Sydney coach John Longmire faces tough decisions as he continues to reshape the AFL club’s list following a second grand final loss in three seasons.
Longmire and his colleagues have done a tremendous job keeping the Swans competitive throughout his tenure, when the club’s streak of finals appearances has continued.
The transition between grand final failures in 2014 and 2016 has been stark. Almost half of the team thumped by Hawthorn had been replaced by younger talent in Saturday’s upset loss to Western Bulldogs.
Unfortunately for Sydney it was the same result and co-captain Jarrad McVeigh and superstar Lance Franklin, a third of the way through an unprecedented $10 million deal, earned unwanted tags.
No current player has tallied more AFL grand final losses than three, a mark Franklin and McVeigh share with Fremantle journeyman Zac Dawson and St Kilda’s Sean Dempster.
It is also of course an envious position for players who have gone their whole careers without contesting a final, let alone a grand final.
McVeigh, Longmire and chairman Andrew Pridham all spoke optimistically about the future at a sombre club function on Saturday night in Melbourne.
“I’d rather have got here and things not work out than not get here at all,” Longmire told the crowd.
“It doesn’t in any way mean we’re not disappointed, we’re absolutely shattered.
“It will not stop us from trying to climb back to the top of the mountain again. I guarantee you come 8am Monday we’re going back to work to try and get better and get a step ahead.”
Longmire was a man of few words in his post-match press conference but later opened up more about a season of regeneration in which seven players debuted.
“Our younger kids came on in leaps and bounds and blew a real fresh air through the place,” he told a crowd of more than 1000 fans.
“We always have and always will continue to try and be competitive every week, it’s part of our DNA. At the same time, looking to the future as well.
“The future might be just over the horizon and we need to keep working along those lines and get the balance in play.”
The expectation is Ben McGlynn and Tom Mitchell have played their last game for the club, with the former unlikely to be offered a new contract and the latter set to sign a lucrative deal with Hawthorn.
Ted Richards retired this year, leaving McGlynn, McVeigh and Heath Grundy as the only Swans to have celebrated their 30th birthdays.
Franklin, Kurt Tippett and Kieren Jack will all turn 30 next year.
“We have a list that’s fantastic and so many young players coming through and a few guys unfortunate today to miss out.They’ll be better for it and we’ll strive to go one better next year,” McVeigh said at Saturday’s function.
“The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart … we will get stronger,” he said.
The Swans’ most pressing concern is Dan Hannebery’s knee.
Hannebery will have scans but is upbeat he didn’t suffer a serious injury in the fourth quarter of a game that left the midfielder “devastated … frustrated and flat”.
“It will burn for a while and it’s probably what will drive hopefully the group to get better,” Hannebery said.