2013 AFL Preview: Sydney Swans

The Swans won the flag last year, and it still feels a little strange. When I remember football in 2012, I remember the Hawks crushing everyone but Geelong. I remember Essendon’s second half of the season implosion. I remember Carlton’s season long implosion. I remember people complaining that Ross Lyon was going to make Fremantle boring. I remember people complaining that Lyon had succeeded in making Fremantle boring. I remember Fremantle crushing Geelong in the first quarter of their elimination final, and the fact it ended all the “Geelong can win it all from sixth” talk that had been brewing incessantly in the lead up. I remember Karmichael Hunt kicking a goal after the siren to beat the Tigers. I remember spending hours picking up fragments of my skull from my living room floor after it exploded as a result of seeing Karmichael Hunt kick a game winning goal after the siren. I remember Travis Cloke’s contract situation being the most annoying reoccurring news item. I remember Franklin kicking thirteen goals against North Melbourne. I remember freaking Karmichael Hunt kicking a goal after the siren to win a game. Oh I already mentioned that one.

The fact that Sydney won the flag is almost an afterthought, and I’m not sure if I can explain why. The Grand Final was a very good game, with its fair share of memorable moments, so it isn’t as if they suffer because of that. I think it might be because Sydney snuck up on everyone. They were around the mark for the entire season, but nobody really uttered the words “I think Sydney will take it out”. We were all too busy thinking, and being told, that the Hawks were going to romp it in, unless they had to face the Cats at some stage in the finals, in which case the Hawks might lose and it would almost certainly be Schoenmakers’ fault.

Then the off-season came around and so did Kurt Tippett. Sydney’s involvement in the whole tale seems to have overshadowed their winning of the flag. For the past six months their acquisition of Tippett, rather than their premiership campaign, has been the defining story pertaining to them. Indeed being premiers almost seems to be a footnote when discussing them. It really is quite odd.

2012 Key Statistics

Sydney 2012 Offensive
Average per Game Competition Rank
Disposals 369.3 4th
Contested Possessions 151.4 1st
Clearances 40.2 tied 2nd
Inside 50s 54.4 6th
Marks Inside 50 10.8 12th
Hitouts 42.4 7th
Goals 15 tied 5th
Sydney 2012 Defensive
Average per Game Competition Rank
Points Against 74.05 1st
Inside 50s Conceded 50.2 9th
Marks Inside 50 Conceded 9.5 4th
Tackles 73.2 1st
Sydney 2012 Offensive/Defensive Differentials
Total Competition Rank
Inside 50s Opponent Differential                       (Total Inside 50s minus Total Inside 50s conceded) 107 7th
Marks Inside 50 Opponent Differential (Total Marks Inside 50 minus Total Marks Inside 50 conceded) 32 9th

What are they great at?

Sydney has made an art form out of squeezing the life out of you.

The Swans are among the top handful of sides in a number of areas, and are number 1 in several of them. First, the “attacking” ones. The Swans rank 1st in contested possessions and 2nd in clearances. The contested possessions one is by virtue of the team’s aggressive mentality and phenomenal work rate, and the clearance one is by virtue of Josh Kennedy, who is probably the best inside midfielder in the league at the moment. Kennedy led the entire league in BOTH contested possessions and clearances per game. The man is a machine.

The Swans also rank first in two defensive areas. The first is tackles, led by Ryan O’Keefe, who averages the third most tackles a game. This ranking is made even more remarkable when you consider how often the Swans have the ball themselves (a lot). No side works as hard as the Swans.

The second is points against. Despite only being an average side when it comes to minimising opposition forward entries, the Swans ranked fourth for marks conceded inside 50. The Swans minimise marks, and swarm the ball when it hits the deck. Indeed, poor opposition entries are fine by the Swans. They often keep numbers back so that when it is forced to ground, they win out due to sheer volume and run it out. The extra numbers down back creates more space for those bringing the ball out to run into, and those up forward to lead into. Put simply, the Swans are excellent at hitting teams on the counter.

What are they good at?

The Swans were slightly above average in both inside 50 entries and hit-outs. That hit-outs figure should only rise if Mumford can ever stay healthy.

What do they need to improve?

The cost of living in Sydney.

What are they bad at?

The only area the Swans were below average in was marks inside 50. Naturally that is one too many for the Swans, so they went shopping to solve that problem.

Points of Interest in 2013

Kurt Tippett

I wrote at length about Tippett in the Adelaide preview, so I won’t rehash it all to the same degree here. The short of it is Tippett is a dangerous footballer, one whom is capable of winning games off his own boot, but one who has several deficiencies in his game. In isolation the Swans significantly overpaid for Tippett, however that isn’t to say it isn’t a good signing, at least in the immediate term.

