As we hit the bye rounds in the AFL season, The Inner Sanctum will be conducting our mid-season reviews of all 18 clubs and assessing the first half of the season and what fortunes may lie ahead.
Up next, the Sydney Swans.
Two critical statement wins before the bye has given Sydney’s season renewed optimism at the halfway mark and it is looking promising from here.
The likes of Chad Warner and Errol Gulden haven’t taken a backwards step yet after taking the competition by storm in 2021. Gulden has achieved a personal best of 27 disposals this year and is currently averaging 19 touches and just under a goal (0.8) per game, while Warner has had just three games under 20 disposals so far and is averaging 22.6 disposals, 9.5 of which are contested.
Importantly, the arrival of Paddy McCartin after no games in the last four seasons off has gone off mostly without a hitch bar a scare against Hawthorn. McCartin is forming a strong defensive partnership with brother Tom, with the duo combining for 114 marks so far this season (27 contested).
To round out the success on every line, a young forward brigade that includes Logan McDonald, Will Hayward, and Hayden McLean has continued to apply their trade alongside Lance Franklin, helping the Swans to an average of 13.7 goals a game, third in the competition behind the Lions and the Tigers.
A worrying trend that has plagued the Swans this year is their second-quarter showings.
Across the season to date, Sydney has been trailing at half-time in seven of its 12 games and has been outscored in the quarter six times. Most worryingly is the surge in second quarters that has seen it concede nine goals against Carlton, six against Richmond and Brisbane, and go completely scoreless for the only time this season to date against the Western Bulldogs.
Relying on coming home with a wet sail in the second half has only been successful twice so far, overcoming Hawthorn and Richmond, and it’s a trend that’s become a habit for Sydney – one that’s thwarting its challenge and needs to be stopped before it costs it dearly.
With the influx of youth in the midfield for the Swans, it’s no surprise that some of the biggest improvers have come from there. But while the likes of Chad Warner, Errol Gulden, and James Rowbottom have come on in leaps and bounds, perhaps no one has made a bigger improvement than Nick Blakey.
In and out of the side for large chunks of 2021, Blakey was reborn at half-back with his speed and kicking ability becoming dangerous weapons – and with the loss of Jordan Dawson to Adelaide, they were weapons the Swans were happy to have.
Blakey is averaging 21 disposals (with a career-best 26 against Essendon), 6.6 rebound 50s (the most for the Swans so far), and 3.3 one-percenters per game in 2022, becoming as crucial as anyone in Sydney’s back six.
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He may not have missed a game yet in 2022, but Oliver Florent, after a scorching opening round of the season, has been merely average to date.
Florent is ranked average or below average in disposals (16) tackles (2.3) and total clearances (1.5) and has only laid one tackle per game for the last month.
Now lining up in defence, Florent will want to make the move work for him. After already being moved out of the midfield, he will not want to find himself out of the team as well.
Best and Fairest Contenders:
Coming hard for the Bob Skilton Medal that eluded him in 2021, Callum Mills has taken to the Swans captaincy like a duck to water. With Josh Kennedy no longer the focal point in the midfield, Mills has exploded in his absence, having yet to register less than 20 disposals for the year, while also leading the Swans for disposals, marks, tackles, and inside 50s so far this season.
Closely following him is Luke Parker, who is in contention for his fourth Skilton medal, and is second to Mills in disposals and leading the Swans for clearances and contested possessions.
Expectations for the second half of the year:
Just when things looked shaky for the Swans, things turned around with two massive performances.
The renewed challenge couldn’t have come at a better time, as the simple fact of the matter is that from here, they aren’t going to have it easy. First up, Port Adelaide in Adelaide is a mountain Sydney hasn’t been able to climb since 2015, losing its last five against Port overall.
After that, St Kilda twice, Fremantle, the Western Bulldogs and a fast-improving Collingwood all await in the second half of the year. But having conquered the biggest mountain of all, flag favourites Melbourne, Sydney will attack the next crop of opponents knowing it can beat anyone at its best.
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