Swans on song: young side is an AFL delight

The young Swans have been a fantastic story this season. Photo: Jono Searle/AFL Photos via Getty Images
The young Swans have been a fantastic story this season. Photo: Jono Searle/AFL Photos via Getty Images

The art of football punditry has got a lot harder the more even the AFL competition has become. So you have to enjoy the little victories. And I have been.

Pre-season, having been impressed by some late 2020 form - but also admittedly on a bit of a hunch - I tipped Sydney to make the final eight.

I haven't been slow to point it out to people, either, when the Swans' superb 2021 thus far has come up in discussion.

But it's now got to the stage where my tip might well be out by a fair margin. Yep, I might actually have underestimated just how far Sydney can go over the last couple of months of this AFL season.

I had the Swans sneaking into the final position in the final eighth.

With just five games to go they're sixth, just a game outside the top four, and will probably start favourite to win all remaining clashes against Fremantle, Essendon, St Kilda, North Melbourne and Gold Coast.

All of a sudden, not only is a finals berth looking as good as a certainty, but a top-four position and a double chance very achievable.

Even a premiership is far from the absolute fantasy it would have seemed even in March.

That would not only be remarkable, but bona fide football history, given that Sydney finished last season in 16th spot on the ladder, ahead only of North Melbourne and Adelaide.

Richmond came from 13th in 2016 to win the flag in 2017, Adelaide from 12th in 1996 to premiers in 1997. And Geelong from 10th in 2006 to a first premiership in 44 years in 2007. But both the Cats and the Tigers had been finals regulars before one-off nightmare seasons.

No one has come from where Sydney was to do it. And not long at all after effectively the start of a rebuild just about everyone in the football world considered to be still in its infancy. It would be a truly amazing performance.

My "bullishness" about the Swans this season was based mainly on some glimpses of their potential at the tail-end of 2020. Brief glimpses, obviously, having won only one of their last six games.

But their win over Melbourne, before in the final game pushing Geelong to within six points, showcased some of the kids upon whom they were clearly starting to invest heavily.

Justin McInerney was a standout. Sam Wicks also showed plenty.

That was in addition to the likes of Jordan Dawson, Ollie Florent, James Rowbottom and Tom McCartin continuing to develop. Dylan Stephens, James Bell and Chad Warner had also been given a taste.

Come the first game of this season against last year's preliminary finalist Brisbane, away from home, Sydney picked no fewer than three teenagers - Errol Gulden, Logan McDonald and Braeden Campbell - to make their AFL debuts.

Gulden kicked three goals, gave off another three and won the Rising Star nomination. He and McDonald shared six goals. Campbell did his bit. And with half-a-dozen players in the line-up with 10 or fewer senior games to their names, Sydney blew Brisbane off the park.

A fortnight later, they were if anything even more impressive in dispensing of reigning premier Richmond at the MCG by 45 points, Wicks, Warner and Gulden all starring.

While much of the football world has since spent its time waiting for a supposedly inevitable correction, the kids' performances to falter and the hard slog of a long season to take its toll, the Swans have largely just gone on with it.

They've won 11 and dropped six games. Of the half-dozen losses, only those against Gold Coast and Hawthorn were clearly below-par performances; losses to top-four teams Melbourne and Port Adelaide by just nine and 10 points respectively, both away from home, and two other defeats to GWS and Fremantle both by just two points.

Seemingly buoyed by the exuberance of the young brigade, Sydney's veterans and more senior hands have also turned it on. Callum Mills' transition to midfielder has been inspired. Lance Franklin has actually got on the park.

The tremendous form of recruited ruckman Tom Hickey is an unexpected bonus. And that doesn't even touch on the dependability of the likes Josh Kennedy, Luke Parker, Jake Lloyd and Dane Rampe.

Interestingly, the Swans don't boast a single player in the current top 20 of the AFL Coaches Association award.

That, though, might also go a long way to explaining how this team seemingly nobody rated (ahem, well, maybe a couple of us) has its destiny squarely in its own hands just a month or so from finals.

These Swans play for each other. They all contribute something to the overall team performance.

And, clearly, the sum of the parts is much greater than each on its own.

I'm finding myself beginning to will them on. And, no, not just to make my pre-season prognostication look good.

They're a great story. They're great to watch. How can any fan who enjoys both those things not get at least a little caught up in how they're going about it?

This story Swans on song: young side is an AFL delight | Rohan Connolly first appeared on The Canberra Times.