This is the 3rd article in a series of 5, following on from part 2. You can read from the start by visiting part 1 here. This article will discuss the games in the second half of the season, expectations and overall performance.
Performances throughout the first season were solid, sometimes spectacular with an occasional dash of the good old Swans that we know. You know, the type that shoots their foot off after playing dice, gambling their limbs, pride and occasionally livelihoods. Sitting 2nd on the ladder with a 10-3 record was a fantastic start to the season, especially with the biggest loss against GWS and the other two by under 2 goals.
Expectations were high with the Swans, with experts tipping them to finish in the top 4, if not top 2, and bookmakers had them as favourites leading up to the bye. The young players were standing up and making a name for themselves, none more so than Mills, a virtual lock in for NAB Rising Star.
Sometimes though, watching Sydney after the bye is like going out to town on a Friday night. You haven’t slept well during the week, you’re feeling run down, but you have a big one anyway. You forget to eat before you drink, so you’re off your face after a few pints and wind up dancing with a guy wearing a dress. Before you know it, it’s 930 and you’ve been bundled into the taxi after being kicked out of your favourite kebab shop. You wake up with a wicked hang over and wish it never happens again, but it does.
Second half review
Playing the eventual premiers in the first game after the bye was always going to be a challenging game, and the Swans fell agonisingly short. The Bulldogs had the better of the Swans in ’15, winning by 4 points in appalling conditions, and the margin in this game was no different.
In dry conditions, the Swans lead by 10 at half time and kicked the first goal of the 2nd half to lead by 16. From there it was all Dogs, kicking the next 5 and leading for the rest of the game. The Swans surged late in the last quarter managing to get their noses just in front, but the Dogs sealed the game in the dying seconds.
Almost immediately after the loss, the Swans were thrown into media coverage overkill with extraordinary coverage of Kieren Jack’s feud with his partner and his parents. Bizarrely, Jack’s mother posted a tweet condemning Kieren’s relationship with Charlotte Goodlet, all over tickets for his 200th AFL game.
On Monday Donna Jack tweeted: “@kjack_15 so sad. Dad 200 RL you 200 AFL & you don’t want us there, your parents. No appreciation for all the yrs helping you get there,” before deleting it.
Kieren was stoic, and the club was confident that he would perform well, and that he did. Amongst the best for the Swans, he led them to an emphatic victory over premiership favourites Geelong, even with a rampaging Dangerfield collecting 18 useless possessions in the first quarter. Longmire heaped praise on the team for their effort.
“It was sensational. From the first bounce we thought we played a really strong brand of footy,” Longmire said.
“They came at us a bit in the second quarter but I thought our leaders were sensational and our kids were super tonight.”
However, the happiness was cut short just a week later with a narrow loss to Hawthorn. Only the Hawks could pull a rabbit from their ass to win it, the Swans looking in control with just a minute left. Michael Talia partied hard at night, arrested for drug possession in the early hours of the morning, which the AFL hilariously described the stop-and-search as a ‘drug blitz‘. The club was seething behind closed doors and immediately stood the player down from all club-related activities, pending his court case.
Just like the Jack affair, the Talia problem was splashed all over the news across the country. You just couldn’t make up the level of stupidity that this particular footballer exudes. He later pled guilty to drug possession and was fortunate to get away with a slap on the wrist and no conviction.
The Swans followed up a tough couple of weeks with a fighting victory against a dogged Blues outfit, playing their best game in a long time, in a bleak second half of the season. The Swans were off the boil and trailed for most of the 2nd half before hanging on in a stressful and thrilling last quarter. While the contest was close, just 2 goals were kicked with both teams applying immense pressure across the ground. The Swans won their first close game since the Lions, with Kennedy picking the team up and carrying them to victory. Once again the young players stood up with Mills of the bunch.
Sydney traveled west to face Fremantle, a team they had struggled against in recent seasons. But this Fremantle were the worst team in the AFL by a fair margin, and proved on the night to be trash. The Swans convincingly thrashed them by 90 points with the game never in doubt and Fremantle never challenging. The Swans lead by 102 in the last quarter before the Dockers kicked the last 2 goals. Again, Josh Kennedy was the best player afield with 45 disposals and 3 goals.
The return to form was welcomed with another banana peel opponent, Port Adelaide at the SCG. Having found games against them difficult since 2013, the Swans made light work of the Power, dominating from the first bounce and running out 67 point winners. The Swans lead from start to finish and Port never looked in the game, not even when they ran through their banner.
While Hinkley said that the Power were out worked and out played, the Swans were almost 60 points up before Port had their first score. They just didn’t turn up and looked a pathetic rabble. Isaac Heeney was best aground after his mid-season break, returning to emphatic form.
