The Swans know all too well what the 2016 Bulldogs were able to produce five years ago.
Matching up as heavy favourites, Sydney were the last to fall to the red-hot Dogs as they finished off their fairytale finals campaign, winning the 2016 premiership from 7th on the ladder.
The road to the finals was a rocky one for the Dogs, who failed to show decent form until the latter stages of the season, in which they went into the finals series winning three of their last four games.
The last team to win outside of the top four, the Bulldogs' premiership win is a model the Swans should be looking to imitate as they sit outside double chance territory in sixth position.
As the young Swans look to make a deep finals push this September, let's have a look and compare the 2021 Swans with the loved drought-breaking Bulldogs side.
Currently on a three-game winning streak themselves, the Swans have been the surprise team of the 2021 season. Dominating Brisbane and reigning champs Richmond in the opening three rounds, the Swans announced themselves on the scene early and have managed to continue exceeding expectations throughout the course of the season.
Their current three-game win streak has been against top-eight sides, starting with a 92-point demolition of the Eagles, followed by a toppling of the then top-of-the-table Bulldogs, before finishing it off mounting an enormous comeback win against fellow finals hopefuls GWS.
The run home presents the Swans with an enormous opportunity. An opportunity to head into finals with an eight-game winning streak, launching themselves into the top four. With form like they're currently displaying, the Swans themselves, the victims in 2016, have the opportunity to be the fairytale contender like the Dogs were.
All games leading into finals are against sides lower than them on the ladder, with the Dockers, Bombers and Saints presenting to be the biggest challengers in their way. After already taking care of the tougher opponents on the post-bye run home, the Swans look likely to head into finals in the best form in the competition.
The Head Coach
A huge key for the Swans' ability to lift during season 2021 is coach John Longmire. Like Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge was to a young premiership side, Longmire has been able to galvanise a young group of players through a caring style that revolves around togetherness of the group.
There was no better example of this than the scenes post-game on the weekend. A testing 24 hours prior to their clash, with last-minute changes forced into play due to a forever-changing COVID situation that led to a monumental come-from-behind win against the Giants.
The win summed up the Swans' season to date, being able to defy expectations and overcome obstacles to rise above and get a result. A spirit that has been led by their leader in Longmire.
“To say it was a good win would probably be an understatement.” Longmire said post game.
"It was an unbelievable effort when you consider we had enough reasons (to not keep going)... I thought the players ability to dig in and push against the tide when things weren't going well was outstanding."
Longmire's ability to lead his group in the manner that he has looks to have recreated the 'bloods' culture within his group. The strong culture endorsing togetherness and unity is similar to that of the 2016 Bulldogs, who relied upon their strong united culture to help propel a relatively young side to the highest of highs.
The young Swans play for one another when on the field, with an attitude and game style that has caught a number of opponents off guard. Their Round 3 demolition of the Tigers left the reigning premiers shellshocked, with fluid ball movement and transition forward from the back-half a highlight in what turned out to set the tone for the remainder of the season.
Signs of this culture were teased during the off-season, with a video of Sydney's young core all celebrating together as their horse Champs D'Or won race one at Kilmore.
So many emotions, how good is horse ownership⁉️
— Racing.com (@Racing) February 4, 2021
Admittedly a light hearted and loose example, it does show the early signs of the young group becoming a brotherhood post-hub-life. The culture of the group outreaching the game of footy itself and bleeding into their lives as well.
“You’ve got to get going to win a premiership, you’ve got to have that momentum – and they are galvanised and they are all in it." Montagna said on Fox Footy's First Crack.
"You can see they are heavily invested in this season and it’s going to take them a long way.”
“Looking at this run home for the Swans, they are every chance now to finish top four and have a real tilt at a flag.
“They’ve got winnable games on the run home, they’re playing the best football in the competition right now...They are a group that has galvanised, they’re using the South Melbourne spirit … and go back to that Bloods culture, which has held them in good stead.”
Inspiring on-field leaders
The emergence of a young and exciting group isn't possible without the presence of strong and inspiring leaders.
Not only has the reemergence of their strong culture been led by Longmire and the coaching staff, but it has also been driven by the on-field leaders of the Swans.
The Swans have experienced heads in every position, leading their collective positional groups to excellence. The on-field leaders of Lance Franklin, Josh Kennedy, Luke Parker, Tom Hickey and Dane Rampe have led the young group by example throughout the whole season, a key point of difference when comparing the Swans to other young teams.
Again, another key feature that the Swans have that matched the Bulldogs of 2016. Coach Luke Beveridge was able to successfully implement his plans due to the on-field presence of leaders Dale Morris, Matthew Boyd, Liam Picken and stand-in Easton Wood, while Bob Murphys presence in the rooms was sure to be felt.
The collective buy-in by the old heads of the team helped lead the young Dogs to a Premiership in 2016 and might also do the same for a young Swans side in 2021.
For the Swans, the stars are aligning for a run home into finals that could shake up the competition. Where other sides that were predicted to rise have stumbled, the Swans have managed to take advantage and mount one of the most improbable finals runs we have ever seen. For them, the fairytale has just begun, as their eyes will be firmly set upon Premiership glory.
And they have every right to do so.