John Longmire always expected his Sydney side to return to contention, but the Swans coach admits they will face “the best team of the year” in AFL the grand finale.
The Swans’ mix of battle-hardened veterans and young guns set up a first-ever decider against Geelong just two years after finishing in the bottom four.
The lowly finishes in 2019-20 are the only two times the Swans have missed out on a finals appearance in Longmire’s 12-year reign, which produced one premiership win in three finals.
After them a thrilling one-point win over Collingwood in the preliminary final at the SCG on Saturday, the Swans coach was adamant the rapid rise should not be taken as a surprise.
“There were high expectations within us. We want to give these guys an opportunity to play in the finals every year,” Longmire said. “We just felt confident in our playing group this year. They are a good group.
“They’ve got some experience there and some great young guys that I really enjoy working with. You get the right people in the right positions and that gives you an opportunity. To get to the last game, it’s an extraordinary effort to get there, and then you want to make the most of that opportunity.”
The Swans have won nine games in a row but face a tough test against the Cats, who have won 15 games in a row and beat Brisbane in the preliminary final for 71 points.
The only meeting of the grand finalists this year came in the second round, with the Swans winning by 30 points at the SCG in a most memorable match Lance Franklin scored his 1,000th career goal and the following scenes.
“We’re playing a team that have finished two home and away seasons clean, they had a great game last night so they’ll be very confident,” Longmire said.
“They were brilliant, they really dominated from the first bounce, they played like the best team they’ve had all year. We understand what they’re doing, they’re a great team. We will have to play to our strengths, but we will give it.”
As always, Franklin looks key to the Swans’ chances of final success, especially after in-form striker Sam Reid had to be replaced in the preliminary final with an adductor injury.
With Reed a serious doubt for the grand final, attention will be on Franklin, who returned from a rare finals defeat to score twice in the first half before being well held by Darcy Moore as the Pies began their comeback with late
“I thought he was really good, especially early,” Longmire said. “I thought he won contest after contest, he chased, started a big chase down the other flank and was critical. He’s been and gone, big Bud. He charged around, I thought he gave us a lot of energy.