The Swans followed up against St Kilda at Etihad, with a convincing 70 point win. It’s a venue they’ve had a lot of success at recently, having beaten St Kilda each time since 2012. It wasn’t an easy game, with the dogged Saints challenging the Swans, scrapping for every ball in the first half. The Swans lead by just 5 points at half-time, the pre-match talk of a danger game had lived up to expectations. The Saints who needed to win to stay in touch with North in 8th, fell away badly in the 2nd half, kicking 4.5 to Sydney’s 15.4. The Swans blew it wide open in the 3rd quarter with 8 goals and followed it up with 7 in the last quarter. An exciting first half was blasted away by an irrepressible Swans, rampaging to victory.
Sydney traveled south to Blundstone arena, facing North Melbourne on a cold, blustery winters day, winning another close game by 9 points. While the Swans were far from convincing, they held a 5 goal lead in the 3rd quarter before the wasteful Roos answered with 5 of their own, drawing within a point in the last. North dominated the scoreboard in the 3rd quarter and kicked 5.7, while the Swans kicked 5 themselves to keep their noses in front. Had the Roos been efficient in front of goal, the result would have been different.
The narrow win put the Swans within touching distance of winning the clubs’ third minor premiership after ’96 and ’14. The Hawks were 2 games clear at the top with 4 rounds left, but dropped games to Melbourne and West Coast, allowing the Swans to slip ahead. The race for 1st was well and truly on with the Swans, Cats and Hawks all on equal points and Geelong facing an easy final game.
On a 5 win run, the Swans faced the daunting task of playing the ultimate banana peel, Richmond. Whenever the Swans come up against the inconsistent and unpredictable team, they play poorly, often terribly, and go down in narrow losses.
This time was different and the Swans threatened record scores, leading by over 130 points early in the last quarter, eventually thrashing the hapless Tigers by 113. Their inspirational leader, who lead brilliantly from the front all day for some of the last quarter, furiously fist pumped each of his goals as if the Tigers were cruising to victory, already 22 goals down. The Tigers replaced black and yellow striped witches hats at 3 quarter time, adding some respectability to an otherwise laughable and outright disgraceful performance, avoiding the embarrassment of what once looked a 150-plus loss.
Mario from Doncaster, a well known Tigers tragic in Melbourne, called SEN’s The Run Home the following Monday to give his thoughts of the game, quite obviously unhappy.
“When President Kennedy was assassinated, Jackie’s favourite pink dress — the Chanel dress — was covered in blood,” he began.
“She refused to take it off that day because she wanted America to see what they had done to her husband in Dallas.”
Continuing with the roaring laughter of the radio hosts in the background, Mario claimed that he vomited on his shirt, then walked around the petrol station, then slept in it, so that people could see what Richmond has done to him, before hanging up. It’s hilarious and worth a listen.
The win secured the Swans’ 3rd minor premiership, finishing top on equal points with Geelong, ahead on percentage. The Swans won their last 6 games after dropping close games to the Bulldogs and Hawks, with pundits like King, claiming that the Swans could have finished 19-2 if results had fallen their way (Dogs, Hawks, Tigers).
The Hawks scraped home against Collingwood in the last, narrowly avoiding an embarrassing loss and sliding out of the top 6. Even though the Cats made light work of the Demons, chasing the impossibility of finishing 8th, the Swans had to win by 4 goals to finish first.
Expectations and performance
Finishing 1st with 17-5 and 151.2% was an exceptional achievement, considering the youth and inexperience of the team, and the senior retirements from the previous season as well as Richards during the season. Young players like Mills and Aliir Aliir were outstanding, forming important defensive partnerships, while Grundy and Rampe too their game to the next level. Harry Marsh acquitted himself well, keeping Laidler out of the team even when he was fit.
In the end, the Swans finished with the best defensive record since the Saints in ’09, just besting their effort in ’14, the best total for and their best percentage since I recored stats from 2000.
The Swans exceeded expectations in the 2nd half of the season, after a standout opening half. Losses to eventual premiers the Western Bulldogs, as well as another narrow loss to Hawthorn were concerns, but the Swans were able to rebound and never dropped two in a row. Having finished top of the ladder, they moved into equal premiership favouritism with the bookies with Geelong, just ahead of Adelaide, while Hawthorn never looked likely.
Wins at home against Port Adelaide, as well as away wins against Geelong, Fremantle, St Kilda and North Melbourne, teams they’ve struggled against in recent seasons, solidified the teams’ position on the ladder, as well as establishing them as genuine premiership contenders. Even though the morale boosting win against the Cats was followed up with a narrow loss to the Hawks, the Swans won the next 6 games, most of them in convincing fashion to rocket to the top with a massive percentage.
