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Swans flying high in year of the bird

As an AFL fan you would be forgiven for thinking that this year is the year of the bird.
With the Magpies, Eagles, Hawks and Crows all perched inside the top 8, the AFLs avian teams are all in full flight.
But it’s another bird team that has recently peaked my interest and one that, despite its successful season, has not so been so heavily branded as a high flier – the Sydney Swans.
The Swans currently sit above any other bird in the nest.
On 56 points, 14 wins and only 3 losses, the Sydney Swans sit atop the AFL ladder in one of the closest seasons in recent times.
Sydney have had a remarkable season to date but what I think is even more impressive is the way in which they have done it.
While teams like Essendon, Collingwood and Hawthorn have received plenty of media attention surrounding their premiership prospects, Sydney have more or less flown under the radar.
Up until recently, Sydney was chugging along well without posing a genuine threat.
But in the past few weeks the media have begun to notice them, and for good reason.
So far this year they have claimed the scalps of the heavy hitting Hawks, the Bombers and, most impressively, a comprehensive victory over the West Coast Eagles at Patterson Stadium.
Their midfield is regularly underrated and as a team they have had some hard wins as well as some blow outs victories. Many of these games were won without the on field presence of Adam Goodes and Shane Mumford.
Sydney is finally getting talked about now and the talk is all positive. The reason they have managed this feat is because of their ability to constantly build, an achievement that extends beyond season 2012.
Since appearing in consecutive premierships in 2005 and 2006, Sydney have dropped out of the top 8 only once, finishing twelfth in 2009.
Unlike teams such as Geelong, who were considering sacking Mark Thomson before their premiership era, or Carlton, who have experienced a 13 year premiership drought defined by multiple wooden spoons, Sydney have not bombed out prior to success.
Even in the five years prior to their 2005 Premiership the Swans only finished outside the top 8 twice, finishing a low of eleventh in 2002.
This means that the Swans lowest finish in twelve years has been twelfth.
Rebuilding is a dirty word in the AFL and it’s a phase that no team wants to be going through.
But in the minds of many rebuilding is a necessary evil.
Carlton has finally begun their slow ascent up the ladder and this has been marked by multiple wooden spoons as well as multiple number one draft picks and the lucrative trade of Chris Judd.
Sydney however has not fallen so far from grace and has therefore not had these opportunities.
Instead, the Swans have developed an ability to draft and transform recycled players such as Barry Hall, Ted Richards and Shane Mumford.
Maybe AFL teams should rethink how necessary rebuilding really is.
Sydney are far from guaranteed premiers in this unpredictable 2012 season but their on-field and off field tactics over many years hold them in good stead for success in 2012.
At the very least their consistent performances and alternative recruitment methods should give the other teams something to think about.
::Stephen McCambridge


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