The Swans made it to the grand final but were undone by the rampant Bulldogs
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The Swans ended 2015 down in the dumps, having gone out of the finals in straight sets, but the reality was that three star players – Kieren Jack, Luke Parker and Lance Franklin – missed both games and they weren't a serious contender in September.
Sydney entered 2016 without Adam Goodes on the list for the first time this century, and with Mike Pyke's retirement they recruited ruckman Callum Sinclair from West Coast to fill the gap. Franklin and Parker kicked off the season like houses on fire, with the first 14 games producing 52 goals for Buddy and 20 Brownlow votes for Parker.
John Longmire produced a coaching masterclass as his team, led by Heath Grundy and Dane Rampe, held teams to a league-best 66.8 points per game. The Swans won the minor premiership, Callum Mills won the Rising Star award and five players made the All Australian team, but Sydney had a mixed finals series as they were embarrassed by GWS in their qualifying final and lost out to the upstart Bulldogs on grand final day.
Six games that shaped Sydney's season
Round 10: Sydney 14.7 (91) d North Melbourne 9.11 (65)
The Kangaroos were unlikely ladder leaders after nine rounds, yet to be beaten and already two games clear of Geelong, GWS and the Swans. In front of the biggest SCG crowd to that point of the season, Sydney jumped out to a 31-point lead after 23 minutes before North Melbourne reduced it to just nine at half-time. Tom Mitchell then had 15 touches and a goal in the third quarter as the Swans built the margin back up to a comfortable position.
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Round 16: Sydney 15.8 (98) d Geelong 9.6 (60)
The Swans had just lost a heartbreaker to the Western Bulldogs at the SCG and were one of six teams, alongside the Dogs and Cats, sitting on 40 premiership points going into this game. Kieren Jack's 200th game was preceded by a family dispute gone public, but the co-captain put to one side to be an absolute star at Kardinia Park. He kicked the first goal after just 50 seconds and ended the match with 24 touches, 10 tackles, five clearances and three goals. Geelong led early in the second term but after Daniel Menzel's goal in the ninth minute of that quarter Sydney held the home side completely scoreless until the ninth minute of the third. Rampe was magnificent and Aliir Aliir, having appeared twice in the AFL prior to the bye, played the first of what would be 11 consecutive games. The 21-year-old looked like he'd already played 100 as he kept Ted Richards in the forward line for this game and eventually out of the team and into retirement.
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Round 17: Hawthorn 11.9 (75) d Sydney 10.10 (70)
Having dumped the Cats to close in on the Hawks at the top of the ladder, the Swans hosted the three-time premiers keen to prove they were the best team in the competition. One of the better games of the season played out as two quality teams went toe to toe, though it was Hawthorn who got the jump as they kicked the only goals of the second term to lead by 11 at half-time. Gary Rohan stood tall to play perhaps his best game for the club, let alone the year, and his third and fourth goals of the game brought Sydney level and put them ahead late into the third quarter. Yet they couldn't run away with it, and some costly turnovers, free kicks and 50-metre penalties gave the Hawks numerous opportunities to hit the scoreboard and keep it close. Shaun Burgoyne and Cyril Rioli then lifted to condemn the Swans to their fifth loss of the season.
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Qualifying final: GWS 12.19 (91) d Sydney 7.13 (55)
Although Swans coaches and players welcomed a derby final, the game itself turned out to be a disaster. Just over 60,000 fans filled ANZ Stadium on a sunny Saturday afternoon and it was a close contest for the first half, but injuries cruelled Sydney's chances. Callum Mills suffered a hamstring injury in the second quarter, while Josh Kennedy and Kurt Tippett copped knocks to the head. The two key players did, in contentious decisions, play out the game, though they weren't at their peak and the young Giants blew the Swans away in the third quarter and ran away with it in the fourth. The loss sent the minor premiers to the other side of the finals draw with an MCG preliminary final looming.
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Preliminary final: Sydney 15.7 (97) d Geelong 8.12 (60)
The Swans had relatively little trouble getting through Adelaide in their semi-final even without Tippett and Mills, though the win came at a cost as Jarrad McVeigh suffered a calf problem that would force him to miss this game. Gary Rohan also went down against the Crows with what appeared to be a serious knee injury, yet he recovered to face the Cats and would kick two goals in the thumping victory. Tippett returned as well and he kicked two goals in a first quarter that ended with Sydney ahead by 39 points. Unfortunately for the Swans they had more bad luck on the injury front, with Aliir landing badly on his right knee. It would see him miss the grand final, souring what was an immense performance. Isaac Heeney was superb with 28 touches and a goal, fellow youngster Tom Papley kicked three from just eight disposals and Franklin had two goals and two goal assists.
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Grand final: Bulldogs 13.11 (89) d Sydney 10.7 (67)
The big day arrived with the Swans getting a crack at a side they hadn't beaten since 2014 after the Dogs defeated GWS in a stunning result in the preliminary final. Sydney were favourites and took the risk of bringing back McVeigh and Mills to bolster their team, but the decision backfired as neither had a real impact. Kennedy was basically perfect in the first half and largely kept the Swans in it himself as he had 22 disposals and two goals at the main break. The Bulldogs were the much better team from half-time onwards, dominating around the ball and conceding only three goals to Sydney in the second half. Franklin hurt his ankle early in the first quarter but battled on, though the Swans' worst moment of the day came when the No.23 was tackled by Dale Morris at the back of the centre square. The ball dropped out, Tom Boyd picked it up and kicked truly to ensure Sydney's positive season ended with a hugely disappointing loss.
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