2016 in review part 4: the finals

2016 in review part 4: the finals

This is the 4th article in a series of 5, following on from part 3. You can read from the start by visiting part 1 here. This article will discuss the games in the finals series, expectations, performances and aftermath.

While performances throughout the season, certainly towards the end of the second half had supporters on their feet, the finals were another beast altogether. Having lost 3 finals in a row since the infamous 2014 grand final, it was up to the Swans to break the mould. Having finished the season 16-5 and full of expectation, what was to come was nothing short of stunning.

As already covered last month, the sheer number of injuries that the Swans suffered to key players in the finals was nothing I’ve seen before, let alone many Swans or AFL supporters. Every match the Swans played with 2 players on the bench for most of the 2nd halves, with only blistering starts holding them on. Even though the club made the grand final, it was reminiscent of the Lions in ’04. By the end, too many important players were too far off their best, or even from their fittest state to ably contribute.

Qualifying Final: Sydney vs GWS

The first final against cross town rivals was the first all-Sydney AFL final. It was a big deal for the AFL and Sydney, with more than 60,000 flocking to see the fledgling outfit take on the big bad boys of the AFL, according Eddie McFatHead. GWS were fast becoming a competitive finals side, while at the other end of the spectrum, the abysmally run GCS were languishing at the bottom of the ladder.

The run in to the final was contentious because of the first pre-finals bye, thanks largely to Fremantle and North Melbourne throwing their round 23 matches in the previous 2 seasons, not that it did them any good. Both teams were healthy going into the game, and both were confident of winning, especially the Swans with their impressive finals record at ANZ.

Both teams started positively, moving the ball freely and quickly end to end. The Swans managed to lock it down in the forward zone, but were horribly inaccurate in front of goal, until Tom Papley bobbed up, slotting the first 2 goals of the game. GWS fired back, with Jeremy Cameron kicking the first of many and Johnson threatening. Even when the Giants drew level, Jack goalled to push the Swans ahead once more.

With the Swans looking like taking the lead into the quarter time break, Johnson took it upon himself in his usual dog way, to open the game up for the Giants – catching Josh Kennedy flush across the jaw with his elbow.

While it’s hard to see what happened, you can clearly see the elbow on in front.

Curtesy © AFL ANALYSIS: Stevie J staring at ban for Kennedy hit, September 11 2016
Curtesy AFL, ANALYSIS: Stevie J staring at ban for Kennedy hit, Sep 11 2016

The game didn’t get any better for the Swans, with Kennedy struggling throughout the remainder of the first half and Tippett also going down early in the first with an accidental knock, suffering a fractured jaw. It went from bad to worse for Tippett though, with Mumford slinging him to the ground in the 2nd quarter, sending him off dazed. Tippett managed to return in the 2nd half, but was no where near his best, with big question marks over his fitness.

 

It was a big blow for the Swans, already struggling with Kennedy down and scores level. GWS were already fierce at the contest, up almost 20 tackles when Tippett went down, and they continued to pile on the pressure.

While the Swans hung tough, it was clear that they were in trouble with 2 of their most important players already down with concussion concerns. Rubbing salt into an open wound, the Swans rising star Callum Mills, who missed the round 23 clash with calf tightness, went off before half-time with a hamstring strain. Alongside Aliir Aliir and Heath Grundy, he was the Swans best defender, repelling attacks and providing value disposals off half back.

Lance Franklin was doing it all for the Swans, with 15 disposals to half time, but with Tippett down and Richards hardly in the game, he wasn’t troubling the scorers. Hannebery battled manfully in the middle, with usual gun midfielders Tom Mitchell and Luke Parker all down on their usual output. The forward line was a mess, with goals seemingly impossible to get, with shocking forward 50 entries and the Giants casually rebounding everything.

While the scoreboard remained close for much of the 3rd quarter in a tense match, it was GWS that dominated for the most part, with the Swans barely getting on top in patches. Even though GWS were woefully inaccurate in front of goal, kicking 2.8 from set shots for the game early in the 3rd, they dominated inside 50s and stopped the Swans run.

It soon became the Jeremy Cameron show, as he go on top of the Swans defender Rampe, customarily touting his 70’s porn star mo. The Swans could get the ball forward, but their shocking entries prevented them from doing any damage. It took a long time for the first goal of the 3rd to be kicked by Cameron, but by 3 quarter time he had single handedly blown the game wide open with 3 goals for the quarter. The Swans typically score heavily from turn over possessions, but were getting hammered by the Giants. Cameron’s 2nd goal for the quarter was the Giants 7th goal of the game, all of them from turn over possessions. Amazing really.

