After a brilliant start to the season the Sydney Swans have regressed to the mean, and with rough seas ahead, will the real Sydney Swans please stand up?
Five and one after six rounds, one and three since. Highest of highs, lowest of lows. The best crop of youngsters in the competition, a team rife with inconsistency. With a brutal fortnight to come, will the real Sydney Swans please stand up?
Youth gone wild
Ask anyone what they knew about Sydney ahead of season 2022 and they’ll likely say two things.
“Oh, they’ve got Buddy and some good young kids.”
During the brief window in which Sydney was rebuilding from 2019 to 2020, 12 players made their debut for the club, and four more have debuted since. Of them only three are no longer on the list, 13 have played at least one game this season (11 have played multiple and only one hasn’t played at least half the year so far), and two (Nick Blakey and Errol Gulden) have played all ten games so far.
With so many kids coming through, some inconsistency was inevitable. And their inconsistency may have a flow-on effect on the Swans’ consistency given how many are lining up each week.
Of the 13: five have had their lowest return, in terms of disposals in the last four weeks, (three have not played in the last month) only Logan McDonald (with 14 disposals against Carlton) has put up season-best (more than one game) figures in a loss, while six more have been dropped.
Furthermore, the three who have registered season-best disposal numbers (Chad Warner and Nick Blakey’s case, career-best) in the last four weeks did so against 16th place Essendon, the only win for Sydney in the last month. Three more did so in the first six rounds.
Worryingly, Sydney has not won the contested possession count in any of its four losses, and with two undoubtedly bruising contests to come against Richmond and Melbourne, the kids will need to match it in the contest for Sydney to have a shot at victory.
Quarter of despair
The one good thing about Sydney’s performance against Carlton last Friday night is that it won three out of the four quarters.
However, the quarter it lost saw Carlton kick 9.3 (57) to three goals straight, the biggest single quarter score against Sydney since 2004.
If the Swans like hard work, they’ve indeed shown it. They’ve conceded five goals in a quarter nine times over ten games, including in three consecutive quarters against the Lions.
Four of those times, (including the full second half against the Lions) the Swans have outscored their opponents, but with the Swans outscored 40 to seven in the second quarter of the Round 7 clash, it may have been more reactive, with the Lions in control for most of the match.
Some responses have seen Sydney get off the canvas and defeat North Melbourne and Hawthorn, but in turn, the two biggest surges against it so far this year came from top-eight rivals, a worrying trend with several more to go in the second half of 2022.
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We need to talk about Josh
Josh Kennedy. Warrior. Champion. On-field leader.
The midfielder will miss two months with a hamstring injury. Few have given the Swans more fantastic service coming from another club than Kennedy but his hamstring injury comes at a terrible time for his future.
In Round 1, for the first time, in game 280, Kennedy did not record a contested possession. In Rounds 5 and 6 against West Coast and Hawthorn, Kennedy was named the medical sub.
Sentences that would have been unheard of even 12 months ago are becoming more and more common with Kennedy this season. A stint at half-back did not have the desired effect but having him in the guts may prove to be a deterrent to rising Swans midfielders such as Chad Warner and James Rowbottom.
Kennedy’s latest injury is an opportunity for someone else to step up in his place, and, most concerning for him, keep it. At 33 years old, father time is fast catching up with Kennedy, and will there be a spot for him when he’s fit again? That may be the biggest question of all in the second half of Sydney’s season.
His experience may be critical to the Swans midfield on paper, but if the Swans continue to be smashed at the coalface as they were in the second quarter against Carlton: what then?
Where to from here?
At six and four, Sydney’s season is far from over, and far from disgraced. After all, they still sit in the top eight but the sharks are circling.
Top eight sides Richmond and Melbourne come before the bye, followed by fast-improving Port Adelaide, Western Bulldogs, Fremantle, and St Kilda twice in the second half of the year. It’s a stretch that will make or break its season.
But there are silver linings to all this. Last year the Swans made a habit of bringing their best against the best, beating all their top eight rivals at least once aside from Melbourne and Port Adelaide (whom they lost to by a combined 19 points).
Furthermore, the bye proved to be exactly the boost the Swans needed, going seven and two in the second half of the year, only losing to Port and the Saints.
Starting Friday against Richmond, the goal is simple: get to the bye, and reset with (hopefully) a winning record because there’s nowhere to hide from there.
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