rested? At this stage Heeney is a given to miss, but I also reckon Joel Amartey should be given a rest for a week or two.

Sydney’s forward line has lacked a bit of mongrel all year, which was more than evident against the Saints last weekend when they needed a warrior, a player who could just tough it out and force his will on the game. Luke Parker is one tough hombre, and having not played a senior game due to injury and a stupid suspension (what was he doing playing in the Magoos?) this year, he will be hungry to get his hands on the leather and rip a game apart.

With Parker returning to the forward line, it gives Horse a bit of flexibility to rest his young forwards who have struggled in the last couple of weeks, especially Joel Amartey and Logan McDonald.

Joel Amartey’s AFL career has come ahead in leaps and bounds this year, highlighted by a career high 9 goals against the Crows just four weeks ago, but he is still a young player and in the last couple of weeks he has struggled a bit to find touch. It is a long season and it may be wise with Parker returning to give Amartey a complete week or two off just to freshen up, and then the same deal for Logan McDonald. Amartey and McDonald are vital cogs in the post Buddy era, and it would be wise to have them as fresh as possible for September.

Luke Parker adds real mongrel.

Callum Mills adds leadership.

Sydney needs their captain, Mad Monday Mills, on the field and playing again. It was self-evident last weekend that as good as the Swans back six have been this year, old man Dame Rampe needs a chop out in the leadership role up back. In the last quarter most of the Swans’ backline were caught in the headlights as the Saints over-ran them, and they needed their Captain on the field to steer the ship and stop the rot.

Callum Mills is to Sydney what Patrick Cripps is to Carlton, or Zach Merrett is to Essendon, a leader who will take his team on his back and carry them over line if required. Other clubs may talk about injury woes in 2024, but Callum Mills is the missing link Sydney need up and running as their on-field leader.


Hayden McLean

The obvious benefit of Brodie Grundy playing at the Swans this year has been his delivery to the midfielders and smalls, but his presence on the ground has also been beneficial for Hayden McLean. If there was an award for Sydney’s Most Improved Player this year, then McLean would be a mile in front.

McLean, circa 2024, has toughened his body up, and obviously worked on his endurance to become an around the ground big man who can take timely contested marks, as well as kicking a few sausages when he gets the chance. McLean started his apprenticeship well under Buddy, but the learnings he is taking from Grundy this year has been the finishing school he needed.


Papley, start being Papley AGAIN

Some players are meant to be selfish and take the game on with coaches and other players understanding their risk for reward approach to the game outweighs any negativity. Tom Papley is playing a nice team game this year, in a team full of players playing a nice team game, but he needs to be more selfish.

Players like Papley get themselves into trouble when they start to second guess what the team orientated thing is to do. Since the Preliminary Final in 2022, as the Pap was seemingly running into an open goal, when for reasons unbeknown, he decided to try to pass the ball to a player in a better position, which failed horribly, and it led Collingwood rebounding the turnover and kicking the first of their comeback goals. Papley often gets himself into trouble attempting to do the right team thing.

Much like Stevie J, Tom Papley is an instinct first player, especially near goal, such players are rare in the AFL, and it is time Horse gave him a full licence to be selfish.


Chad, Errol, Tay Tay, Rowie, Issac and Brodie

Warner, Gulden, Adams, Rowbottom, Heeney, and Grundy have been the mainstays of the Swans midfield success this year, and it is hard not to talk about one without mentioning the others, yet over the last couple of weeks one and at times all have had games or moments in games where they have gone missing. It happens to all players in a long and arduous year, but what needs to change to prevent these lapses in form becoming a habit?

Last weekend Horse started Adams as the sub, and when he came on the last quarter, he had a real impact picking up eight last quarter possessions. I see a role for Adams (along with Parker) in September as being the Super-Sub/s, a player who can come onto the ground and have an immediate impact and change the course of a game.

The star midfielders are going to be tagged or have an off day occasionally and this is where pressure needs to be placed on Braeden Campbell, Sam Wicks, Robbie Fox and Max Roberts to start to earn their keep and place in the team by stepping up to the mark and filling the void when one of the stars is being held. I have not included Tom Papley, Ollie Florent, James Jordan or Justin McInerney as they naturally know when it is their time to go, and they will give a chop out in the centre to ease the pressure on the regular midfielders when required.

Before I forget, James Jordon, who came to Sydney at a Bargain Basement price has more than paid his way this year and in the process, he has helped revitalised the popularity of taggers in season 2024.


