This is the 2nd article in a series of 5, following on from part 1. This article will discuss the games in the first half of the season, expectations and overall performance.
While the pre-season had shown glimpses of what was to come, there weren’t many pundits and experts that fancied the Swans to do as well as they did. The Swans hit the bye with a 10-3 record and 140%, second on the ladder behind Geelong.
They had beaten premiership rivals Hawthorn at the MCG, keeping them goalless in the first quarter, as well as beating undefeated North Melbourne in round 10. Losses to Richmond, Adelaide and GWS kept the Swans in the mix at the top, while Geelong surged and North hit the slopes. Defeating both grand finalists was quite an achievement, as many other clubs had struggled to match it with the Hawks and Eagles.
The Swans had debuted 5 players in the first game of the season, 3 of them playing their first AFL game. They would later debut another 3 players, Jack Hiscox, Aliir Aliir and Harrison Marsh, with two of those becoming important defensive players.
First half in review
The first game of the season was against Collingwood at the SCG, the first time that both teams played at that ground for a very long time. Entering the match as warm favorites, the Swans were tipped to win small, with Collingwood an outside chance to win. Many columns were dedicated to the Pies overachieving, whereas many pundits were already writing the Swans off.
As it were, the Swans crushed the Pies with Luke Parker best on ground and Tom Mitchell close behind. Michael Talia suffered a season ending foot injury, as well as Dane Swan with a severe foot and leg injury that ended his career. Isaac Heeney was excellent, as well as debutantes George Hewett, Tom Papley and Callum Mills.
The team that night had 5 players debuting for the club, 3 for their first AFL games. Franklin was excellent in his return, booting 4.1 on the night. The final score was flattering for the Pies, with the Swans kicking 18.25 to 7.11. The half-time score was the lowest ever for the Pies against the Swans, who were already running away with the game, 10.12 to 1.4.
Longmire heaped praise on the young players making their AFL debuts.
“It was terrific, it was the youngest side we’ve had in for a long time.
“Under that real pressure early in that game, round one when it’s right on the whips are cracking, the kids were pretty good.
“11 players, so that’s half our team, had played 50 games or less, and I thought they helped set the scene early our younger kids.
“(Tom) Papley’s kicked three (goals) and put pressure on up front, (Callum) Mills has had 18 (possessions) and looked really comfortable at half-back or midfield, and ‘Georgey’ Hewett set up a coupe of goals for us and kicked one himself.
“For those kids to be able to do that in round one, a big pressure game, was a real credit to them,” he said.
The Swans would go on to win their next 2 games, a convincing but battling win against Carlton and another fighting victory against Greater Western Sydney. Parker was best on ground in both of the games, and would eventually lead the Brownlow medal count at this early stage with 9 votes. Ted Richards returned to the side after injury and was rusty at times, but still stoic in defence. After the first three games of the season, the Swans were clear on top with a massive percentage of 185%, with North following not far behind.
The next game was against Adelaide, arguably the game of the first half of the season, with which victory had the AFL site, among many others, proclaiming Adelaide as a genuine top 4 and finals contender. Like some sort of savior, it really was sickening, nothing like a good old bandwagon to jump on.
The game had 11 lead changes before the Crows surged and Betts bobbed up to kick the sealer. The Swans were within reach of the game, down by 4 points with just 54 seconds left. Tom Mitchell had the ball on the wing and kicked long to an empty flank. It was won by an Adelaide player and kicked back over his head, setting up the Betts sealing goal.
Thanks to analysis by sthmelb_dimmies on BigFooty, there were 6 unmanned Swans players behind Tom Mitchell and a backwards handball and kick across the field, had Franklin running basically unopposed to the forward 50.
Longmire wasn’t making any excuses after the match though, and praised the effort the players put in.
“It was a ripping pressure game of football from both teams and that’s probably the thing that comes out of it,’’ the Swans coach said post-match.
“It was two teams going absolutely flat out.
“We won two quarters, they won two quarters and they won the last quarter by a bit more than us.”
The Swans rebounded the following week with a convincing win over a poor West Coast Eagles. It was the first of many wet games the Swans would play, and while there were several lead changes in the match, with the Eagles kicking out to a 2 goal lead early in the 2nd quarter, they pretty much rolled over and played dead for the rest of the match, failing to trouble the scorers in the last quarter. The Swans kicked 10 of the last 13 goals and ran out convincing winners, with Richards taking a spectacular mark and early contender for mark of the year.
