Essendon started off with a bang when Joe Daniher took one of the marks of the year before kicking the first goal. Despite the fast start, they quickly faded as the Swans got on top through solid defence, composure, and deadly efficiency. After Daniher’s opener, Sydney kicked the next ten to shut the game down well before half time.
Buddy Franklin suffered a corked thigh early which clearly restricted him and ended with him cautiously resting for the entire fourth quarter. It was an early break but not before he kicked four second quarter goals to open his September account with a bang. The loss for Essendon meant the end of the line for Jobe Watson and James Kelly after extraordinary careers, and it was emotional scenes as the champion duo were given a guard of honour as they exited an AFL ground for the final time.
Sydney are moving on, and they look more dangerous than anyone. They’re the team nobody wants to face on their path to a grand final, and this win may have been their best yet.
1 Never doubt John Longmire's team selections
I, along with many others, was guilty of doubting Longmire's decisions to play Callum Sinclair and Dean Towers ahead of Kurt Tippett and Will Hayward, and I have been forced to eat my words. Playing at full forward, Sinclair was close to best on ground for his three goal and ten mark performance.
He could hardly be stopped when targeted inside 50 as he plucked everything that came near him. His ten marks included four contested and four inside 50 ending for now the apparent battle between him and Kurt Tippett for a spot in the Swans 22. It could also spell the end of Tippett's time in Sydney.
Towers also proved why he's earned his spot among the Swans' best 22 with a three goal effort and elite forward pressure. A classic under the radar Swan, Towers' efforts in regards to forward pressure often go unrewarded on the stat sheet, but it was a different story in this game. His work rate saw him with five tackles and three free kicks, which helped him set up his three-goal outing. Coach's pet Will Hayward might also struggle to get his spot back this year as the benefits of Towers' defence are too good to overlook.
2 The Bombers might be the next powerhouse
It's always a big call to predict a team becoming a top tier powerhouse like we've seen from Hawthorn, Geelong, Collingwood and St Kilda over the past decade, but Essendon have set the groundwork. Just like any champion team of the past, their management will need to stay active in terms of trades, drafting and recruiting for this to happen, but they have their building blocks headlined by Joe Daniher, Zach Merrett, and Andrew McGrath.
Not only do they have their youth, but they have a lot of good years still in David Zaharakis and Michael Hurley, who are both 27, and Dyson Heppell, who is 25. Add Orazio Fantasia, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti and Darcy Parish into the mix and a really strong lineup starts to form with a lot of room for improvement.
With the right recruitment, development, and gameplan, this young team could be something truly special. 2017 was a great campaign for them, and they should only get better and better. A heavy loss obviously isn't how they wanted things to end, but the Bombers should hold their heads high and keep focused on a bright future.
3 Don't be fooled by the Swans' stats
It's easy to compare two teams on paper and predict your outcome based off of stats, but you can never do that with Sydney; your opinion of Sydney has to come from literally watching them play, or else the stats will tell you the wrong story. Statistically they are ranked comfortably in the bottom half of the league for disposals (13th), disposal efficiency (16th), tackles (13th), and rebound 50s (10th); these are four pillars of Sydney's game plan however if you watch them play. They also only rank eighth for inside 50s with just 0.5 per game separating them from the 11th ranked St Kilda.
Despite their poor disposal efficiency, anyone who's seen a Swans game knows that their efficiency is what kills opponents. Before the fourth quarter - in which Buddy Franklin was icing on the sidelines while the rest of the team played at 75% to avoid unnecessary injuries - the Swans kicked goals from 50% of their forward 50 entries. Even after a lacklustre fourth quarter, they ended having scored goals on 35% of their forward entries, the best mark of any team in week one of the finals by a long margin; West Coast were the next closest with a 26% conversion rate.
Believe it or not, Essendon won several key statistical battles including tackles, hitouts, disposals, and free kicks, while also just about breaking even in clearances and contested possessions. None of that stopped Sydney from playing a classier game and seizing their opportunities, as they finished with 22 more inside 50s, and took an almighty 19 marks inside 50 compared to just four. Make what you will of the stats from this game, or any Swans game moving forward, but they won't tell you exactly how dangerous this team is at both ends of the ground.
4 The Bombers struggled without their speed
All year their fast ball movement and run and carry was a match winner for Essendon. In round 14 when they met the Swans it almost led them to victory, and the small SCG should have once again suited their style, but Sydney completely shut it down this time. The Bombers could get nothing going along the wings or through the middle of the ground when coming out of defence, as the Swans were time and time again set up to perfection to stop them.
The slow game they were forced to play didn't suit Essendon, and many of their players couldn't get anything going as a result. McDonald-Tipungwuti was the best evidence of this, as he struggled to have any impact anywhere on the ground, he was suffocated by Swans players any time he went near the ball. It was the same story for all of Essendon's pacemen, and it hurt them from the get go as they struggled to get the ball from Sydney's end - where the ball spent most of it's time - to their own end.
5 Sydney's forward line looks more dangerous than ever
Buddy kicked four goals in the second quarter, but was ineffective in the first and third before resting in the fourth, yet the Swans were dominant up forward through other avenues. Sinclair's contested marking and Towers' forward pressure created plenty of goals, and Sam Reid, Gary Rohan and Tom Papley are always dangerous and can be lethal with limited touches. Obviously Buddy is the focal point, but they now have a very well rounded forward line with many targets and paths towards the goal.
Moving forward, teams won't be able to completely smother Buddy like they have tried in the past as there are too many other weapons who also need attention. Not only is the forward line clicking, but Sydney's midfield remains a legitimate goal scoring option as it has been all year. Jake Lloyd and Kieren Jack both kicked goals, while Josh Kennedy and Isaac Heeney each kicked two. Sydney are dangerous at forward 50 stoppages, as their midfielders all have brilliant goal sense, and are experienced at getting into the right spots and booting quick goals straight from a ruck contest.
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