Sydney’s Wildcards

Tom Papley, Brodie Grundy, Issac Heeney, Chad Warner, Errol Gulden, Will Hayward, the Lizard Nick Blakey, and even Jake Lloyd are the Swans obvious wildcard players who can turn a game in a matter of minutes with their sheer brilliance. As much as the wildcards win matches, they still need the ever-reliable players like Lewis Melican, Tom McCartin, Dame Rampe, James Jordan, James Rowbottom, Ollie Florent and others to fulfil their role within the team so they can flourish – the flash needs stability for it to flourish.

Late last year Collingwood’s Bobby Hill and Oleg Markov became Pie immortals based purely on their September performances – they were the Maggies unknown wildcards who performed above and beyond on the biggest stage. In 2012, Swans journeyman Mitch Morton, played a wildcard cameo role late in the match that helped seal the 2012 Premiership, so who are the unknown wildcard players on Sydney’s list?

A few weeks ago, HB Meyers wrote a piece about the most disappointing player/s on each teams list, and while Peter Ladhams was easy to identify as the Swans most disappointing, the other name he mentioned was Braeden Campbell. Campbell’s name took me by surprise, until I thought about it.

It is about time Campbell stepped out hiding in the shadows of the superstars in the team and played to his true potential. In no way am I saying he is not trying, but more like he is mentioned in a list of other players like Roberts, Fox, Wicks and Angus Sheldrick (this kid is really good) as having potential, in much the same way Amaertey, McDonald and McLean were always mentioned in the same breath, until McLean raised his game to another level. It is time for Braeden Campbell to become a senior player.

In an 18-team competition the Swans may never have another year like they are having this year, so if a player is to leave their imprimatur on the club, then this is the year to do it. In ten years, nobody will remember or care if you were the kid with potential, so it is now or never.

If, and it is a huge ‘if’ at Round 17, the Swans do win the flag I am tipping Braeden Campbell and Angus Sheldrick (currently injured) to be the surprise packets of September. The other player who may be a wildcard is the veteran Sam Reid, who probably only has a handful of games left in him. Reid must be hungry to frank his career with another Premiership medal.


Why the Swans can’t/won’t win the 2024 Flag?

In 2016, the Swans ran into a Bulldogs team that was riding the crest of every wave it could find that September, and while favoured to win the flag, the Swans succumbed to an inspired Bulldogs team. Nothing is guaranteed in September, and favourites can get beaten on any given day.


The Romance of the Blues, Bombers, Dockers and Giants

There is already a romance building in Melbourne that Carlton may win it’s first flag since 1995. A friend of mine declared recently Patrick Cripps deserves a Premiership Medal and was most taken aback when I said no players deserves a Premiership Medal, they must earn it on the day. Such sentiments scare any Swan supporter given the media hype around Dangermouse and Selwood in 2022. I still have nightmares about 2022 of Selwood walking out on the ground holding Ablett’s baby daughter – at that point right there I knew the Swans were stuffed before the ball had even been bounced.

Unless it is a Sydney v Geelong Grand Final, and using the assumption the Swans make the Grand Final, they will most likely face a team who have a sense of occasion and romanticism surrounding their appearance in the Big Dance. It is hard to think of any scenario whereby the Swans would the sentimental favourites, so if the Swans are to overcome any romanticised hype, they must have a Hawthorn-like business approach to the Grand Final and ignore any outside noise.


Complete Form Loss

Melbourne 2022, and the Power last year, are examples of teams who had huge winning streaks during the year only to lose all form and shape in the finals. It can happen, but history suggests teams on top of the ladder at the end of Round 16 will make it through to at least Preliminary Final week.

Technically the Swans only need another win to guarantee a finals spot, while 3, maybe 4 wins would be the minimum required to finish on top. Sydney has a huge advantage over the rest of the competition being way in front of the pack at this time of the year. The Swans primary concern should be priming themselves for September.

Let’s not forget this time last year when people started writing Collingwood off when their win/loss ratio varied a bit heading towards September, totally forgetting their only concern was winning the flag.


Injuries, and I mean key Injuries

Most players are replaceable to a certain degree, but there are players on every club’s list who are non-negotiables when it comes to team balance. Just think about how the Doggies would perform without the Bont, so, injuries or suspension to the key players can, unfortunately, kill off any clubs September dreams.



There is no question the Swans will make the finals, and likely finish on top. Having said that, the players and the coaching staff are now facing the hardest challenge of their collective careers. The Swans must keep on improving internally or the competition will pass them by very quickly.

Finally, a form slump at this time of the year is not necessarily critical (if two losses by a combined total of three points can be called a form slump), but lessons need to be learned. As the saying goes, don’t get beat by what you know.

I tip the Swans to make the Grand Final against either Carlton, Fremantle or Brisbane, however I am not ruling out an inspired Essendon or GWS making a huge statement in September, and as the saying goes, write Geelong off at your own peril.