— AFL (@AFL) April 23, 2016
The Swans continued their winning run against the Lions on a soaked Gabba pitch. The Lions played arguably their best game of the season, and had they played with the intensity that they brought in that game, for the entire season, it makes you wonder.
Aliir Aliir made his debut and looked sharp with his hands, albeit a little lost at times in defence. It was a sign of things to come, as the players’ development took a remarkable upturn when he returned to the side, locking down the position becoming the unstoppable force.
The Swans barely hung on and scraped over the line by 3 points in one of the most tense matches in recent seasons. A late bit of gamesmanship with the stretcher coming on for the forlorn Callum Sinclair 100 metres off the ball, had Leppitsch up in arms.
“I just don’t know how the stretcher call (comes) when there’s a live ball in your own forward 50, how the game’s allowed to stop,” Leppitsch said
“We all saw it, a bloke tripped over his own feet and they called a stretcher.
“We’re three points down with a live ball in our forward 50 and they can get 18 players down there. Can we use it as a tactic, now, can we? I don’t know.”
Luke Parker sealed the win moments later, putting the Swans out of reach, 9 points ahead. Josh Walker goaled with 2 seconds left to bring it back to 3 points. Franklin kicked 5, 3 of those in the first, while Parker and Hannebery starred. The Swans lead by 22 points at the first change, but were pegged back by the excellent Dane Zorko, threatening a boil over.
After the Lions kicked the first two goals of the game, the Swans kicked 6 of the next 7 and lead at every change. The plucky Lions came close in the third quarter and stuck within 3 points for much of the last.
The Swans followed up their struggling victory with a comprehensive thrashing of Essendon. The Bombers were hanging on as the Swans struggled to put them away early on, snatching the lead momentarily in the 2nd quarter with flashbacks to the Lions game no doubt playing through many supporters minds. Lead by Franklin and Heeney, the Swans powered away and kicked 13 of 15 goals in the 2nd half, winning by 81 points. The Swans were 3rd on the ladder, behind North and Geelong with a healthy percentage of 155.
After putting Essendon down, the Swans failed to live up to any hype they had, inventing new ways to lose against a pathetic Richmond outfit, having won just 1 of their first 7 games. The hyperbole and scrutiny surrounding Damien Hardwick’s direction and coaching was intense and loud, with many of the Richmond faithful calling for his head.
Hardwick thought that victory would propel his rabble towards a top 8 challenge, but little did he know that they would fade away without a fight, with the return fixture seeing the Swans threatening record scores.
The less said about this game the better, since the Swans went down by 1 point with some of the younger and less experienced players, like Dean Towers, making mistakes right at the death and Richmond capitalizing on them.
Franklin easily had the best of Rance throughout the night, but not if you watched the game or listened to any commentary – they all thought Rance toweled up Franklin. But I guess 5 goals straight, 18 disposals doesn’t mean squat, especially with Rance giving away 4 frees. Unfortunately, the Swans as they’ve done in the past, made absolute spuds look world beaters, with Ben Griffiths best on ground, kicking 5 goals. Richards was particularly poor throughout the night and it just got worse for him the following week.
The Swans lined up against Hawthorn at the MCG and for the 3rd time in as many seasons, beat them during the regular season at the ‘G. Roughead announced during the week that he was undergoing treatment for a recurrence of skin cancer and wouldn’t play. It served a distraction for the Hawks, who were unusually conservative in the first quarter. But then again, just 1 goal was kicked between both teams in the first quarter, and Richards knocked himself out cold after taking a mark.
The Swans kicked the next 5 to lead by more than 6 goals before the Hawks put their first on the board. Predictably, they challenged strongly and were close in the last quarter before the Swans put the game out of reach. Even without Richards, the defence held together with Grundy at his finest and playing one of his best games, padding the stats in the last quarter. Franklin was outstanding throughout the match and kicked a contender for goal of the year, a 70m bomb after running off the wing.