The Swans would go on to dominate the All Australian team with Dane Rampe, Josh Kennedy, Daniel Hannebery, Luke Parker and Lance Franklin being selected, with Callum Mills and Heath Grundy just missing out on the top 40. Aliir Aliir and Callum Mills in their first seasons were in the top tier of players for intercepts marks and possessions, while Grundy was one of the best full backs in the league, arguably better than Alex Rance.
Lance Franklin would finish runners up in the coleman medal race behind Josh Kennedy from West Coast Eagles. An early favourite to win the award, he struggled for consistency in the 2nd half of the season as the Swans injury toll grew and the forward line struggled to work. His return to form coincided with Xavier Richards coming into the team, after Toby Nankervis and Ted Richards had been tried as full forwards with no success.
Sam Naismith made his debut agains the Cats and fast became an important player, giving first use to the midfielders out of centre contests. His tap work was first rate, easily the best tap ruckman we’ve had since Mike Pyke, even Jason Ball. The younger players continued to play well, with Hewett, Mills, Heeney and Aliir Aliir mainstays in the team and Papley in and out of the team depending on long term injuries.
The 5 All Australian’s from the Swans were at their rampant best in the final 6 games. Luke Parker finished runners up in the Brownlow after an exceptional season, with a total that would win him the medal in almost every other year. Josh Kennedy’s form was emphatic leading into the finals, while the consistent Hannebery kept his fantastic form going throughout the second half of the season.
The big question leading into the season was how would the Swans cope with an ageing backline. Turns out it wasn’t a problem. Aliir Aliir and Mills continued their development, looking seasoned professionals, stars in an already excellent defence. Their intercept numbers were elite and their defensive work was exceptional. Grundy led the defence with aplomb and Rampe was the best centre half back of the league, regularly beating bigger and heavier opponents.
Sam Naismith made his debut against the Cats in place of injured Sinclair and teamed up well with Nankervis. His partnership with Nankervis was arguably better than with Tippett, since they were both foils for one another. While the big man wasn’t very agile, or quick across the ground, his tap work was outstanding and he always presented.
Toby Nankervis took his game to the next level, filling in for Kurt Tippett and then Callum Sinclair with aplomb. While he couldn’t get off the ground against Melbourne, let alone anyone, his work rate and effort across the ground was important, often racking up good clearance numbers and laying big tackles. His best game of the regular season was his last against St Kilda, with 8 contested, 24 hit outs and 5 clearances.
Dean Towers was moved on to the wing and eventually into the centre to bring him into the game, to use his explosive pace to break away from defenders. His performances in the second half were much improved from the first half of the season, playing 8 consecutive games from round 15, but was dropped for the Richmond game. While he could rack up 18+ possessions a game, he’d also rack up the clangers and frees against. His best game of the seasons was the Cats win, but indifferent form afterwards, especially against St Kilda and North Melbourne saw him dropped.
Kurt Tippett finally returned to the side against North Melbourne after his long layoff and the time out of the game was telling. He was off the pace, looked unfit and could barely hold on to the ball. He was especially poor against Richmond, beaten in the ruck and giving away a heap of frees.
Jarrad McVeigh was piling on the disposals later into the season, but his pointing was at its best. His pace was clearly gone and was moved into the forward line. He occasionally kicked goals and set them up, but his defensive work was bad. Without a pre-season he wasn’t expected to be at his best, but his drop off is so severe from season’s past, it’s hard to see where he fits into the team next year.
Callum Sinclair’s first half of the season, while unspectacular, displayed some improvement in performances as well as confidence. But after a smashing in the ruck by Max Gawn, and having to play as the no. 1 ruck, took its tole. After a dominant performance against Carlton earlier in the season, he was injured during the return game, played out the match and had subsequent surgery. He then missed the rest of the season. His injury opened the door for Sam Naismith and the Swans never looked back.
Ted Richards played his final game against Hawthorn, his 2nd as a forward and he was awful. While he kicked a goal against the Cats, he simply couldn’t get into the game as a forward. After successive head injuries, he managed just 8 games for the season, which was likely to be his last.
Harry Cunningham played 18 games for the season, including the last 6, having been earlier dropped for poor form. But the poor form continued and he was tried in a multitude of roles – small forward, wing, sometimes centre and towards the end, back pocket in place of Zak Jones. But he was bad in all of them and dropped after the Richmond game. As a defender he didn’t tackle enough, going the entire game against St Kilda without one, and conceeded more frees than he won. Even though he played 83% of the match against Richmond, he managed just 8 possessions, 2 of them clangers.
Michael Talia, enough said.
James Rose returned for 2 games but was unable to trouble the scorers.