Sydney is the team to beat for this year’s AFL premiership, according to the man who played more league football than anyone else.
Brent Harvey has cast his eye over the eight finalists and believes the Swans are the strongest side vying for the flag this year, despite the fact they finished sixth due largely to an 0-6 start.
That means they’ll need to win four straight finals to claim a first premiership since 2012, starting on Saturday against the seventh-placed Essendon at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
But Harvey said if any team was capable of emulating the Western Bulldogs of last season and winning a competition from outside the top four, it was the 2017 Swans.
“To win 14 of the last 16 games is a phenomenal effort, for me right now Sydney Swans are the best team in the competition,” Harvey said.
“Unfortunately for Sydney the grand final’s not this week, it’s in four weeks. They’ve got to maintain that but I’m a firm believer that their good form can continue.
“They’ve only got to hold it up for another four weeks, get four wins and they can win the premiership.
“If you take in the context of the season, being zip and six, no club in the history of the VFL, AFL have ever made finals from there. They haven’t just scraped in – they could’ve easily finished fourth.
“They’re a very proud club, the culture with the Bloods. They would’ve looked each other in the eye, been honest with each other.
“I read that somewhere the other day, they had to be really honest with each other and tell a few blokes how it was. They’ve done that, they’ve bounced back, [there is] no better time to be in good form.”
Harvey has long kept a close eye on the Swans, ever since premiership teammate John Longmire took the head-coaching reins in 2011, with fellow flag winner John Blakey as his assistant.
The trio tasted success at North Melbourne in 1999, Harvey’s fourth season of an incredible 432-match career.
“He’s unbelievable as a coach, you look back and you admire what he did as a player and then what he’s been able to do as a coach to bring them from zip and six is unbelievable,” Harvey said.
“He’s got a great team around him. They’ve got some great assistant coaches.
“Sydney are probably the best team in the competition because they don’t have 18 contributors, they don’t have 16 or 17 to get the job done, they have 21.
“Sometimes there’s one player that might get beaten on the night. They’ve got 21, sometimes 22 contributors. For me, that’s how you win finals, you’ve got to have everyone on the same ballpark, you can’t carry players.
“As soon as you start carrying four or five players is when a team struggles in finals because it’s a completely different ballgame, it goes up another level.”
Harvey also noted the presence of Lance Franklin, fresh from a 10-goal haul against Carlton in the final round, as the Swans’ finals trump card.
“I was lucky enough to play with Wayne [Carey] and you’d just look up there and know if you can get the ball in there enough times he can kick a winning score,” Harvey said.
“I’m sure the Sydney Swans, they won’t rely on Buddy to do it but they’ll certainly walk taller. Gary Rohan, I heard during the week, he walks out and he feels so much bigger and taller because he’s got Buddy next to him.
“That’s a good thing to have in finals knowing that when it hits the fan, you can just bob it in long and Buddy can take a mark.
“Not a lot of teams have got that factor up forward where they’re that confident getting the ball in and there’ll be a bloke that can kick a score for them.”
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