— AFL (@AFL) May 20, 2016
The Swans followed up with a commanding win against early premiership favourites, the worst 9-0 team in history, North Melbourne. They’re so bad, they’re the only 9-0 team to finish outside of the top 4.
The Swans lead throughout the match and while North challenged either side of half time, the Swans ran away with victory kicking 5 of the next 6 with North kicking the last goal of the game right at the end. Longmire was especially critical of the free kick milking tactics used by Lindsay Thomas.
“I think it needs to be looked at.
“What do you do? You just need to look at it. I’m not there to tell the rule decision makers what to do, I’m there to coach a team to play a game of footy and that’s what I’ll do.”
— AFL (@AFL) May 27, 2016
Thomas was hung out to dry to by all and sundry over the hooking free kick and rightfully so. He introduced a blight on the game that other players have followed with joy. It’s something the AFL needs to fix and soon.
After giving North a tune up, the Swans traveled north to the typhoon stricken land of Gold Coast. In the worst conditions that football has been played in for some time (2004 elimination final against West Coast comes to mind), reminiscent of 70’s and 80’s suburban football, the Swans surfed and body boarded their way to victory.
The weather was wild and the rain bucketed down, with play nothing more than kick and hope, with skill all but gone. The Suns lead at the first break, but the Swans took control of the match and came out on top by 38 points. At this early point in the season, Parker was first in the Brownlow count and Bob Skilton medal and Tippett was 3rd in the club best and fairest and touted as an All Australian ruckman ahead of North’s Goldstein.
Unfortunately, winning ways wasn’t to continue with a disastrous loss to cross-town rivals Greater Western Sydney the following week. While the game was close in the first half, the outside pace of the Giants troubled the Swans and a surge either side of half-time set the win up for GWS. It coincided with Swans losing Kurt Tippett for the 2nd half of the game after seriously banjaxing his hamstring, while Rohan missed the last quarter through a severely corked ass cheek, and Mills and Heeney were down with knocks.
Down on fit ruckman, the Swans turned to the untried duo of Sinclair and Nankervis for another game in atrocious football conditions. Unsurprisingly, they had their asses handed to them by Max Gawn, managing 23 hit outs between them to his 58. Luke Parker starred for the Swans again while Gawn took the plaudits for the Demons.
In the end, the Swans ran out convincing winners by 55 points, keeping the Demons to a paltry 31 points. The Swans broke the tackle record, strangling the life out of the Demons with 155 tackles, lead by Luke Parker and Isaac Heeney with 17 and 14 respectively.
Longmire was proud of the teams’ effort and return to form with victory over a rapidly improving Melbourne outfit.
“It’s good to bounce back after any loss but I was just really happy with the players’ resilience levels,” he said post-match.
“To be able to bounce back after that (loss to Greater Western Sydney) and be able to play the sort of football we want to play back here at the SCG.
“We played a really strong brand and we’ll have a few days off, and then get the opportunity to come back in a couple of weeks time against the Doggies.
“We’re looking forward to that as well.”
The Swans finished the first half of the season with a 2nd behind Geelong with a 10-3 record and 140%.
Expectations & Performance
The Swans were challenging and certainly in the mix for early premiership favoritism. This was contrary to most pundits, who believed that due to retiring players and a slowing defence, as well as two seasons of trade restrictions, the Swans would inevitably slide down the ladder.
The Swans were mocking the AFL with their performances, including strong wins against other premiership rivals Hawthorn, North Melbourne, and AFL darlings Greater Western Sydney. While many of the teams in Melbourne had it easy, such as North Melbourne and Western Bulldogs, the Swans toughed it out playing in brutal and unplayable conditions for more than half their games, and still made the bye with a 10-3 record and second on the ladder.
The first half was easier for the Swans than the second half, with games almost exclusively against last seasons top 8 finalists, excluding Carlton and St Kilda.
Luke Parker, Dan Hannebery, Lance Franklin and Kurt Tippett were the standout performers of the first half of the season, along with Tom Mitchell and Josh Kennedy. The younger players held up especially well, with Jake Lloyd and Dan Robinson growing throughout the season, as well as Tom Papley and George Hewett making their positions their own.
Kieren Jack returned to form reminiscent of his All Australian 2012, while Dane Rampe and Heath Grundy improved out of sight. Isaac Heeney returned to his best before fading towards the bye, and Callum Mills slotted into the backline, instantly looking like a seasoned professional.
