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Round 6 – Carlton v Sydney: Swans might need a new angle

 

By Jean-Paul Pelosi

 

 

 

Swans might need a new angle

 

Growing up in Sydney during the Eighties and early Nineties, you might have been forgiven for ignoring the Sydney Swans. They were rarely in the mix of playground conversation and barely a newspaper headline in a rugby league town.

 

As big name recruits swept in, however, crowds gathered and interest brewed. Stickers adorned rear windows on the expressway and red caps coloured local cafes. Back page stories followed, even in the league-centric Telegraph.

 

Big and shiny 

 

There were a few peaks along the way, too, perhaps none sharper than the arrival of Tony “Plugger” Lockett, eventually the AFL’s all-time leading goal scorer. He was a big presence, ideally suited to a population increasingly made up of new residents, transplants and youngsters who never witnessed the grand performances of Peter Sterling, Steve Mortimer or Des Hasler. No, they sought their own icons, so Lockett and Barry et al answered the call.

 

The city suddenly took note of the ‘other’ footy like never before.

 

It’s been a steady push into Sydney’s consciousness ever since and the club’s membership numbers have skyrocketed. In short order it went from merely a few thousand to 50,000. Not even a shirtless Bieber can lay claim to that type of popularity surge. (Certainly, sleeveless shirts secured the support of some fans).

 

Winning ways

 

What’s long stood out for the Swans brand is not just the dedication to success, but the atmosphere of a successful operation. Wins help, of course, but only in combination with ‘winning culture’ and the sustained branding around such a concept that’s helped the SCG’s turnstiles spin. Because as anyone who lives here knows, Sydney loves a winner.

 

But now Sydney is losing! And in a way that the current generation of fans isn’t used to. Jump on forums or listen to the radio and you’ll notice a sense of bewilderment among the Swans faithful. It’s a strange time in which the less accomplished and certainly less heralded Sydney squad, the Giants, are atop the table. How can this be, you ask?

 

For some Swans fans it all must equate to stumbling upon the threshold of hell. For others, maybe it’s a chance to explore the cross-town outfit, if they can bear changing their undies to orange and black. Either way, loyalties will be tested.

 

Meanwhile, just to make matters worse for AFL loyalists, Sydney FC and the Sydney Roosters have also rediscovered relevance. Yes, Sydney is the place to be for footy folks, depending on your vantage point, that is.

 

Heartbreak hotel

 

At least for a moment, one of the best views on Saturday was in the seats along the wing of the MCG. There, Buddy Franklin’s boundary line goal from 50 metres out was a thing of fleeting beauty. Forget the quick thinking and balance required to pot a goal from a tougher angle than of that typically shaved into Dustin Martin’s hair, or that it came from nothing but a messy scramble of play: this was the sort of second-quarter shot that can inspire a floundering side like Sydney to fill up on hope.

 

That’s just what young players like many on the Swans current roster need. It’s a play that can also lift veterans, some of whom seem to be shouldering more of the load than they might have expected this season. Perhaps this is what’s slowing them to an M5-style crawl.

 

Check the reaction of Franklin’s teammates, indeed the flash of red around the ground after that goal, as the Swans suddenly looked likely to send the struggling Blues into a few verses of the downtrodden variety.

 

‘Welllllll, since my baby left me …’

 

The wind of change, perhaps finally began to whip up. But as it’s been lately, it just wasn’t enough. That such goals only come in fits and spurts, often early in the match and with a lead, is also unhelpful to four quarters of football.

 

Reality check

 

It’ll surely take more grind than glitz for the Swans to overcome final-quarter deficits and to climb out of this deepening hole. The effort must be sustained, as Sydney’s coach John Longmire has said.

 

Now the midfield is being called lacklustre and that’s largely because they aren’t contesting the ball the way fans have been accustomed to. In many ways, despite all their star forwards and celebrity-heavy fanbase, not to mention an endlessly positive following at-large, it’s in the dirty trenches the Swans traditionally win their games.

 

Without the grit and speed, and enthusiasm this can generate, the Swans seem to be running up hill after a few Four’n Twentys into each final stretch, facing a more confident, light-footed and usually cohesive opponent on every outing.

 

So, now their mindset must shift away from the largeness of Sydney as a city, and the weight of recent accomplishments, and from all the commentary, to a single afternoon of footy and how enjoyable than can be. The way it used to be.

 

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