Swans wary of 'jump on and off' syndrome, says Longmire

John Longmire calls it the "jump on and off" syndrome. It's that time of year when first-week elimination final winners are written up as sure things in the knockout semifinals, given how their top four opponents had been towelled up in their own qualifying matches.

Following the usual logic, Geelong are no chance of getting close to the rampant Swans after faltering badly against Richmond and the Tiger Army at a packed MCG. Sydney, for their part, hammered Essendon at the SCG in the latest episode of a rousing comeback tale that began after the Swans slid to an ignoble 0-6 at the start of the season amid troubles with injury, form and perhaps a dose of accumulated fatigue from so many recent finals series.

There are still more reasons to favour the Swans on Friday night. They were victorious in the teams' only meeting this year at Kardinia Park, on a day when both Patrick Dangerfield and Josh Kennedy were absent from the field. And in last year's finals series, the Swans jumped the Cats early on, in a preliminary final where Chris Scott's men were also the higher seeded team, and were never headed.

Longmire, though, did not become a senior coach by making assumptions.

"You've just got to make sure you bring your best against the best," he said. "They're a team that's all the time finishing up the top of the ladder, there's a reason why they finished second on the ladder because they're a very good team and we tend to jump on and off teams at this time of the year.

"We were in the same boat last year when we played GWS and if you lose the first final it's incredible how people on the outside jump on and off teams in that first week of the finals. History usually means there's a reason why you finish top four, and that's that you're a really good team. Their contested ball differential, their tackle numbers, all things that stand up in finals are really strong, and they've got some great players and we expected it to be a really hot contest."

Sydney, of course, know a bit about being "jumped off", given their dreadful start to 2017. After Carlton unseated the Swans at the MCG to make it six defeats in a row, Longmire was blunt about how poorly his group had become.

"We're playing an unacceptable brand of football that's nowhere near the brand we like to play," he said at the time. "It takes a long time to develop a brand and a reputation as a team and it doesn't take long to lose that.

"At the moment we're not playing anywhere near the football that we can and should play. We've played well for a long time, but what you've done in the past doesn't guarantee anything in the future. You've got to keep that level up ... there's no easy way out of it, you've just got to compete a bit harder."

When asked about whether there was a way back from 0-6, Longmire offered a blank stare: "You don't look in this situation to the finals at the present time. Because that is so far away it's not funny."

To a degree, being in Sydney helped shield the Swans from the worst of the scrutiny generally afforded to teams in "crisis mode". Slowly but surely, they found some momentum, largely through senior players beginning to find their best after the early rounds saw the likes of Isaac Heeney, Tom Papley, Callum Mills and Lewis Melican carry more responsibility than the Swans had usually left to their younger talents. Another emerging player, Callum Sinclair, is currently keeping the expensively acquired Kurt Tippett out of the team, in a strong measure of how the Swans have evolved in terms of structure as well as personnel.

"Last week we had a role for him to play and he played it really well," Longmire said of Sinclair. "He provided a real target for us in our front half and did a good job. Simple as that. It was a pretty close decision last week, not as though it's an easy decision those things, and Callum was terrific last week and needs to play well again this week.

"We went in last week with that as something we would have liked to have done, it doesn't mean the same thing happens this week. You need to be very mindful to be flexibly in your planning and have some basic themes. With us it's trying to help break even with the contested ball that Geelong are so good at, but also to make sure you put enormous pressure on the opposition.

"Outside of that you allow some flexibility to change from week to week and make sure you have that opportunity - just because it happened last week doesn't mean it'll be the same again this week."

Respect is a word that Longmire uses frequently, as it helps form the underpinning for how the Swans play for each other and also how they prepare for the opposition. Sydney players go in hard to the contest because they know and respect the equal desire of their teammates to do likewise. Likewise the Swans won't turn up to the MCG simply expecting to eliminate Geelong because they respect the level of quality their opponents can bring - not least the Dangerfield/Joel Selwood duo.

"Just wanting to play well and respecting our opposition like we do every week," Longmire said. "We have enormous respect for the Cats and their ability to play well so we go into the game with that at the very front of our minds, just how good a team they are and knowing we have to play at our very best to match them. Same mindset we'll try to take into this game.

"The players have confidence in the way we play and that's been coming through but it's got to continue to come through. At this time of the year you need to put your best foot forward clearly. We've been doing that for a few weeks now and we need to keep doing it."

At a time when a lot of observers have jumped on the Swans, Longmire is not allowing himself of his team to jump off respect for the Cats. At least not until the final siren on Friday.