Luke Parker, Daniel Hannebery, Josh Kennedy, Lance Franklin, Heath Grundy and Dane Rampe were consistently among the best players every week for the Swans, with Heath and Dane showing the biggest improvements. Ultimately, those 6 players would finish the top 6 in the clubs’ best and fairest at the end of the season.
Callum Mills and Aliir Aliir formed an important duo, along with Rampe and Grundy, to become two of the best intercept players in the AFL. The important relationship was just starting to blossom after Aliir Aliir returned to the senior team against North.
Tom Papley took the no.1 small forward mantle from McGlynn and held his own. He starred in his first AFL match with 3 goals. He was goalless against GWS and particularly poor against Adelaide, but returned to form with an excellent game against the Eagles, lifting his goal tally to 7 in 6. He was dropped after the Richmond game for McGlynn who returned from the long term injured list.
George Hewett proved himself as a valuable forward-cum-flanker, smart enough to apply pressure, kick goals, but could move into the midfield and work both ways.
Callum Sinclair started off looking like an unfit ruckman that couldn’t jump off the ground. By the midway point of the season, he had starring roles in two games, against Carlton and the loss to GWS, while struggling in a number of games, especially against Melbourne and Eagles. However, he still looked like an unfit ruckman that couldn’t get off the ground. Recruited as backup ruckman that could play forward, he was particularly poor in both roles for most of the first half of the season.
Jake Lloyd continued his accumulating ways, racking up lots of possessions, but doing not much with the ball. But the club loves him because he runs both ways and does some defensive work, but when the heat is on, like against Adelaide, he tends to disappear.
Harrison Marsh debuted for the club in round 10 replacing Ted Richards, who suffered another concussion and was an effective stopper. He didn’t have much attacking flair, but occasionally showed a turn of pace. His disposal was OK and he didn’t give away much, frequently beating his direct opponent.
Richards looked like a cooked goose at the start of the season, starring game aside. He unfortunately suffered too many concussions in too short a period of time and took to wearing a protective helmet, yet it didn’t help him against Hawthorn. He didn’t return to the side until the 2nd half of the season.
Dan Robinson was playing OK, but failed to return to the senior team after injuring his shoulder against Essendon.
Harry Cunningham was playing, but not very well, often in the bottom 6 – 8 players for the Swans every week. He played well against Adelaide, but other than that, averaged less than 50 dream team points every week.
McGlynn didn’t play a game until Hawthorn and was especially poor in the first game of the season, kicking just 1 goal in his first 3 games and averaging 50% disposal efficiency.
James Rose was a revelation last season, starring in his debut. He had a solid run of games towards the end of the first half of the season and although he scored well with Dream Team points, he had a tendency to give away far too many free kicks to go with his high tackle numbers. His run of form coincided with a drop in form for the entire team, something to do with playing in typhoons every week.
Jeremy Laidler was playing well in short spurts, but other times he was exposed through no pace whatsoever and shocking disposal. His defensive numbers were OK, but he was giving away far too many free kicks and it looked like he was barely holding on to his place in the team, even though Harry Marsh was arguably worse at the same time.
Jarred McVeigh was clearly unfit when he played his first game against the Eagles, having missed the entire pre-season through injury. He improved dramatically for a near best on ground game against a dire Essendon, but returned to status quo the following week. Even though he was excellent against North, his dramatic pace drop and almost non-existent defensive pressure saw him shifted out of the back line into the forward line.
Sam Reid couldn’t recover from his severe hamstring injury and wasn’t able to return to the senior team.
Michael Talia was ruled out until the 2nd half of the season with his foot injury. In the end he wouldn’t return to the senior side at all.
Dean Towers started the season, yet struggled as a forward until the club threw him on to the wing. After two particularly poor matches, he was dropped for the Eagles win, returning for Richmond. He made a critical mistake against Richmond and was generally poor with his decision making, dropped again for the Hawks clash.
Jack Hiscox made his debut for the Swans in round 8 against Richmond and looked like a dear little lamb, not ready for AFL. Between his reluctance to get stuck in, his lack of pace and his tiny frame, he couldn’t impact the game, even though he had over 70% game time.