In the end, the pressure was too much for the Swans to handle, with GWS blowing the game away in the 4th. The Swans needed to goal early, but looked lethargic, slow and almost disinterested. Stephen Coniglio capped off a brilliant game with the first goal of the 4th and put the result beyond doubt. By the end, the Swans were dominated in scores from turn overs, 11.9 to 5.7, basically the entire winning margin – throw that into the blender. Let’s chuck in a sprinkle of -7 contested possessions, with the poverty stricken tackle count, a whopping -32 differential, the injuries as well as the overall dire midfield performance.

As far as Sydney performances go, it wasn’t great, but it certainly wasn’t the worst. But considering the team, vitriol and the way the season finished, it certainly was a shit sandwich.

Semi Final: Sydney vs Adelaide

Already down Tippett and Mills before the week even started, the Swans looked vulnerable, with the Crows giving the hapless Roos an almighty whipping. The scoreboard didn’t do their game any justice. Even though it was a Swans home ground, the Crows were close to being favourites at various times during the week. Any hope the Crows had of stealing away in the night with a win, was dashed early in the first quarter.

The Swans blitzed the Crows in the first quarter. They were accurate, fast, aggressive and hunted in packs. The Crows weren’t ready, coughed up the ball constantly and fumbled like crazy – it was like Richmond in round 23 all over again. The Swans had the first 3 goals of the game and 6 just after half way through the first quarter.

The Crows were waking up and battling their way back into the game, but the Swans had a death grip on the lead and weren’t letting up, leading 7.3 to 2.1 late in the quarter. They went at 76% disposal efficiency for the entire quarter, with a massive 46 uncontested possession difference, as well as scoring at an absurdly efficient inside 50 rate. Conversely, the Crows were fumbling and butchering it throughout the quarter and could have been even further behind.

Just like the Swans the week before, the Crows were having their own injury crisis. Daniel Talia had struggled through the 1st and was off early in the 2nd with a groin injury, while Jake Lever was off in the 2nd, never to return. The Swans weren’t clear of injuries themselves, with Humpty Dumpty and Rohan going down.

Lynch got the Crows the start they needed after the quarter time break, kicking his first goal of the game in the first 2 minutes. Their pressure was right back up to their usual standard and it was now the Swans turn to struggle to move the ball out of defence. It wasn’t long before old humpty dumpty fell off the wall again, held together with chewing gum and sticky tape. Old man McVeigh suffered the perennial old mans’ injury, straining his calf in the 2nd.

Right at the end of the 2nd quarter, Rohan went down with a knee injury after flying for a spectacular pack mark. Fortunately, he wasn’t maimed like last time.

The injury curse was threatening to unravel the team once again, but they managed to hold firm, with just 2 players on the bench yet again, this time for an entire half. McVeigh tried to return during the 2nd and 3rd quarter, but gave up when he couldn’t run to an uncontested ball, not that he could in the first place.

The Crows were stung into action after surrendering a 37 point half time lead, threatening a massive boil over as they pulled within 3 goals. Rory Sloane was well held in the middle and Rampe had Walker easily covered, but Crouch was doing his best to lift the team, with a massive 300m+ gain early in the 3rd quarter. Amazingly, after a shocking first quarter, the Crows got their noses in front with inside 50s and clearances, but still trailed by 4 goals at the final break.

But the lead was just too much for the Crows with Swans running rampant in the last quarter, threatening to break the game wide open. Daniel Hannebery and Josh Kennedy dominated the centre square with Kennedy unstoppable. The Swans extended their lead to almost 8 goals before the Crows responded, but by then the damage was well and truly done, and the Swans ran out comfortable winners.

Rampe was back to his best, alongside Grundy, who once again held another forward goalless and Aliir Aliir proving himself a revelation. Nick Smith did the job on Betts, while Cameron for the Crows was arguably their best player. Josh Kennedy recovered from his head knock to lead the midfield, with Hannebery a star act as well, alongside Mitchell and Parker. Franklin was excellent and his first half was his devastating best, alongside Papley, but Heeney stole the show with his all action effort across the field.

Longmire was proud of their effort, speaking after the game.

“There are no secrets to it, we brought enormous energy and intensity tonight,” Longmire said.

“The boys are a pretty proud group and were pretty disappointed with the way they played last week.

“We missed a couple of really good players before the game and lost a couple halfway through the second (quarter tonight), and to the players credit they kept going, and it was a really strong performance.”

