The Swans thoroughly improved in a more competitive 2022 season. Comparative to 2021, the top eight could have gone any which way, yet Sydney claimed a top four berth.
Sydney’s young list of rising stars held their own, developing to a new level. A relatively surprising sixth-place finish last season was only outdone in 2022.
Finishing position: Third (16 wins, six losses – Grand Final)
With the seventh oldest list in 2022, the Swans relied on youth and inexperience within various points of the season.
The prospering 25-year old Callum Mills joined veterans Luke Parker and Dane Rampe as co-captain of the club.
Mills capped off his incredible season by claiming Sydney’s Bob Skilton Medal, an All-Australian selection and a new six-year deal.
A number of youngsters shone in the Swans squad, solidifying their positions in the 22 each week. Sydney entered 2022 with the seventh-oldest list, which suggests they were well-equipped. But, players like Chad Warner, Errol Gulden and Logan McDonald, all stepped up at certain times during the season.
Although Paddy McCartin has spent the past two seasons without a club, in 2022 the Swans rolled the dice. McCartin only managed 35 AFL games at St. Kilda before joining the Swans. He combined forces with brother Tom in defence – creating a solid back six.
Sydney hit minor speed bumps throughout the season, as most teams do. But, when the Swans had a lapse in concentration, it made it difficult for them to come back from.
From their six losses in the home and away season, it was evident that the Swans got close. In two instances against the Bulldogs and the Suns, the Swans never led, however lost in close encounters.
In its other four losses, Sydney simply faded away. Against the Lions, Blues, Power and Bombers, Sydney led at some point. Against these four opponents, the Swans lost by an average of under three goals.
In hindsight, Sydney would be expected to defeat four or five of those teams. Nonetheless, it wasn’t to worry, as their third-placed finish still led them to a Grand Final.
The Grand Final was a disaster – an 81-point drubbing. Simply an outlier, nothing like any match they have played in 2022.
Before the Grand Final, Sydney’s biggest defeat in 2022 was to the Lions, by 24 points. Though Geelong appeared dominant, Sydney’s collapse still remains a question to be investigated.
Mentioned before, the Swans relied on youth and inexperience throughout the season. Due to this, many players had integral roles, many improving their game.
There was one stand-out player, who’s improvement was head and shoulders above the rest – Chad Warner. The 21-year-old – in just his third season – provided incredible numbers. In a stacked midfield, he still managed to make his presence known.
Warner averaged 22.7 disposals per game (fourth-best for Sydney) and kicked 20 goals (fifth-best for Sydney). In terms of the AFL, Warner had the third-most inside 50s (134), sixth-most score involvements and fourth-most goal assists.
He earned himself a selection in the 44-man All-Australian squad, although he didn’t make the final 22. Callum Mills was also in career-best form, claiming his first All-Australian honours, named on the wing.
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The Swans qualified for finals, finishing the home and away season in third position. They missed out on the top two and a home qualifying final by 2.6 per cent, to the Demons.
Thus, the Swans travelled to Melbourne to face the Demons in front of the biggest stage. The winner, granted a home preliminary final. The loser, on the ropes.
Melbourne had just come off a near-10 goal thumping of Brisbane on its home deck, full of confidence at the MCG. Sydney had won seven straight, by an average of just over six goals.
A contested battle allowed both teams to have flurries of chances. Both sides led in each quarter, but the last. For the opening two and a half quarters, it was back and forth, until the Swans took control in the final 40 minutes.
Despite only scoring two goals in the final quarter, the Swans kept the Demons goalless in the final term. The sealing goal was uncharacteristically scored at the 15-minute mark of the last quarter – by Isaac Heeney.
As elated as they were, the Swans’ playing group sealed a home preliminary final, on enemy territory. The result would go on to have a ripple effect, as the Demons crashed out in straight-sets, losing the following week.
An honourable mention goes to Lance Franklin, as he booted the 1000th goal of his career. In Round 2, Franklin etched himself into history with his fourth goal against the Cats. He possibly could be the last man to reach that four-figure feat.
Quite easily the lowest point of Sydney’s season was its Grand Final loss to Geelong. After playing eight incredible quarters of finals footy, the Swans were left with no answers as they were mauled by the Cats.
An 81-point demolition was quite the contrast to Sydney’s season. Mentioned previously, its biggest loss beforehand was only 24 points.
It was suspected that Sydney could have turned things around, as they didn’t seem to be the type of team to disappear for four quarters. This was especially due to the fact that Sydney had a two-game winning streak over Geelong at that point.
Geelong’s celebrations began early into the final term, as the depleted Swans appeared to be making up the numbers. It was a game which doesn’t clearly represent their season, yet will be treasured by the opposing side.
Where to next?
The general expectations for grand finalists is that they stay within touching distance of the next flag. This is certainly the case for the Swans.
They boast a good-looking list in terms of youth and experience. It has decent draft expectations, with two first-round selections. Another year of Franklin will only help the next generation of Sydney’s forward line.
It is fair to say Sydney is still in a premiership window, even if it wasn’t expected to happen this season. People had their doubts at the beginning of this season, not knowing where they could end up. But, after what its shown, the Swans will continue their hunt.
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