The Swans are fresh off a premiership. By definition they proved they don’t need Kurt Tippett to win the flag. He isn’t some massive splurge in an attempt to get to the top. They’re at the top, and now they are just adding a juicy cherry. The Swans are like the guy who wins the lottery and blows a wad of it on a sports car. Others can look from their front window and admonish him for his poor investment all they like. They’re right, it isn’t the wisest investment, but what does the lottery winner care, he just won the lottery. If there is anyone in a position to overpay for something shiny, it’s the guy who won the lottery. Maybe the lottery winner’s decision will prove costly down the track, but maybe it won’t. In the meantime, he gets to enjoy the hell out of his sports car.

With several key players in the 29 and above age group, the Swans are in win now mode. Adding Tippett helps that cause. They’ve overpaid, but if the entire point of playing football is to win a flag, and you can afford to add a guy, whose strength is literally the only below average aspect of your side, to a team which already proved it is capable of winning it all, then you’re positively beaming. There is only one side who could justify paying Tippett the kind of money he is on, and that side is the Swans.

Josh Kennedy

Kennedy is the definition of a trade week steal. Struggling for a regular place in the Hawks best twenty-two, Kennedy opted to depart the club his father and grandfather had represented for a greater playing opportunity in the harbour city. The Swans sent the Hawks picks 39, 46 and 70 for Kennedy and Ben McGlynn.

Kennedy immediately became an integral member of the Swans side, featuring in every game throughout 2010 and finishing third in their Best & Fairest count. 2011 came and he went from strength to strength, finishing tied for 2nd in the B & F.

However Kennedy elevated his game to a new level last season, and you could make a strong argument that he was the best inside midfielder across the competition.

Josh Kennedy League Wide Rankings

Disposals

9th

Contested Possessions

1st
Clearances

1st

Kennedy provided everything you would want from an inside midfielder. He was the best clearance and contested ball winner in the league, and laid an average of five tackles per game. He dramatically improved his output in front of goal as well, kicking 29, an exceptionally good figure for someone who spends so much time in the middle. His previous best tally was ten.

The best news, or worst news depending on your perspective, is the fact he is still only 24.

Opening Two Weeks

The Swans open the season against the cross-town Giants, and then host the Suns the following week.

Is this a good thing, or a bad thing?

The positives are obvious. They are almost guaranteed to start the year with two wins, and you couldn’t really ask for two better opponents to blow out the early season cobwebs.

But the potential negative is more subtle. The Giants and the Suns are as close to a bye as you can get without actually having a week off (unless you are Richmond). Facing them in the middle of the season offers a chance to rest players when you couldn’t afford to do so against more established sides. The Swans play the Giants again in round 16, so it isn’t as if they miss out on the opportunity entirely. I’m sure the Swans aren’t complaining, but it’s food for thought.

2013 OUTLOOK

The Swans are a side that nearly always wins more games than you think they will at the beginning of the year. They are also the reigning premiers who added a very good player who excels in one of the few weak aspects of their game.

Defensively they are brilliant, and their work in the middle is about as good as it gets. Up forward though there is a notable drop-off, but it’s still good, and they’ve added a very good player in Tippett to address this. They are, at least on paper, a better side than the one that captured the flag last season.

But for all this the Swans are not a wholly dominant side. They don’t demand the title of premiership favourites despite their victory, like the Cats did leading into 2008 (and look how that turned out). Last season there were a bunch of teams all grouped together in quality, and Hawthorn were a nose better than everyone else. The difference between the Swans and those other teams is execution. The Swans performed better than all those clubs when it mattered.

There will be a larger group than usual who will fancy themselves as legitimate top four chances in 2013. Sydney are obviously one of the favourites for those spots, but I wouldn’t lock them in for one. They could perform at relatively the same level as they did during the home and away season in 2012 and find themselves in fifth or sixth instead in 2013.

Leading into the last month they should be sitting in the top four. Their performances throughout that month will most likely determine whether they stay there or not.

Round Opponent Ground
20 Collingwood ANZ
21 St Kilda SCG
22 Geelong SS
23 Hawthorn ANZ

In terms of opponents it’s rough, but they play three of them in New South Wales. If they can emerge from the Collingwood, Geelong, and Hawthorn clashes with two wins they’ll be laughing while most likely holding a home qualifying final birth in their hands. If they only win one, or lose all three, then they may find themselves behind teams such as those three.

It will be tight. The Swans are obviously top four quality, but there are several others around that mark also, and chances are somebody is going to miss out by a pretty small margin. You wouldn’t feel comfortable betting against the Swans though, because when the pressure is on, few are better.

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One response to “2013 AFL Preview: Sydney Swans

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