Last season’s premiership triumph has once again resulted in fans and opposition appreciating and admiring the Sydney Swans Football club. There is a certain awe placed upon the internal football environment at Sydney, with direct competitors and even clubs of other codes seeking to emulate the culture of ‘The Bloods’ that has been present at the club for the last decade. The drought-breaking 2005 premiership provided much needed relief for long-suffering Sydney and South Melbourne diehards, however since then, Sydney fans have been well and truly spoilt by the continued success and sublime management of the clubs football operations. With an uncanny knack for managing to fly under the radar and avoid ‘premiership contender’ labels, the Swans have defied the football life cycle, only missing the finals once in the last nine years (2009).
While much has been made of their sieging, tough-branded football, what is the true secret to their ability to remain successful while others fall behind?
Two main areas have been identified as crucial factors relating to their recent success, being (1) able to provide players with a positive environment that has allowed previously mediocre careers to flourish and reignite and (2) the meticulously efficient manoeuvring in both the draft and trade period. Although they both seem relatively simple from an external standpoint, these are two elements that many sporting teams, even the most established and renowned struggle to accomplish.
Over the years, the Swans have constantly shown the courage to acquire players via trades or the draft that no others would consider. Not only has this created a positive environment at the club, but puts the footballing operations in Sydney on the radar of every player with talent they feel goes unrecognised [Josh Kennedy and Ben McGlynn]. The examples are endless: Rhyce Shaw and Nick Davis from troubled careers at Collingwood, Barry Hall and his issues from St.Kilda, Craig Bolton from Brisbane and current All-Australian Ted Richards from Essendon. The escape to ‘Rugby League country’ provides an escape from the media scrutiny of Victoria, South Australia and to a lesser extent W.A, leading to a relaxing and football focussed work environment. This no doubt is a major drawcard for many recruits who hail from these AFL stronghold states. Shaw in particular is an individual who has benefited more from a change in scenery than most others, being able to escape the pressures his famous surname impose upon him in Melbourne.
Mitch Morton was the most recent questionable draft day pickup, with two clubs already giving up on the youngster since being drafted by West Coast in 2004. Following consistent performances in the NEAFL in 2012, Morton’s chance coming late in the campaign with incumbent small-forward Ben McGlynn succumbing to a season-ending injury. Just as those before him, Morton justified his selection, kicking two goals in both the Qualifying and Grand Finals, with the latter two being crucial to the team’s victory.
The Swans have also managed to reap the rewards of gambling on Hawthorn fringe-players Josh Kennedy and Ben McGlynn himself, with Kennedy somewhat poetically playing a crucial role in the 2012 Grand Final victory against his old club.
Paul Roos established a ‘team first’ mentality during his tenure at the Swans, resulting in the creation of a system whereby players were assigned specific roles which they would attempt to execute in a machine-like and low profile manner. Individual decorations no doubt did come during the successful years (none more important than the two Brownlow Medals awarded to Adam Goodes in 2003 and 2006); however Goodes and his teammates always reiterated selfless approach through the media. It was this simple, task-driven structure that resulted in the creation of the ‘Bloods’ culture, which has provided many recycled players with the opportunity to rejuvenate their careers. This culture, symbolised by the iconic leaders of Goodes, Hall and Kirk instilled both players, fans and future leaders in Kieran Jack, Daniel Hannebery and Alex Johnson with the same attitude that has proved so beneficial over the past decade.
Looking at the two recent premierships illustrates this success in both drafting and trading. The 2012 premiership team had six players who had either been delisted or traded by previous clubs (Richards, Mattner, Morton, Kennedy, Mumford, Shaw), with a still impressive five playing a prominent role in the 2005 premiership team (Ball, Davis, Hall, Williams, Bolton). It also has to be taken into account that this does not include the many others on the list at the time, acquired in similar circumstances that played crucial roles as deeper members of the squad.
Efficient lower-round draft day bargains in the last five years have provided fantastic squad depth, with many of these picks earning a spot in the most recent premiership win (Hannebery #30, Parker #40, Reid #38, Pyke #57, Bird #59 and Smith in the Rookie Draft. The fact is that Sydney rarely draft poorly and when this is coupled with successful trade decsions and the ability for players to seamlessly fit into a system that utilises their talents, it certainly is no wonder to see how successful this current team is.
Sydney’s ability to give new life to seemingly forgotten footballing careers, along with the efficient drafting are the main reasons for their prolonged success in the AFL. It will be intriguing to see how successful other clubs are with recycled players, as Sydney firmly remains the benchmark in this area of recruiting and development. Fans of the ‘Red and White’ can be rest assured knowing that their club is being run in a most proficient manner, building the foundations for success that will continue to produce results in the future.