Is it still Buddy or bust for the Swans?
Many believe the Swans are at the beginning of a rebuild phase after a sustained run of finals appearances.
It once again falls on the club's big-name star power to shoulder the load as the youth develops.
That means Buddy is still king in the Harbour City - provided he can stay on the park.
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Rebecca Williams' six people who will define the club in 2021
■ Lance Franklin:
The biggest question mark of the season for Sydney surrounds the fitness of Franklin. A Swans' outfit with a fit and firing Franklin versus one without are very different prospects. The champion forward did not play a game in 2020, sidelined by hamstring and groin issues. The 34-year-old, entering his eighth season at the Swans, has already suffered a setback with calf tightness this pre-season. Franklin needs 56 more goals to become just the sixth player in VFL/AFL history to kick 1000 goals. Will his body let him get there?
■ John Longmire:
Entering his 11th year at the helm at Sydney, Longmire is coming off his worst season finish in his time at the club. After finishing 15th in 2019, the Swans slumped to 16th on the ladder in an injury-hit 2020. Longmire still has another three seasons to run on his contract, giving him plenty of time to rejuvenate the list with a new generation of cygnets. Injuries to key personnel last season allowed him to inject games into the club's youngsters, which will help the cause.
■ Isaac Heeney:
The multi-talented Heeney has been earmarked as a future Sydney captain, but his impact was restricted by injury last season. Heeney was spending more time in a forward role, kicking four goals in the opening round last year, before injury struck. But his season ended in Round 6 when he suffered a dislocation and ruptured medial ligament in his ankle against Richmond. At 24, the young star will play a crucial role in helping the Swans push back up the ladder when fit. Heeney expects to again settle as a forward 50 option, with some spells up the ground.
■ Don Pyke:
After the departure of one of Longmire's long-time top lieutenants John Blakey to North Melbourne, former Adelaide coach Don Pyke has stepped in to fill the void. Pyke returns to the AFL after a year out of the game, having resigned as Crows coach in September, 2019, after the club missed the finals two years in a row and amid internal and external reviews of the football department at the time. He will add experience and support for Longmire as the club rebuilds
■ Josh Kennedy:
The ageing midfield warrior enters his 12th season at the Swans and will again be one of three co-captains for the team alongside Dane Rampe and Luke Parker in 2021. Kennedy, who has held a captaincy role since 2017, was restricted to 12 games last season as he was impacted by a knee injury. Turning 33 in June, Kennedy might be in the twilight of his career, but he will still play a key role in setting the standards and blooding the new generation of Swans' midfielders.
■ Tom Hickey:
A frontline ruckman has been seen as a major missing piece in recent years at Sydney and the Swans pursued the former Sun, Saint and Eagle, who managed just three games last year at West Coast. He should help provide first use to the Swans midfield. The Swans also hope to use the 201cm ruckman in an alternating role with Callum Sinclair and also Sinclair to spend more time up forward.
BEST 22 FOR ROUND 1:
B: Harry Cunningham, Dane Rampe, Jake Lloyd
HB: Jordan Dawson, Lewis Melican, Callum Mills
C: Ollie Florent, Josh Kennedy, Dylan Stephens
HF: Nick Blakey, Sam Reid, Isaac Heeney
F: Tom Papley, Lance Franklin, Logan McDonald
R: Tom Hickey, Luke Parker, James Rowbottom
Int: Will Hayward, Braeden Campbell, Tom McCartin, George Hewett
INS: Tom Hickey (West Coast), Logan McDonald (pick 4), Braeden Campbell (pick 5), Errol Gulden (pick 32), Malachy Carruthers (rookie).
OUTS: Aliir Aliir (Port Adelaide), Zac Foot, Michael Knoll, Jack Maibaum, Harry Reynolds, Brady Rowles, Ryley Stoddart, Elijah Taylor, Jackson Thurlow (delisted).
The good: Sydney's defence held up remarkably well, despite the fact they conceded the most inside 50s in the league. The Swans conceded 63.4 points per game, a ranking of 12th. They also conceded a score from 39 per cent of their oppositions inside 50s, which ranked them ninth defensively.
