Sydney is, fundamentally, a boring football team.
Not for the way they play, which can be quite exciting. Lance Franklin plays for the Sydney Swans, and one cannot watch Buddy and come to a conclusion that Sydney is boring. The club’s midfield is probably the most consistently excellent across the depth chart. Tom Papley plays for the Sydney Swans and Tom Papley is the heir to Hayden Ballantine’s throne, and that’s exciting.
No, Sydney is a boring football team because at the start of every season we know what is going to happen: Sydney will win at least four more games than it loses, and make the finals series, and win a final, or two, or three, or four.
The Swans have made it to the promised land 19 of the past 22 seasons, including the past eight in a row (the longest streak in the competition). Sydney also finished inside the top four for five years in a row, between 2012 and 2016. That streak was broken in 2017.
An 0-6 start looked almost certain to break the club’s finals streak. Then, suddenly, Sydney became an exciting football team. Only Alastair Clarkson and his patchwork Hawks would beat them – twice – in their final 16 games as the Swans surged back to September. The work to get back was too much and, like a weary worker dog, they were put down by Geelong in the semi-final round.
Between Round Seven and the end of the season, Sydney had a point differential of more than six goals a game – better than the Adelaide Crows’ full season mark. They had the best offence and defence in terms of points for and against. It was as it should be: Sydney were one of the best teams, if not the best team, in the league.
The excitement didn’t end there. Sydney and its coach John Longmire continued to turn their team over on the fly, giving enhanced roles to half a dozen youngsters of varying pedigree. They looked in equal parts daunted and delightful: Isaac Heeney’s third year slump was punctuated by flashes of his potential as a top ten player. Papley threw more needles than haymakers but looks a natural small forward. Lewis Melican provides a long term answer to the questions posed by the looming exit of Heath Grundy. Callum Mills lived up to his Rising Star moniker, a rare feat these days.Embed from Getty Images
George Hewett, Zak Jones and Jake Lloyd sit closer to double digits than number one on the Swans’ midfield depth chart, and all took significant strides in 2017. Recent draftees Oliver Florent and Will Hayward – the former whom Sydney aggressively traded up for in the 2016 draft – looked at home at the level.
But even then, is this not Sydney just doing what it always does? Finding high potential, league-ready talent and developing it to A-class quality in a relatively short space of time? Fundamentally, Sydney’s pipeline of young talent is as boring as the team at large: we’ve been here before, and we will be here again.
Precisely how boring are the Sydney Swans? In a pre-season ladder prediction poll, just one of AFL Media’s 17 pollsters picked the Swans for the flag. Four of them reckoned they’d fall out of the top eight all together. Fairfax Media was a bit more positive, but just one of their six full-time football scribes picked Sydney as premier. I’d like to report on News Limited’s predictions, but damned if I’m paying that dumpster fire of a property a cent.
Sydney’s success is so boring, so predictable, that they have slipped from the mainstream football consciousness. Punters still reckon they’re a shout; the Swans are equal favourite for the flag at most outlets.
We will know early on which group is right. The Swans will start the year by gutting the West Coast Eagles, but then face Port Adelaide, the GWS Giants, Western Bulldogs, Adelaide and Geelong in succession. Three of the five are at the SCG, but that looks mighty tough.
Another slow start to the year could easily condemn the Swans to an 0-6 start once again. But the boring, predictable Sydney Swans won’t let it happen two years in a row.
That would be too exciting.