Sydney star Ryan O'Keefe still going strong.
Sydney star Ryan O'Keefe still going strong. Mark Kolbe - Getty Images

Swans shed ugly ducklings tag

IT'S been seven years since AFL boss Andrew Demetriou had an extraordinary dig at the then battling Sydney Swans, labelling their style of play as "unattractive".

It was a time when the competition was up to its neck in flooding. And although the tactic was largely initiated by them, under then coach Paul Roos, the Swans were struggling at 2-4 after six rounds of the 2005 season.

Fearing their performances would deter the at-times fickle Sydney fan base from turning up to games, Demetriou told Melbourne radio he "didn't like the way they're playing", and unless they "change that style of play, they won't win many football matches".

The Swans didn't heed the advice, but still managed to win a few games that year, not least of all a thrilling, albeit low-scoring, grand final against West Coast (58-54).

That result no doubt left Demetriou with a grin from ear to ear - knowing the AFL had conquered the final frontier in rugby league heartland - but hidden by the egg on his face.

While Demetriou is presently sunning himself on his extended European vacation, I wonder if he's had a chance to check out some of the highlights from the Swans' games in the past few weeks, and if so what he thinks of their play now.

Sitting on top of the ladder, the Swans are again the team to beat, but have been going about their business in an entirely different way in 2012 as one of the competition's genuine entertainers with their free-flowing brand of footy under Roos' successor John Longmire.

They haven't lost since May, winning their past five games, and are ranked fourth for scoring, averaging just over 100 points a game - rarefied air for a Sydney outfit.

They kicked just eight goals to win that '05 premiership decider, and despite big bad bustling Barry Hall up front, the Swans still ranked a lowly 12th for scoring that year at a tick over 80 points per match.

Some things don't change - Sydney remains No.1 when it comes to pressure play, first for tackles (74 a game) and has clearly the most miserly defence this season - conceding just 982 points, 90 less than the next best, West Coast.

It is its increasing ability to score, however, that has again made the Sydneysiders a force.

The Swans haven't been this exciting since the days when Warwick Capper was standing on the heads of his opponents.

Okay, let's not get too carried away - some things are best left in the past.

But certainly players such as Lewis Jetta have brought the SCG alive like few other footballers have. You could hear the crowd noise rise when the electrifying 21-year-old simply got the ball in his hands during last week's game against Brisbane.

All eyes, though, will be on Perth's Patersons Stadium this Sunday when the Eagles attempt to knock the Swans off their perch.

It's almost like the competition has gone full circle - and bypassed the likes of Melbourne - with Sydney and West Coast back vying for pole position as they did in '05 and then again in '06, when West Coast won another nail-biting grand final.

Both clubs have largely rebuilt their sides, though, over the past few years and have a healthy array of young talent at their disposal, with the Swans to field just four players from their premiership team on Sunday, and the Eagles only three.

Of course, such is the logjam at the top of the table, the loser of Sunday's clash may find themselves fifth after the weekend's round.

Not since 2004 - when it was St Kilda, Port Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne - have there been four teams equal top on points so far into a season.

 

FLAG HEROES STILL PLAYING

Sydney 2005

  • Jude Bolton
  • Adam Goodes
  • Ryan O'Keefe
  • Lewis Roberts-Thomson
  • Adam Schneider (St Kilda)
  • Sean Dempster (St Kilda)
  • Amon Buchanan (Brisbane)

 

West Coast 2006

  • Dean Cox
  • Darren Glass
  • Daniel Kerr
  • Quinten Lynch (suspended)
  • Andrew Embley (injured)
  • Adam Selwood (injured)
  • Beau Waters (injured)
  • Chris Judd (Carlton)
  • Mark Seaby (Sydney)


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