The bad: Stuck in the middle. The midfield is the main area of concern for the Swans after they ranked in the bottom-four sides for contested possession, ground ball-get differential, loose ball-get differential and clearance differential.
Prediction after six matches: 2 wins, 4 losses
R1 v Brisbane (Gabba) - L
R2 v Adelaide (SCG) - W
R3 v Richmond (MCG) - L
R4 v Essendon (SCG) - W
R5 v GWS (SCG) - L
R6 v Gold Coast (Metricon) - L
The Swans face a potentially bruising start to the season with clashes against two of last year's finalists - premier Richmond and the Brisbane Lions. Their best hope of victory will be against Adelaide and the Bombers at home, while the clash against the Suns away is winnable.
After finishing 16th in 2020 with five wins for the season, it is going to take a big turnaround for the Swans to improve dramatically on that.
Expected finish: 12th-16th
ROBBO'S LIKES AND DISLIKES
Herald Sun chief football writer Mark Robinson tackles the Swans.
Smoky for the eight with the big guy to return - that's Lance Franklin - and Isaac Heeney, who only managed five games in 2020. Really noticeable the team tried to move the ball quicker and central, and with Franklin and Heeney forward, this quicker style should pay off. Games from this duo will be a bonus on top of what John Longmire has been developing. Probably won't crack September, but have more youth through the door in draftees Logan McDonald (pick 4), Braeden Campbell (5) and Errol Gulden (32). Plus Tom Hickey, Dylan Stephens, James Rowbottom and Nick Blakey between the arcs will be exciting.
It takes time to find pace and capability in the midfield. Before the 2020 season, the Swans were concerned about their ability to get from contest to contest in the midfield. It's still a work in progress. Ollie Florent has to elevate in that area if he's going to reach the levels expected of him. As said, the Swans are a work in progress, and need injury-plagued Franklin's 55 goals now Tom McCartin is in defence. They will worry teams because every time they step out, they give their all.
Need Buddy to stay on the park
BURNING QUESTIONS ANSWERED
Fox Footy experts Nick Riewoldt, David King, Leigh Montagna and Jordan Lewis join Robbo to give their predictions for 2021 on Sydney:
ROBBO: My opinion of the Sydney Swans is they're the best no-name team I think I've ever seen play. They've been under the radar for far too long. Can they make the eight this year?
JOEY: No, not for me. I still think they're a bit of a way off. I know some of the others on this table are a bit more bullish, but they still have some real deficiencies in their game. The midfield still has a fair bit of work to go. Their young players in Florent, Stephens, Rowbottom and McInerney will all be good players, but at the moment they're still a bit off. They're progressing nicely, but I've got eight or 10 teams ahead of them easily.
JORDAN: Sydney are a team I enjoy watching, and they should have beaten Geelong in a game late in the season. Typically when we watch Sydney it's more boring on the eye with more stoppages and slow ball movement, but now they've got a little bit more pace in their side and they've adopted this more corridor use and they're a little bit quicker from half back with Dawson. It's more enticing for a forward to know it's coming in quicker. If you add Franklin hopefully back to that list and Logan McDonald and Isaac Heeney to that side as well, they'll certainly finish higher than 16th.
ROBBO: How can you be confident that Lance Franklin can get back?
ROOEY: We're all hopeful but that's all you can be. You can't be supremely confident. He's on the wrong side of 30 and that was always the risk when they took on the deal. But he's not going to be the difference between being a top four side and not. Whether he plays or not, it's almost a bit inconsequential. It would be great for all of us and for them because they'll probably win a few more games, but I don't think they'll contend on the back of Lance Franklin being healthy this year.
KINGY: I think they're another big improver this year, the Swans. I don't know if they make the eight, but in the last three or four weeks of the season they'll still be in contention and that's a big step forward. They're a green banana right now and they'll be yellow when it's ripe and ready to win.
JOEY: They're a bit raw to be challenging for the eight this year. Bottom six for me.
ROOEY: I think they can sneak up to 11th or 12th.
KINGY: I wouldn't be shocked if they made the eight. They'll be right on the knife's edge of it.
JORDAN: Anywhere from 8th to 10th.
Originally published as Is it still Buddy or bust for the Swans?