The decade of the 2010s has been dominated by two football clubs who have formed one of the great modern-day rivalries – Hawthorn and the Sydney Swans. No football club has known premiership success this decade like the Hawks, who have become the first team to win three consecutive premierships in an eighteen-team national competition.
While, no football club has known Grand Final heartbreak this decade like the Swans of Sydney. The Swans claimed the ultimate prize against the Hawks in the 2012 modern day Grand Final epic – “off the boot of the bearded Malco!” – per James Brayshaw’s brilliant radio commentary on Triple M. But when the two powerhouses met in football’s grandest day again just two years later it was a completely different story. It was not the tight tussle of 2012 but a sixty-three point thumping by the Hawks smack bang in the middle of their historic three-peat.
The Swans were embarrassed on the big stage in 2014 as Hawthorn, led by a captain on his way to a second Norm Smith Medal in the form of Luke Hodge, put the game just about beyond doubt at half time.
Two years later, Sydney returned to the last Saturday in September as hot favourites but the football universe had other ideas granting the Sons of the West their first flag since 1954, on a day that was more fairytale than football. And of course, the epic Sydney-West Coast Grand Finals of the mid-2000s are fresh in the minds of all Swans fans – and footy fans for that matter – with Sydney falling short by a solitary point in 2006 after getting over the line thanks to Leo Barry’s stardom the year prior.
The Swannies’ finals heartbreak has not just been restricted to Grand Final day since 2009, which extraordinarily is the last year Sydney failed to qualify for the major round. There was a preliminary final loss to Fremantle in 2013, and a multitude a Semi Final exits; a five-point heartbreaker to the Western Bulldogs in 2010, Hawthorn in 2011, North Melbourne in 2015 and Geelong in 2017. There is a reason why the Bloods have bled so much in September – it is because they are always bloody there!
This year will be Sydney’s fifteenth finals campaign in sixteen years. That is simply incredible. To put that into perspective, in this time Australia has had 11,467 different Prime Ministers, yet only John Howard has lasted a single term.
We have learnt time and time again never to right the Swans off. Last year, we did it after Round 6 when Sydney was winless and friendless, much to the shock of the football world. We seemingly had no choice but to draw a line through the then-cellar dwellers. The result? The red and white stormed home to win fourteen over the last sixteen games of the Home and Away season. They didn’t just make the finals; they qualified for a home final – in which they smashed Essendon.
Fast-forward to four weeks ago, one foolish mongrel, who shall remain nameless, declared that they would not win a game for the rest of the season and would miss the finals all together in his seemingly faulty ladder predicator. Of course, Sydney won three of their last four games and gained another home final. The one they lost? Was to their old friends, the Hawks, naturally.
There are so many parallels to Sydney and Hawthorn, the two clubs regarding as the pinnacles of sustainable success and good management in the modern game. However, their biggest similarity is their shared favourite son and the football world’s best buddy, Lance Franklin. Franklin is one of the best players to grace an oval this century, continually demonstrating just how he is capable of the impossible; whether that be long bombs from god knows where, breathtaking boundary line brilliance in a blink, kicking in a ton in an era when it supposedly couldn’t be done, or being appointed as All Australian captain despite never actually being a captain.
Since crossing from the Hawks, Buddy has never been on the premiership dais, yet has twice looked on to witness the Bulldogs and his ex-Hawthorn teammates hold up the holy grail. This has led to some ludicrous statements suggesting that Sydney’s recruitment of Franklin has been a failure as he has yet to bring a flag to the Harbor City, as if the cost of the free agent’s recruitment was a premiership.
On Saturday afternoon, Lance Franklin and the Swans take on their little brother in AFL New South Wales expansion, the Greater Western Sydney Giants. This was the team Franklin was supposed to be playing for. Their colours and guernsey are the what he was supposed to be wearing on Western Sydney billboards. However, Franklin and his management throttled 12 months of the AFL’s marketing arm’s assignment, by pulling the rug out from underneath them and signing a record breaking $10 million contract with Sydney, through the use of the very benefits the AFL provided them with – which have now been duly stripped from them.
Franklin has not granted Sydney in automatic premiership. But he has given them the crowd pleaser of a lifetime, the marketer’s dream and provided highlight after highlight after highlight for the red and white. So, on Saturday will Buddy show the Giants what they make missed out on yet again – and in a month’s time will he give them the premiership he is destined to provide?
Success without the ultimate success leads to heartbreak, but at some stage they’ll be the ones breaking hearts. Write them off now, but do so at your peril. Just when you think the Swans are finished, they find an extra gear and defy their critics.
But have they got it in them to go again? And go a step further?
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