Prelim Final: Sydney vs Geelong

It was the top of the table clash that had all football fans licking their lips. Geelong’s dynamite duo coming up against the irrepressible Swans midfield. The Swans had battled through two fiercely contested finals, while the Cats fell over the line against Hawthorn, thanks to an Isaac Smith special. Running in after the final siren, he fist pumped as he sprayed his winning shot wide for a point, consigning the Hawks to straight sets exit to the Dogs.

There was a lot of noise in the media in the week leading up to the Friday night final, with the Cats weary of the Swans ability to kick big scores early in games. Chris Scott says a lot of rubbish, still, the Cats were anything but ready.

McVeigh and Mills were unable to prove their fitness before the game, but Rohan was named, luckily suffering bone bruising.

In a Swans football masterclass, they romped to victory over a dismal Cats outfit, with a brutal first half. The game was over before the 1st quarter siren, dominating a pathetically underdone and overconfident Geelong team, believing they only had to turn up to win.

The Swans had the first goal within 30 seconds, then kicked another 6 for the quarter, keeping the Cats goalless. Even though they got a few back in the 2nd quarter, the Swans were still way on top of the game, extending their lead at half time to 49 points, after leading by 55. Talk about bronx cheers at the game, the Cats fans were already leaving the ground.

The only sour note was Aliir’s knee injury late in the first quarter, when a non-mark was paid to Papley in the forward line resulted in the ball being fired up the wing and Aliir landing awkwardly in the contest.

The second half was a tight contest with Geelong edging back into the game and threatening the Swans on occasion, finally kicking straight with 5.2 to Sydney’s 3.1. But the Swans were never seriously threatened and the Cats could never within 5 goals, not even in a see-sawing and toughly contested last quarter.

Kennedy was enormous again, while Hannebery and Mitchell were prolific and Jack leading the way with 13 tackles. Franklin was immense in the first quarter with 3 score assists, equalling the Champion Data record for a finals first quarter. Parker and Kennedy were hobbled in the last half, both suffering knee knocks and requiring heavy strapping.

Papley’s wonderful finals series continued with another goal kicking performance, finishing with 3 for the game, taking his tally to 9, with Franklin next best on 6 and McGlynn 5. The Swans small forward line was finally firing, with taller forward Rohan and Richards kicking 3 each.

Rampe and Jones were fantastic together, amassing 28 rebound 50s and 48 disposals between them, while Harry Marsh did another stopping job and Grundy finally conceded his first goal of the finals series.

On the Cats side, only Dangerfield and Joel Selwood could leave the game with their heads held high. While his younger brother flopped around like a fish and diving for free kicks, Joel and Patrick finished the night with a whopping 39 disposals and 9 clangers each.

Grand Final: Swans vs Dogs

The Swans growing medical ward would eventually come back to haunt them. With Tippett still looking undergone after his long lay off and subsequent jaw injury, Aliir Aliir would eventually miss the final, while Humpty Dumpty and Mills would get up, at the expense of Marsh.

There was a lot of discussion during the week about McGlynn and whether or not he deserved a premiership. Having been so agonising close in 2012, with the same injury that Mills suffered, he would ultimately miss the win against Hawthorn. He played in ’14 but was unsighted, so there was healthy debate as to whether he actually ‘deserved’ one.

But as expected, there was a sickening level of media bias towards the Dogs with the unusual media coverage, even more so than the Swans fairytale ’05 victory against raging favourites, the Eagles. You’d have thought, reading newspapers, reading the news online, listening to the radio, or watching television coverage in Victoria, that there was only 1 team in the final.

It was an exciting week for the Swans team with hardly any media coverage or pressure, so they set about preparing themselves as best as they could in private. However, the grand final parade shattered any preconceived ideas of an equal turn out. The Dogs fans, deep rooted or patched on at the last, were out in force, fervent and loud, making their voices heard. When the Swans passed by, there was a good rousing cheer, the club song and a clap. When the Dogs went by, it was an unimaginable roar, a ruckus that threatened to spill into the streets.

The reception at the MCG at the presentation was slightly distressing, with the Swans having barely more than a smattering of cheers and applause, while the Dogs fans screamed the house down.

The game was no different, with clear crowd bias towards the Dogs. It was definitely one of the loudest crowds I’ve ever experienced and unfortunately it went the other way. It’s difficult looking back on a game that promised so much and petered away into nothingness.

The Swans struggled for fluency in the first quarter, even though they lead for much of it, with just 3 goals kicked between both teams. The umpiring in the first quarter alone was disgraceful, with a modicum of 50/50 decisions going the way of the Dogs. Apparently taking the legs out, holding the ball and dropping the ball were emphatically excluded from the whistle blowers vocabulary for the game.

