IF YOU wanted a midfield to play for your life, you would be very happy to have this Sydney group represent you.
Every time I watch them play, it is their unrelenting and uncompromising approach to the game that has me walking away, shaking my head.
I do the same thing when I watch Joel Selwood attack the footy. Or Lenny Hayes, Jobe Watson, Trent Cotchin, Daniel Kerr, Patrick Dangerfield, Rory Sloane, Andrew Swallow, Callan Ward or Matthew Boyd. Individually, these players are the game’s true warriors. They possess a ”competitive gene” that is overdeveloped and distinctly uncommon. It allows them to overcome fear and approach every contest with a wholeheartedness that wins them the ultimate respect among peers and fans alike.
If the club you support is lucky, you will have one such player you can go along and watch each week, content in the knowledge that, regardless of the result of the game, that particular player will emerge unbowed and provide the template, hopefully, for others in the side to attempt to follow.
I say attempt because they set a benchmark few can reach. But if it can inspire the rest of the group to discover the ”will” to elevate their own effort, improvement is assured.
It is rare, however, to bear witness to a side that has so many of this treasured sort of player running around in the midfield at the same time. Kieren Jack, Josh Kennedy, Jude Bolton, Jarrad McVeigh, Luke Parker, Daniel Hannebery and Ryan O’Keefe all qualify, in my eyes, as ultimate competitors.
People often wonder what it is about the Swans that enables them to take ordinary players from other clubs and transform them into very good, consistent footballers. I would suggest that you look no further than what takes place in the middle of the ground each week.
It would appear that this midfield group inspires, challenges and even dares each other to ”outgrunt” one another when the heat of a football game is at its fiercest.
The ferocity of the attack on the football from each of these players simply seems to fuel the competitiveness in them all. They appear to want to scramble over the top of each other for the privilege of putting their head on the line and wearing one for the team.
There appears to be a frenzy when it comes to contested football. Like a pack of wild lions descending on a carcass, every one of them is maniacally desperate to get their share of what’s on offer. That they are the No. 1 contested possession side in the competition should surprise no one.
The amount of times Bolton, Jack, McVeigh, Parker or O’Keefe have left the field sporting a head bandage or stitches, or spent time on the bench under the blood rule is testament to their attitude. You get the feeling that they would not be satisfied with their efforts if at least one of them didn’t have such an experience. And if, as in the case of Parker earlier this year, the damage is a little more serious than that, then that’s a consequence that they are happy to wear as well. It may even be a sign that you have truly earned your ”colours”, the colour of the Bloods, best championed by one of the great warriors of recent times, former Swan skipper, Brett Kirk.
The other thing about this group I find fascinating is where they have come from. Only Bolton and McVeigh emerged from the absolute elite of the draft pool, with Bolton pick eight in 1998 and McVeigh pick five in 2002.
The rest were all on offer for every other club in the competition. Kennedy, of course, started with the Hawks but was traded to the Swans for pick 39.
O’Keefe slid through to the fourth round of 1999 (pick 56), Hannebery (30) and Parker (40) were second-round picks, and Jack was an inspired rookie-list selection who was elevated to the senior list in 2007.
Complementing this group are two ruckmen who share a similar mentality. Shane Mumford’s ability and willingness to follow up his ruck work with a desperation not always seen in the big men, is inspiring. He arrived at the club via Geelong, which cost the Swans pick 28 in 2009. And Mike Pyke has joined in on the act. The former Canadian rugby player came off the rookie list in 2010 and continues to improve at a rate of knots that astounds. Their opponents this afternoon are no slouches in this area. Jordan Lewis, Brad Sewell and Luke Hodge all sit comfortably under this banner.
The pedigree of the Hawks’ midfield group looks a little different to that of the Swans, however, when we look at where they originated from. Hodge, Lewis, Cyril Rioli, Isaac Smith and Xavier Ellis were all first-round draft picks, Shaun Burgoyne cost two first-round choices, Jarryd Roughead, who has spent plenty of time in the ruck was a pick two, and Max Bailey, who they remain hopeful of getting back for some football this year, was taken in the first round in 2005.
Further examination of the midfields would have it that the Hawks are not as ”inside” as the Swans. Of course, at one stage earlier in the year, the criticism of the Hawks was that they were too one-paced and had too many similar types in at the centre square. As the year has rolled on, they have been able to introduce Liam Shiels into the centre square set-up, got an increased output from renowned gut runners Smith and Clinton Young, gave Bradley Hill his debut and last week recalled Chance Bateman.
The Hawks are much more satisfied with the ”mix” they are able to produce each week.
It will be put to the ultimate test today. The Swans’ No. 1 outside runner, Lewis Jetta, has had a marvellous season but he is beginning to feel the weight of opposition attention and you would imagine that Al Clarkson is not about to let him off the hook.
So, in a battle of the midfields, who will prevail today? The Swans’ ferocious inside competitors, who sacrifice body as a matter of course, or the highly credentialled Hawks who have prioritised outside run to complement their contested ball animals?
The fact that the biggest games of the year are played at the MCG is something to consider in the coming weeks. It has been a barren destination for the boys from Sydney for some time.
But for now, on the tighter confines of the SCG, I’m leaning towards the Swannies. With more room to spread and run on the MCG, I would go the other way. Either way, expect bandages and blood at some stage today.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.