The Swans, led by co-captain Adam Goodes (centre) have a real opportunity for another premiership. Photo: Getty Images
WHEN Sydney marked the AFL centenary season of 1996 by climbing from 12th on the ladder the previous year all the way to a grand final, it was a football romantic's dream, the Swans not even having played off for a flag for 50 years.
When the same club steps on to the grand final stage on Saturday, it still won't be seen as anything like an AFL heavyweight. But perhaps now it should.
It's 30 years since a broke and bereft South Melbourne headed north as the then VFL's first expansion club. It's fair to say there were more than a few heartaches, crises and false starts, such as the Geoffrey Edelsten era, along the way. But for nearly two decades now, the Swans have been a model of consistency, and success.
Since that defining moment in 1996, Sydney has barely missed a beat. No fewer than 14 finals appearances from 17 seasons played. Four grand finals now, a first premiership for 72 years in 2005, and a real opportunity for another this weekend.
Stability has become the club's byword. It's apparent in the culture of the Swans on the field, that "Bloods" ethos far more real than cliche, and marked by a ferocity at the contest and selflessness that has now spilled through several generations of players. It's just as apparent on the other side of the fence, too, where Sydney chairman Richard Colless is in his 19th season at the helm, and the likes of chief executive Andrew Ireland and football manager Dean Moore roll up their sleeves and get their job done without fuss year after year.
Not to mention the coaching box, where the transition from Paul Roos to then assistant coach John Longmire two years ago was a seamless exercise.
Longmire has added some strings to the Swans' bow, a little more dare and dash. But always underpinned by the honest work ethic of the Roos-coached Swans, and which had served Rodney Eade so well even before him. Nor has Sydney lacked the confidence to swim against the tide, its dogged stoppage football winning the day in 2005 despite a tide of scepticism from much of the football world, and especially the disdain of its upper echelons.
Its needs-based recruiting has also served up an ongoing supply of success stories made of other clubs' castoffs, and effectively rewritten the manual on list management, proof that you can regenerate a playing list while remaining more than just competitive.
As a club, Sydney gets it right time after time, the seemingly yearly underestimation of its on-field prospects now a running joke. One which could well end in one hell of a punchline on Saturday afternoon.
The Crows didn't earn enough respect for what they'd achieved in 2012. That must have changed now after one of the braver finals performances from an underdog in recent years. Early finals jitters were
overcome, and strong midfield and potent attack (providing Tippett stays) should set Adelaide up for
next few years. Sensational coaching performance from Brenton Sanderson in debut, 14th to third and seven wins to 18 definitive proof, but so too the re-emergence of the Crows' intensity and rapid development of likes of Talia, Wright and Smith.
The sceptics will look at the bottom line, a finish of fourth compared to last year's second, and mark
2012 down as a failure. That's a harsh call given a debutant coach in Nathan Buckley, a truckload of early season injuries and some ongoing off-field distractions. The flip side is the Magpies stayed competitive and consistent, their 10 wins on end the season’s longest streak. Just didn't have enough left in tank at finish. Issues now sorting out ruck support for Jolly and hanging on to Cloke, but still plenty of life left in these Pies.
A nerve-wracking prelude to a shot at a premiership, but the Hawks survived, finding something at the most critical moment. Key defender Schoenmakers' ailing confidence levels a concern, as is the ease with
which Adelaide scored when inside 50, but Hawthorn simply needs to maintain the same intensity around the contest and convert its chances more effectively to grasp an 11th premiership cup. Keys Rioli, Franklin,
Mitchell and Sewell are in peak form, Hawks are all fit, and a flag so close now they can taste it.
Swans did everything right in last Friday night's preliminary final, controlling the game and the scoreboard for the entire evening, bar a few minutes either side of three-quarter time. Midfield was on song, defence stingy but brilliant on the rebound, and attack dangerous, thanks to the electrifying Jetta. Sydney goes into the grand final an underdog, but one whose style and work ethic give it every chance. Has been a terrific season from the Swans and coach John Longmire, whatever happens from here.