It has been eight years since that second generation climbed Everest in the 2012 grand final and, after a series of retirements, injuries, and the moving on of mid-tier fringe players, the Swans are now in the deep end of a rebuild: Bloods 3.0.
They are now inundated by young top-end talent to a point we have not seen before. Dylan Stephens (pick 5, 2019), Nick Blakey (pick 10, 2018), Oliver Florent (pick 11, 2016), Will Hayward (pick 21, 2016), James Rowbottom (pick 25, 2018), and Isaac Heeney and Callum Mills, both of whom would’ve been top three picks until pick-matched by the Swans in 2015 and 2016 respectively, are all crucial members of the team. The Swans have the second youngest list in the comp – behind only the Gold Coast Suns – and are the third-least experienced in terms of average matches per player. However, the bulk of this experience has not taken the field in recent weeks with both Lance Franklin and Kennedy out with injuries. Such is the youth of the Swans that Mills (23) and Heeney (24) appear veterans on the field.
Youth at a football club brings excitement; an early gamer plays without fear of scorn from the coaches. They are not disgruntled by being on the cusp for three or four years, nor are they labouring on with the despair of knowing that a premiership is unlikely in the twilight of their careers.
It’s hard not to like a group of young lads who attack a game with an almost untainted, reckless abandon and freedom, especially when they win. It’s hard not to smile when you see the post-game handshake between Aliir Aliir and James Bell. And it’s bloody hard not to like Tom Papley, the boy from Bunyip who gets in people’s faces, as he kicks goals and swings his arms in a perpetual windmill celebration before laughing at Alastair Clarkson after the game. He has such swagger and a confidence that the Swans must do everything they can to keep him around.
To players of the 2012 grand final team – the offcuts, the draft steals, the journeymen – the Bloods trademark naturally spoke. The choice to buy into a team who has shown faith in you, when few else have, is an easy one to make. The challenge now is for a team of highly talented and touted players to make the Bloods culture work for themselves. They can grip the lessons of the 2000s. They can retell the stories of the Maxfields, the Boltons, the Kirks. They can look at the 2012 team and talk about Adam Goodes playing on a busted PCL, but they must then look at themselves, and see that these players are no longer there (as too should commentators) and be excited that this team is theirs to shape.
There are fears that bandwagon Sydney fans will turn their backs on the “ugly ducklings”, but please … aren’t all ducklings a little rough on the eyes for a bit? I say rejoice as the sea of fresh faces begins to disperse the illusion that comes to mind when the Bloods take the field each weekend.