Can ‘hungry’ Buddy resurrect Swans?
THE Sydney Swans endured a rare finals absence in 2019.
But was it merely a blip on the radar or the beginning of some hard, tough years?
We take a closer look at John Longmire's men, and list eight reasons why Swans supporters can get excited for season 2020.
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1. FIT FRANKLIN
Set to start next season aged 33, Lance Franklin is undoubtedly in the twilight of his career and a series of hamstring issues restricted the star forward to just 10 AFL games last season. However, Franklin has declared this off-season that he is "as hungry as ever" and has "no doubt" he can get back to his best in 2020. Ranked the No.1 player of the past decade by some observers, Franklin is a special talent who has averaged at least 2.7 goals a game each season since 2007. While he has not yet been in full training this summer, Franklin is building up towards it and is hopeful a strong pre-season will be the springboard for a better campaign next season.
2. PAPLEY STAYS PUT
Forward Tom Papley requested a trade home to Victoria in October and looked headed to Carlton. But the Swans held their ground and hung onto the contracted young star, who still has four years to run on his current deal. It was a big win for Sydney given Papley is a 23-year-old with enormous talent. He played all 22 games last season, averaging 15.5 disposals, 4.8 marks and 6.4 score involvements as well as kicking 37 goals. Since returning to pre-season training, Papley has said he thought a trade was "the best thing" for him at the time but he is "committed" to the Swans once again. The club will be hoping his rise as a player can continue in 2020.
3. FIFTH-BEST DEFENCE
Overall, Sydney's list rating is not great. Champion Data rates it the 14th best playing list entering 2020, based purely on individual talent. However, the Swans' defence is their strength, ranked the fifth-best in the competition. The group is well lead by co-captain and 2016 All-Australian Dane Rampe, with a supporting cast of Jake Lloyd, Jordan Dawson, Callum Mills, Harry Cunningham, Aliir Aliir and Lewis Melican. The Swans finished 15th on the ladder last season but defensively conceded the 10th fewest points.
4. THE FREE AGENTS
There were a few eyebrows raised when Port Adelaide delisted small forward Sam Gray at the end of last season. Gray has played 20 games for a return of 20 goals in 2019, along with averaging 17.4 disposals and 71 SuperCoach ranking points. The 27-year-old was quickly snapped up as a delisted free agent by the Swans, who believe Gray is a more than capable player at AFL level who can slot straight into their line-up. Sydney also picked up former Hawthorn defender Kaiden Brand as a delisted free agent, the 25-year-old seen as another AFL-level player who is ready to go.
5. THE TRADE ACQUISITION
Former Brisbane midfielder Lewis Taylor burst onto the scene to beat Marcus Bontempelli in the race for the AFL Rising Star award in his first season in 2014. But since then Taylor's development has stalled. He has played 112 AFL games for the Lions but managed just five last season, largely being on the outer playing in the NEAFL. However, the Swans think they got a steal by securing Taylor in exchange for pick 48 during the trade period. Sydney thinks the 23-year-old can be an important player for years to come with his speed and silky skills.
6. THE DRAFTEES
The Swans did nicely at the national draft, securing four quite different but highly-rated players among the first 40 picks. At No. 5 they snapped up midfielder Dylan Stephens, a penetrating left-foot kick who can play both inside and outside. Will Gould was taken at pick 26, the 191cm defender having served as captain of South Australia at the under-18 national championships and being likened to West Coast's Shannon Hurn. Mid-sized forward Elijah Taylor found his way to Sydney at pick 36, the Perth product being labelled an "excitement machine" with a great leap, terrific speed and uncanny skills. Another Western Australia product, Chad Warner, was selected at pick 39 and is a left foot midfielder who displays an aggressive attack on the ball. Swans fans could see some, if not all, of the four at some stage next year.
7. BRILLIANT BLAKEY
An AFL Rising Star nominee in 2019, Nick Blakey produced an eye-catching debut season for the Swans. The son of dual North Melbourne premiership player John Blakey, he played 21 senior games and kicked 19 goals playing primarily as a forward. At 195cm and with a sizeable engine, Blakey could be anything. Former St Kilda and Essendon champion Brendon Goddard believes he is "wasted as a permanent forward and would be better suited on the wing". Regardless, the sense is that Blakey has only just scratched the surface of what he is capable of at AFL level.
8. SECOND-EASIEST FIXTURE
It makes sense given they finished 15th on the ladder last season, but the Swans have been handed what Champion Data rates the second-easiest fixture in 2020 behind only Fremantle. Sydney faces double-up matches against fellow bottom-four sides from last year in Gold Coast and Carlton, as well as a Hawthorn team that finished ninth. The Swans other two double-up matches are against an Essendon side that finished eighth and grand finalist Greater Western Sydney.
CHAMPION DATA SAYS:
The Swans have invested in youth, with 16 players in the age bracket of 18-21 heading into 2020 - the second most of any side. They could potentially rocket back up the ladder, having the second-easiest draw difficulty of any side.
HOW THE SWANS ARE TRACKING:
2015: 4th, 16W, 6L, SF
2016: 1st, 17W, 5L, GF
2017: 6th, 14W, 8L, SF
2018: 6th, 14W, 8L, EF
2019: 15th, 8W, 14L