Sydney defender Jeremy Laidler has identified the Swans’ flexibility down back as a key factor in the club remaining one of the toughest to score against in the AFL, despite injury and age issues.
The Swans have conceded the second-least points in the competition this season, despite losing key defenders Ted Richards and Michael Talia for multiple weeks and fielding several young and inexperienced players at the back.
Only the Western Bulldogs have given up fewer points in a season in which the Swans have undergone more defensive flux than in many years.
One change was expected with the retirement of rebounding defender Rhyce Shaw, but their key position depth was sorely tested when Richards and recruit Talia went down.
The Swans’ backline against North Melbourne last Friday included 22-year-old senior debutant Harrison Marsh, 21-year-old Zak Jones (23 games) and 19-year-old first-season player Callum Mills (10 games).
Sydney also blooded another defender Aliir Aliir earlier in the season.
They have conceded 10 or fewer goals in each of their eight wins.
“It just shows the flexibility that we do have down there, that we can play tall or small depending on what the match-ups are that week,” Laidler said.
“It just shows we can bring anyone into the side and they can fill a role for us too, as you saw with Harrison Marsh and Aliir Aliir.”
Ironically, despite Sydney’s injection of youth down back this year, some pundits talked about an ageing defence and criticised veteran key position back Heath Grundy after the one-point loss to Richmond.
“They wrote us off from the start of the season and they talk a little bit about our age,” Laidler said.
Laidler, who is enjoying a consistent season, stressed the whole team rather than just the back six deserved credit for restricting opposing sides scoring.
“If there’s not that pressure on the footy and we’re not playing team defence, then it’s a lot harder for us down back,” Laidler said.
“Especially the forwards, they put a lot of pressure on the ball coming out – it just flows on to the mids.
“It shows that if one line is down, the whole team collapses.”