Sydney have fielded as many first-gamers this season as Greater Western Sydney despite the raft of draft concessions handed to the competition’s newest club.
In what is likely to come as a surprise to many, the Swans are matching the Giants when it comes to blooding new talent this year, with five each, but it has not stopped them from building a strong foundation for a tilt at back-to-back flags.
The contrasting fortunes of the two teams is due in no small part to the vastly different age demographics of their lists.
Whereas the Swans have an even blend of youth and experience the Giants, having decided to stockpile the best kids in the country in the past few drafts, own a list dominated by second-year youngsters.
Sydney’s long injury toll has forced the Swans to turn to youth, but their five debutants this year have had the benefit of coming into senior ranks surrounded by experience – a luxury the Giants do not have.
For example, when Lachie Whitfield made his senior debut in round one the No.1 draft pick had just two 100-gamers to turn to for on-field direction whereas the rookie-listed Dane Rampe had 19 premiership Swans giving him guidance.
Swans coach John Longmire said the leadership of veterans such as Jude Bolton, Ryan O’Keefe, Jarrad McVeigh, Kieren Jack and co had been invaluable in helping the club’s five debutants make the transition to the firsts. ”It does help those blokes to see how they train during a pre-season, how they prepare from week to week, how they interact in meetings, how they come out on the weekend and compete week in, week out,” Longmire said.
Winning also helps.
”If you’re playing a consistent brand of footy, and you come into a team and enjoy the fruits of your labour by working, and understanding that therefore leads to the end result, is important for the younger kids,” Longmire said.
”It’s been something we wanted to do the last few years – inject the younger players into our team.”
The long-term injuries carried by several key Swans has meant Rampe, Brandon Jack, Tom Mitchell and Jed Lamb have been able to string together multiple games rather than yo-yoing to and from the reserves.
Again, the ability of their leaders to shoulder the load has taken the pressure off their youngsters.
”That’s meant the younger players coming into the team can play that role without having that pressure on them even though we’ve had some significant players out of the team,” Longmire said.
”It’s clearly not ideal but what it does do is provide some opportunities, and every team goes through it.”
The big test will come later in the season and in the finals but Longmire has seen enough to suggest they can handle the added pressure.
”That’s what we’re seeing at the moment and we’ve been really pleased with those kids,” he said. ”To be able to get used to playing senior football with men, against men, in front of crowds is a good thing.”
Giants list manager Stephen Silvagni said this week he was comfortable with the club’s recruiting philosophy even if it brought short-term pain.
”I’m really proud to see what they’re doing,” Silvagni said.
”I often speak to other clubs and they often give praise for what the group’s been able to do. They’re 20-year-old young men and they’re coming up against seasoned athletes. It’s a brutal game and it generally takes them four to five years to get AFL bodies.”
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.