The Sydney Swans were unexpected winners, and underrated by almost everyone in the AFL except themselves in claiming the 2012 premiership.
The club may not have bought about a revolution in tactics or style, but did more than anyone in proving the maxim ‘a champion team will beat a team of champions’. The Swans lie in a unique position in their fragile place within superficial Sydney’s sporting culture. Despite celebrating the 30th anniversary of their relocation from South Melbourne to the Harbour City this year, and participating in six of the last seven finals series, they are still a team largely reliant to on-field success for their financial viability and profile. Recruiting nous and recycling players into a strong culture and work ethic has circumvented the traditional dip and high-draft pick cycle to leave the Swans one of the most consistent and competitive clubs in the competition, who were a single point away from having three flags within seven years.
The hard-at-it, work for your teammates, contested footy legacy left by Paul Roos – and more particularly the player-lead ‘Bloods Culture’ – still beats strong within the 2012 squad. The slight tweak of the contested ball and stoppages game plan by John Longmire that introduced rebounding attack – enabled by the recruitment and development of pace and strong and skilled outside mids -combined with the side being the most defensive team in the competition, made them a formidable opponent throughout the year, particularly in finals when the pressure lifted.
The foundation of the Swans successful season was their settled back-six, who conceded the least points of any team in the AFL – 1629 points at an average of only 74 points per game. Ted Richard’s stellar season – including taking the most intercept marks and second most intercept possessions – was recognised with him being named as All Australian centre half back, Rhyce Shaw had the most running bounces in the AFL, 20 year old Alex Johnson played 25 games and took huge steps into being a quality defender, and Marty Mattner and Heath Grundy unassumedly took some huge scalps while also mounting countless attacks from the half-back line.
The Swans were the fifth best attacking side in the regular season, kicking an average of 104 points per game. Sydney were the most accurate side in front of the big sticks and enjoyed a huge spread of goal-kickers, with 27 of the 31 players they used in 2012 having a six-pointer next to their name. Nine Swans players scored twenty-plus goals for the year, their leading goal kicker Lewis Jetta with 45 ahead of Adam Goodes with 37, but it was the contribution of goal-kicking midfielders which proved the difference in many clashes. There were 124 goals from centremen – lead by Josh Kenendy with 29 and Kieren Jack with 27 – and even ruckmen Shane Mumford and Mike Pyke kicked 20 between them.
Sydney’s attacking thrusts were often started from pressure-forced turnovers and rebounding from defensive spoils/intercepted marks. Players all over the ground worked to support their team mates around disputed balls, which when extracted by hard nuts, Bolton, Parker and McVeigh was usually fed out to clearance king Kennedy and the fast-developing Hannebury and delivered quickly and long to one on one contests (Goodes, Reid) or players running into space (Jetta, who was truly exciting with open space in front of him) created from playing a compacted forward set up.
Mumford and Pyke forged a formidable ruck combination throughout the season, as well as feeding Kennedy and co from the taps, both provided contested marking ability as the go-to targets for long-to the boundary kick-outs and chip-and-possess passages of play, as well as providing scoreboard damage as resting forwards with 12 and 8 goals respectively.
The Swans so-called blue collar midfielders again had prominent seasons, McVeigh, Jack, O’Keefe and Hannebery all averaging around 25 disposals per game, and each hitting the scoreboard. O’Keefe’s Norm Smith medal capping off a season where he was the heart and soul of the hard-working Swans, amassing 156 tackles, 20 goals and 600 disposals. Five players topped 100 tackles for the season as the Swans lead the tackle count with 1830 – 147 higher than next best Hawthorn.
Josh Kennedy – with an average of 28.32 disposals (307 kicks and AFL leading 401 handballs) for 2012, Kennedy was the Swans most prominent ball-winner (408 contested possessions, 166 hard-ball gets, 97 loose-ball gets, clearance topper (185), damaging ball user (85 inside 50s, 35 rebound 50s) and also scored 187 points off his own boot with 29 goals 13 and contributed 125 tackles and 73 marks. His standout season noted by the umpires too, with Kennedy finishing in eight place in Brownlow voting with 19, including best on ground in five games, and arguably hottest WAG of the evening.
Ted Richards finally received recognition with an AA jumper for his improvement from bomber battler to astute and dangerous rebounding defender. His last quarter intercepts against Buddy Franklin in the grand final were the main reason the Swans held up the cup.
In a season where the list all pulled together and claimed the flag, the few disappointments came in the form of injury – with Ben McGlynn desperately unlucky to miss the grand final against his own team after injuring his hamstring in the qualifying final, and ranga recruit Gary Rohan horribly breaking his leg in round four after a very promising start to the season.
Swans stalwart stars Bolton and Goodes both succumbed to injuries this season and will face reduced deep forward roles in the future as their bodies feel the brunt of many season of hard-contested footy. The further development of Luke Parker to step into Jude’s shoes, and getting some games into Tom Mitchell, Harry Cunningham and big Irishman Tommy Walsh may help fill the holes, yet with players the calibre of Mark Seaby, Tony Armstrong, Trent Dennis-Lane and Mitch Morton struggling to crack the top 22, the Swans have good depth and will only need luck with injuries to remain a force for 2013.
Expectations for 2013
The Swans have an ingrained culture and depth in the list and a game plan the players believe in and are capable and willing to execute. Their rebounding fast spread footy is a nightmare for opposition defenders and their stingy back six will lay the foundation for many more wins. An always competitive side, the Swans would expect to return to the top four if similarly blessed with a lack of major season-ending injuries to key players.