Proof in the pudding for ‘hungrier’ Swans
East Coast coach Ned Hyland says every step of his side’s run to the 2017 grand final was a step into the unknown.
Leaving behind the North East Football Union, the Swans lost three of their first five games in the NTFA before embarking to the grand final on a route nearly identical to the path they’ve followed this season.
The Swans were overpowered by a more experienced Lilydale side in the decider, conceding 10 goals to two in the first and last quarters.
Hyland recalls the game as a “massive learning curve”.
“We probably weren’t ready for the occasion last year and the pressure and the build-up and everything on game day probably got a bit much for our playing group,” Hyland said.
“It makes us a lot hungrier to have had a loss last year, so you’ve just got to learn from your mistakes, assess the things that let us down last year and how we do it better this time around.
“We feel our playing group is a lot more prepared and lot more ready than last year so we’ll try and go one better.”
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The Swans last tasted premiership success in 2000 – back when they were still called St Helens.
A giant-killing Evandale side is the last barrier between the Swans and the end of an 18-year drought, which would be celebrated far and wide across the East Coast.
“It’s great for our community,” Hyland said of the club’s recent success.
“We’re pretty lucky to have the monopoly of the whole community to support us … a lot of people have genuine ties to our club so they do have a lot of personal interest.
“The One Night Stand probably overshadowed our last week a little bit, but with that out of the way I think our whole community is behind us and really excited to see us go that one better this year.”
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Part of the club’s success into 2018 can be credited to its recruiting.
Hyland lost star forward pair Jake Sushames and Dakota Bannister and best-and-fairest-winning midfielder Jack Rushton after the 2017 campaign, which could have taken the wind out of an impressive NTFA debut.
But the Swans were able to find experienced, like-for-like replacements in Michael Murfet, Will Stoltenberg and Fingal’s Corey Bosworth.
“We did lose a fair chunk of our top end which was hard because we spent the whole first half of last season putting work into gelling as a team, so to have another large turnover of players did slow things down for us a bit again this year.
“We had to spend a lot of time at the start of the year getting to know each other, how we play together and finding the perfect mix of what makes us a great team.
“But the proof is in the pudding that the effort we put in and the time it took to get that right has paid off.”
Eagles band together in hunt for flag
When Evandale crashed out in the preliminary final last year it was East Coast who administered a 67-point defeat.
The Eagles had been pipped in a second-semi final by eventual premier Lilydale and, having been hit hard by injuries, could only match it with the Swans for a half before being overrun by a Pearce Robinson and Michael Musicka-inspired masterclass.
This time round the Eagles will be at full-strength, and first-year coach James Storay can be full of confidence having knocked off the top-two ranked sides in a convincing finals campaign to date.
“The football we’re playing now is different to the football we’ve been playing at the start of the season, the game plan is working and the boys have just bought in to the team, it’s not individuals or anything like that,” the 23-year-old said.
“Finals are a different ball game – whatever you’ve done before in the regular season goes completely out the window because it goes up another ten notches and obviously in the grand final it goes up a bit further.
“We’re all committed to the cause and blokes might not touch the ball but will do a shut-down role and people are happy to do that - I can’t fault the attitude from the playing group.”
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Replacing George Town premiership star Anthony Axton in the Eagles’ top role, Storay faced some challenges in the loss of Sam Hughes, two-time best-and-fairest winner Zak Noble and Brad Scott-Power.
But a pre-season focused on building a better fitness base and the inclusions of Launceston veteran Jordan Harris, ODFA best-and fairest Alex Langridge and the returns of club stalwart Phil Skinner, James Conroy and Mitch Stagg gave the Morven Park faithful plenty of hope in what could be achieved.
“It’ll mean a fair bit to the club if we can manage to pull off the win,” Storay said.
“More so for the older guys that are there supporting us week in, week out like Dale Chugg, Kevin Lewis, Jeremy Cunningham, our president (Pat Davey) is there every week - there’s a lot of committed people at our football club that haven’t seen much success since 1993.”
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