The 2nd quarter was blown wide open as both teams tried to get the game on their terms. The Dogs threatened to run away with it, kicking 3 goals to 1, leading by almost 3 goals near the midway point, before the Swans, lead brilliantly by Kennedy, blew past the Dogs and put on 4 in a row.

It wasn’t all the Swans way however, with the umpires interfering once against, especially Jeffery, who had a particularly poor performance. Even though the Swans had kicked 6 for the quarter, they should have had 8, while the Dogs’ last 2 goals were through direct umpire interference. Bitter as I am, the Swans should have held a 3-4 goal lead at half time, and the game would have been completely different.

The third quarter was incredibly difficult for the Swans. The Dogs locked them in, and even though both teams weren’t scoring, even with the Dogs’ lopsided inside 50 count, the Swans hung tough. It wasn’t until the absolutely shocking double decisions after the Swans had taken the lead back, that the Dogs really got on top. Rampe’s handball in a tackle was ruled holding the ball, which a diving Clay Smith was awarded a free kick for an errant touch across the shoulder.

The Swans were still in the hunt with 7 minutes left, trailing by just a single point. But anyone at the game knew that it was really just a matter of time. Parker was struggling in the middle, clearly hampered by his knee knock the previous week. Kennedy, who went beast mode in the 2nd half, was well held in the last, as well as Mitchell who was at his best earlier in the game. It was down to Hannebery, who was once against starring for the Swans when they needed it most. But once again, shocking umpiring ensued, and the Swans weren’t even awarded a free kick when Easton Wood slid into his knees, damaging his medial ligament.

With the midfield well held and on its last legs, the forward line struggling, Tippett basically out of the match, Rohan nowhere to be seen and Franklin hobbling since the opening the minutes, the Swans wilted. The Dogs kicked the last 3 goals of the game and ran out winners.

Expectations and performance

The Swans were expected to perform well, win their games and make the grand final, having won their 3rd minor premiership since 1996 and finishing with their best regular season figures since forever. They however, did not match expectations, suffering ignominious defeat to GWS, before trouncing Adelaide and Geelong, then another embarrassing defeat to the Dogs.

The two convincing wins with the Swans at their very best couldn’t mask over the gigantic cracks that formed with poor losses to GWS and the Dogs. If the Swans hadn’t suffered as many injuries, perhaps the results could have been different, but nothing excuses the Swans for their shameful performance in the first final, when they wilted from the GWS pressure. The Dogs brought that same pressure and intensity and the Swans failed the litmus test once again, no doubt concerning the coaching team and giving their pause ahead of 2017.

Players

The good

Josh Kennedy won the inaugural finals MVP and was outstanding for the Swans, their best on ground in 2 matches, as well as among their best for GWS and Geelong. He was well supported by Hannebery, who was once again excellent and finished closely behind, as well as rapidly improving Heeney. He was bested by Johannison in an absurd Normsmith medal

Grundy was fantastic throughout the finals and finished 3rd in the clubs’ best and fairest, featuring among the top 5 in each final.

Tom Papley was excellent for the Swans, their leading goal kicked with 9, while Franklin was superb against Adelaide and Geelong and finished with 7 goals. While he was well held in the grand final, he slotted the first two against GWS and Adelaide, kicking a career high 4 finals goals against the Crows.

Isaac Heeney was well held in the first final, with 15 disposals and poor disposal efficiency, but gave us a sneak peek, a lap dance if you would to rouse our loins to his true potential. Starring against the Crows, as well as the best Swan afield against Geelong and amongst the best in the grand final, capped off an excellent finals series for the young midfielder.

Sam Naismith was a revelation during the season and his finals performances was that of a man on a mission. He average 20 hit outs per game, as well as 13 tackles, 9 against Geelong, to be by far the Swans best ruck of the finals. His first quarter in the grand final was excellent, arguably the best Swan on the ground at that point.

Daniel Hannebery was enormous for the Swans, finishing runners up in the inaugural finals MVP and runner up in the club best and fairest to the Swans finals MVP, Josh Kennedy. He was threatening the win the game for the Swans before Easton Wood had his say. Had he stayed on the ground, he would have been club champion and finals MVP and a dual premiership winner.

Nick Smith, Mr. Consistent, was his quiet, shy and consistent best. Apart from Toby Green, he kept the small forwards quiet and on a short leash, dressed in leather with a choker for good measure. He dominated Betts and Motlop, and while the Dogs ran out winners, he was still stoic in defeat.

