SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MAY 01: (L-R) Luke Parker, Oliver Florent and Ryan Clarke of the Swans celebrate victory after the round seven AFL match between the Sydney Swans and the Geelong Cats at Sydney Cricket Ground on May 01, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

Sydney managed to exceed the expectations of most AFL experts in 2021 with a finals finish deemed a massive success. Despite a one-point loss to their cross-town rival, GWS, in their elimination final, there were still plenty of positives for Swans fans to get excited about. Here's how we review their season.

Season Finish: 6th
Record: 13 wins, 7 losses, 115.0%

2021 season snapshot

After an uneventful 2020, most people had written the Swans out of finals contention. In an off-season where they lost key defender Aliir Aliir to Port Adelaide and gained young talent through the draft, it seemed as though 2021 would be another year of development for the Swans.

To the surprise of many, the Swans started their 2021 campaign with a four-game winning streak, beating 2020 preliminary finalists Brisbane by 31 points in Round 1. Their early success can be attributed to structural changes, including Callum Mills' shift from defence to the midfield. The importance of Buddy Franklin's return to their forward line could not be understated, as he brought experience and a dangerous target back into their lineup.

2020 AFL Draft Media Opportunity
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 10: Braeden Campbell (L) of the Swans and Errol Gulden of the Swans pose for a photo during a media opportunity following the 2020 AFL Draft at Lakeside Oval on December 10, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

The recruitment of young talent also paid off in the early parts of the season, with the likes of Errol Gulden, Logan McDonald, Braeden Campbell, Nick Blakey and Chad Warner finding the ball and hitting the scoreboard on a regular basis.

With injuries to Callum Mills, Tom Hickey, and Buddy Franklin in the middle part of the season, the Swans saw some inconsistencies in their form, losing winnable matches against Fremantle and Hawthorn, however, their finals finish was never really in doubt.

The leadership from Captains Luke Parker, Josh Kennedy and Dane Rampe saw their side get back on track winning six of their last seven games of the home and away season.

Star Player: Luke Parker

Parker was a standout player for the Swans in 2021, providing the leadership and consistency required to lead his young side in his third season as co-captain.

Parker had an uninterrupted campaign, averaging 27.9 disposals and 4.6 tackles. He continued to lead by example and embodied the 'Bloods' culture through his on-field actions and off-field passion.

Parker's efforts saw him take home his third Bob Skilton Medal as well as poll 17 votes in the Brownlow Medal count.

Breakout player: Callum Mills

Arguably could have been named star player of the season, 2021 saw Mills reach his best football yet.

Callum Mills' shift from defence to the midfield saw his form reach new levels. With more time on-ball, Mills became far more damaging and attacking, averaging 27.5 disposals going at 75.3% efficiency.

Despite injury disrupting his season, Mills managed a top-five finish in the Swans' best and fairest as well as polling 18 votes in the Brownlow.

Positives:

The rebirth of Tom Hickey: After being traded from West Coast at the conclusion of 2020, Tom Hickey's career seemed to have plateaued out. As a surprise to many, the 30-year-old managed to put together his best season yet.

Hickey quickly cemented his place as Sydney's No.1 ruck averaging 24 hit-outs and five clearances per game.

Hickey was a welcome surprise packet that filled an important void in the ruck for the Swans in 2021, placing sixth in the Swans' best and fairest.

Continued success of the Swans' Academy: Every year the Swans reveal their new crop of players, primed for AFL football, from the Sydney Swans Academy. This academy has provided some stars of the current game including Isaac Heeney and Callum Mills, and this year was no exception.

Errol Gulden and Braeden Campbell were recruited from the Academy in the 2020 draft, both received rising star nominations in Round 1 and 2 respectively.

The energy brought by the youth of Sydney paired with the experienced of their leaders promises an exciting season in 2022.

The recruitment of Don Pyke: New assistant coach Don Pyke was a valuable addition to the Swans' coaching panel in 2021. Former Adelaide senior coach made an immediate impact on Sydney's game style and ball movement.

In 2021 Sydney moved their ball efficiently by foot and more directly towards goal, not dissimilar to the game style of Adelaide in 2017 when they lost to Richmond in the grand final.

This influence resulted in Sydney's average winning margin increasing to 30.7 points and their disposal efficiency as a team increasing to 74%. Don Pyke's impact contributed heavily to Sydney's unexpected surge up the ladder.

Negatives 

A series of costly losses: On a number of occasions when the odds were in their favour, the Swans failed to seal a win, proving costly in the latter part of the season.

Their most disappointing results came from Round 6 in their 40 point loss to Gold Coast and also Round 13 in their 38-point loss to Hawthorn, both games where they should have won.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 17: Brent Daniels of the Giants kicks a goal during the round five AFL match between the Sydney Swans and the Greater Western Sydney Giants at Sydney Cricket Ground on April 17, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Their lack of composure saw them lose close contests against Fremantle in Round 10 and GWS in Round 5. The clear lapses in form resulted in the Swans losing touch with the top four sides.

Again in their elimination final, they went down by one point against GWS, proving to be the most costly loss of the season.

Defensive lapses: Since the departure of Aliir Aliir over the 2020 trade period there has been a hole in their defensive structure.

On occasion, the opposition key forward was able to kick multiple goals against the Swans defence. Taylor Walker scored six goals, Ben king kicked five and Rory Lobb and Tom McDonald each scored four goals in their clashes with the Swans defence.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 08: Tom McCartin of the Swans is tackled by Alec Waterman of the Bombers during the round four AFL match between the Sydney Swans and the Essendon Bombers at Sydney Cricket Ground on April 08, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

With the likes of Dane Rampe, Tom McCartin and Jake Lloyd there is plenty of talent in their backline, however, the Swans should look for a stronger tall defender to lock down on their oppositions key forward.

Season Grade: A-

Sydney were expected to have a year spent developing their youth, with finals relatively out of the question.

Despite their one-point finals loss, the growth and development of this team outweigh any negatives this season.

The Swans were able to showcase their future whilst still delivering high-quality football throughout the season leaving the prospects for 2022 limitless.