Sydney Swans and Geelong Cats have achieved incredible consistency by ignoring traditional club rebuilds

Renovation over rebuild. NEIL CORDY reveals how the Swans and Cats have stolen a march on the competition by challenging convention.

While other teams rebuild, Sydney and Geelong renovate.

They don’t believe in the old footy axiom that a team must hit the bottom of the ladder to rise to the top again. Richmond, Hawthorn and Brisbane have all produced dynasties in the modern era but, when it comes to consistency through decades, the Swans and Cats have led the way.

The man who led Sydney to their drought-breaking 2005 premiership, Paul Roos, believes building a winning culture far outweighs the value of getting high draft picks from finishing lower on the ladder.

“Rebuilding is a myth,” Roos tells CODE Sports. “Geelong and Sydney have shown the way by staying in contention and having a succession of senior players who show the new generations what is the right way to do things.

“The young players learn how to win games of footy. Other teams who choose to rebuild are going about it the wrong way.

“Rebuilding hasn’t worked. Free agency is the biggest influence in allowing strong clubs to re-stock, players are almost free agents now the way they move.

“If you look at (2021’s No.1 draft pick) Jason Horne-Francis, who is a very good player, but when you go to the bottom team you aren’t going to make that much difference. It didn’t happen at the same time but Jeremy Cameron goes to Geelong and Horne-Francis goes to North Melbourne, Who gets better?

“It’s such a long way to go if a club goes down the rebuilding road because of free agency.”

In the 26 years since Tony Lockett booted the Swans into the 1996 grand final, the Swans have advanced to the season decider six more times. They’ve won two of those. Geelong have contested six and won three over the past 27 seasons.

The consistency with which both sides have qualified for the finals is similarly astonishing. Since the top eight was introduced in 1994, Geelong and Sydney have missed out just seven times each.

The next closest team is West Coast (eight), followed by Western Bulldogs, Adelaide and Port Adelaide (13), then Essendon, Collingwood and North Melbourne (14). Melbourne, by contrast, has finished outside the eight in 20 of those seasons.

“It’s clearly an advantage for the clubs that don’t (rebuild),” Roos says.

“You look at Sydney and Geelong and they’re in the grand final, and the teams that realize it doesn’t work like Richmond, who look like they’ve re-stocked with (Jacob) Hopper and (Tim) Taranto. Richmond looks like the next team which has decided they’re not going to rebuild, we’re just going to restock.

“They have a huge advantage over the rest of the competition which think it’s the way to go.”

The Swans and Cats share many similar traits, starting with coaching.

John Longmire and Chris Scott both started in their senior roles in 2011 and took over from successful predecessors in Roos and Mark Thompson, respectively.

Scott won a premiership in his first year and Longmire in his second.

Both have scar tissue as well. Longmire has lost two grand finals since his early triumph against Hawthorn (2014) and the Western Bulldogs (2016). Scott experienced defeat two years ago against Richmond (2020).

The pair also have the best win-loss record of the current AFL coaches with Scott leading the way on 69 per cent and Longmire 62 per cent.

Both coaches have been ably supported by outstanding recruitment from long-term list managers Kinnear Beatson (Sydney) and Stephen Wells at Geelong.

Beatson says the Swans “renovation over rebuild” philosophy was established in 2009 when the club identified two key areas – leg speed and ball movement – ​​as their pillars to recruitment and success, and recruited Lewis Jetta and Gary Rohan accordingly.

“You have to find other avenues outside the national draft to find players,” Beatson told CODE Sports. “Stephen Wells has done this at Geelong with players from the rookie draft [Bradley Close, Tom Atkins, Zach Guthrie] and from Ireland like Mark O’Connor. A number of our backline are rookie listed players [Dane Rampe, Jake Lloyd].”

Both grand final line ups will feature outstanding young talent which has been vital in taking both teams to the last Saturday in September.

Geelong has been re-energized by Sam De Koning, Max Holmes and Tyson Stengle while the Swans have been boosted by the likes of Chad Warner, Errol Gulden and Justin McInerney.

Warner, in particular, has been a revelation in the midfield.

“The thing we liked was during the nationals there were critical moments in matches when Chad showed his physicality and power,” Beatson continues. “He would lay a tackle or burst through at key moments. There were signs there that he was a genuine competitor and he wasn’t frightened by the big moments, that’s starting to come to fruition now.

“In his interviews he had a cheeky and devilish smile and when you started to talk about footy he clearly understood what was going on and could recall moments in a game which showed his competitive instincts.

“He’s a footy head and he really studies the game.”

Talented youth like Warner have been mentored in winning culture by some of the best senior players of a generation including Luke Parker, Josh Kennedy, Rampe and Lance Franklin at the Swans. At Geelong, young talent like Holmes and De Koning have superstar mentors in the form of Joel Selwood, Patrick Dangerfield and Tom Hawkins.

Despite their relative success, both teams have been criticized in recent years for under achieving: Longmire and the Swans for not winning a flag since Lance Franklin arrived at the club in 2014, Scott for losing five preliminary finals since winning the premiership in his first season as coach in 2011.

On Saturday, one of them will have the last laugh.

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