Dane Rampe rebounded after an especially poor first finals loss to GWS to be among the best and most consistent Swans players for the rest of the finals. His performance in the wins were especially good, while the grand final performance was good, wasn’t his best. But overall, he did more good than bad.

Tom Mitchell brought his best at the right time of the season, but it wasn’t enough to keep him at the Swans, or win the grand final. He was among the top 10-15 players in the first two finals, but starred in the last 2, with a near-best on ground performance in the Dogs capping off his Swans career, arguably his finest.

The ordinary

Zak Jones returned to the side with aplomb, starring against Geelong, but it wasn’t enough for the unlucky Swan, with a lacklustre performance in the grand final consigning him to the “ordinary” list. He wasn’t alone, with Laidler and Mills also struggling under the intensity and McVeigh clearly the worst of the lot.

Jake Lloyd finished top 10 in the club best and fairest and continued his unassuming ways, but as the games became more difficult, tougher and more fierce, he once again, wilted and slid away.

Toby Nankervis was in and out of the side with Tippett struck down by injury. His performance against Adelaide was good, but it was also his career best game. His output could have been more than Tippett, but we don’t trade in could have, would have, whatevers – we trade in what happened, and he wasn’t good enough to keep the ridiculously overpaid punce out of the side.

Harry Marsh, still just a rookie, made his way into the team with Reid on the long term injured list. He managed to keep Laidler out of the team even when fit, but was forced to make way for the grand final, even though he was performing ably.

Lance Franklin was well held in the first final, but exploded to life against the Crows and Cats. The game winner was once again far from his best for most of the grand final, working his way through injury. With the lofty standards set by the man, he was just too far from it, with Papley the leading goal kicker.

The notion that Ben McGlynn deserved a grand final evaporated before his very eyes on the MCG in the final game of the season. Having kicked 4 goals already in the finals, and typically among the top half of players in each game, he was painfully slow and too far off the pace of the game to contribute. While he racked up decent disposal figures, he routinely butchered the ball, coupled with decision making that would leave Towers scratching his head.

The bad

It really is hard to look past repeat offender Gary Rohan. Even though Rohan was important in the regular season, his impact in both losses was poor and was almost worst on ground in the grand final. He courageously returned from a knee injury against Adelaide the next week, but his output was still limited. A preliminary finals specialist who wilts in the prime time, his ’16 grand final was considerably worse than his ’14 grand final.

Kurt Tippett deserves special mention. Having endured a long layoff through injury, he returned in round 22 against the Roos and was ordinary in the last 2 games. Unfortunately he suffered a head injury in the 1st quarter against GWS, but was otherwise pitifully bad for the remainder of the finals. He kicked two goals in the opening quarter against Geelong, but finished with a worse rating than Sam Naismith, who dominated him for tackles (9 to 1), hit outs (18 to 5), 1%’s (4 to 1) and kicked a goal himself.

McVeigh, or Humpty Dumpty, was particularly poor in the grand final, with the club rating him the worst on ground, and its hard to argue any different. He wasn’t much good against GWS and the Swans certainly didn’t miss him against Adelaide or Geelong, so his return to the side at the cost of Marsh was contentious and would go to become one of the worst selections the Swans have made for a very long time. 14 disposals won’t dispel the myth that he doesn’t work hard enough, at times playing touch footy and struggling to make contests.

Xavier Richards was a revelation for the Swans midseason, coming into the team to replace his brother and having immediate impact as a running forward. With Sam Reid battling injuries, the Swans desperately needed a forward and he had the qualities they needed. Except in the finals. He was fast, agile, tall and could run all day, but couldn’t mark the ball, or kick clutch goals and finished with 3 goals for the finals, donuts in the grand final.

Jeremy Laidler, the much maligned defender of the Swans, returned for the grand final, after Marsh had kept him out of the team with arguably better defending, certainly more dash and definitely better skills. The only good thing he did was intercept mark, which the Swans direly needed with Mills barely playing and Aliir injured. His kicking was awful and his skills overall were below AFL standard.

Callum Mills is unfortunate, injuring his hamstring early on against GWS. But he managed to return for the grand final and was inadequately prepared for the game, woefully slow and disastrous in possession for the first half. He improved as the game wore on, but his lack of finals fitness was too much for the rising star. He’s a star of the future, but the gamble didn’t pay off.

George Hewett was able to bring his goal kicking form with him to the finals, finishing with just 2 and one of the least impactful players in the grand final. He struggled in both losses, as well as the win against Adelaide.

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