Young duo adding life to Swans' season
CALL them the difference makers.
In a campaign that was beginning to lose all hope, young Swans duo Isaac Heeney and Zak Jones have helped the club wrestle back a sense of purpose in season 2017.
Both flourishing with sustained midfield time this year, the pair have given John Longmire a point of difference in a Sydney on-ball group that had faltered in a dismal start to the campaign.
With key trio Josh Kennedy, Dan Hannebery and Luke Parker all down on form, the Swans had been crying out for added options to lift them out of their slump.
Fortunately, Heeney's return coincided with a purple patch from Jones, with the crafty and creative pair at their best in a 54-point win over the Lions last week.
Able to give the side something different to the pure grunt of Kennedy, Hannebery and Parker, the pair's numbers show how important they have been this season.
According to Champion Data, Jones ranks above all Sydney midfielders for metres gained (435m per match), uncontested possessions (15.6 per game) and kicking efficiency (75.9 per cent) this season, while Heeney ranks top three in all three categories.
Such numbers emphasise just how much run, carry and damage the pair have added to Sydney's midfield over the last month, with the two linebreakers giving the Swans something they lacked.
For Heeney, his transition from dangerous forward to permanent midfielder began during last year's finals campaign and has continued after returning from a bout of glandular fever.
Averaging 24.2 disposals and 15.2 uncontested possessions per game throughout the 2016 finals series, Heeney was one of the club's best September performers.
Such was his contribution throughout Sydney's four finals, the 21-year-old finished third behind Kennedy and Jason Johannisen in voting for the Gary Ayres Medal for best finals player.
Meanwhile, for Jones, the recognition earned throughout the first seven weeks of this season has been on the back of noticeable improvement playing in a similar role to last year.
Offering speed, run and drive on the outside, the 22-year-old played what was arguably the best game of his career in Sydney's first win for the season against Brisbane on Sunday.
"His power and speed really sets him apart in that midfield group," former Sydney coach Paul Roos told Fox Footy's League Teams on Thursday night.
"That's the thing that really stood out," Alastair Lynch added.
"They've got a lot of similar players - Hannebery, Parker, Kennedy - but he's got the power to get out of congestion and separate himself from his opponent.
"Carrying the ball and breaking lines, he made it a lot easier for Buddy Franklin over the top."
Following the loss of Tom Mitchell in a trade to Hawthorn, Sydney had trialled fellow youngster George Hewett in a like-for-like role to begin the campaign.
However, the rugged inside ball-winner failed to function alongside the likes of Kennedy, Hannebery and Parker and has returned to a position across half forward - where he consistently impressed in 24 games last season.
Heeney and Jones complement the side's A-graders much better, giving Sydney's midfield a greater balance between the inside accumulators and class on the outside.
And while playing finals footy might remain a stretch for a side that is 1-6 to start the season, the new dimension this pair adds to the side's midfield group gives them purpose for the year ahead.