Everyone knows the coach has his stock-standard responses to the media and the fans have the choice to believe it or not. At the start of the pre-season, Paul Roos told us that due to the uncharacteristic early exit to season 07, the team had progressed further along the preparation time-line and are in good shape for the 2008 season. To most Swans fans this was the case of “nothing we haven’t heard before” and most of us thought we’d rather believe it when we saw it than take his word for it.
After witnessing the game against Port Adelaide at the newly renamed ANZ stadium, it is hard to disagree with Roos. The Swans certainly looked stronger, more cohesive, more skilled and even hungrier. Big Barry Hall was marking the ball with ease and kicking straight – a result of some off-season snip-snip and relinquishing the co-captaincy no doubt. Adam Goodes brought a sigh of relief to the few-thousand fans that turned up to the game by seeming to be in startling form from the get-go unlike last year. After his name was thrown around as trade-bait in the off-season Jude Bolton’s intent and tackling were fierce and well directed. Somebody needed to tell him it was only a practice match! Others who showed promising form included Lewis Robert-Thompson, new recruit Marty Mattner and Craig Bolton. Brett Kirk and Micky O’Loughlin showed no signs of age slowing them down just yet.
But something else excites me more than that; the “Baby-Swans” are coming of age. The signs were there in the Hawthorn game, where the Swans fielded a younger less experienced team, but by no means were they comprehensively beaten. These neo-Blood Brothers are lead by the excitement machine himself, a young lad named Craig Bird. And take note of that name, he bares the number worn by the original captain blood, Bob Skilton and more recently Paul “Captain Courageous” Kelly.
Apprehensive at first with the allocation of the famous number 14 I, along with most Swans fans, was eager to see what the fuss was all about. But after two games in the pre-season, and to my relief, it is quite clear he has the ablity to take a constested mark (even though his size is not great,) a sensible footy-head, can weave through traffic, knows where the goals are and can kick to a running target. Not to mention the trademark Swans hardness at the ball and team-first ethos. It’s not all Bird watching going on here though; another young gun also caught the eye, namely Jesse White. His big body and smooth skills and enthusiastic attitude could land him a Round 1 spot as part time backup ruckman to Darren Jolly (Everitt is listed as a possible absentee for Round 1).
Ed “Cheese” Barlow is showing glimpses of the form that saw him make his senior debut late last year. Kieran Jack knows how to dispose of the ball effectively while still being tackled and thus thrown to the ground (which is a breathe of fresh air really). There is also a rookie worth mentioning, a young man named Matthew O’Dwyer. For his size and age, he is more than holding his own in the Swans’ pre-season team and if stays out of trouble and relatively injury-free, look for him to make his senior debut some time this year.