Former Swan and current Channel Seven commentator Jude Bolton.
Former Swan and current Channel Seven commentator Jude Bolton.

Ex-Swan admits he wrote side off too soon

AFL: Jude Bolton has been happily proved wrong.

The two-time premiership Swan had doubts over whether his old side could maintain its status as a genuine contender in 2016.

And with good reason.

Since Sydney last contested the grand final two years ago, it lost the services of Adam Goodes, Rhyce Shaw, Mike Pyke, Lewis Jetta and Craig Bird in 2015, and Nick Malceski, Lewis Roberts Thompson and Ryan O'Keefe in 2014.

That was on top of Marty Mattner, Shane Mumford and Bolton himself following the 2012 flag win.

"A wealth of experience had left," the now Channel Seven commentator tells Australian Regional Media. "And so I thought it was going to be a bit of a transitional year.

"I always felt the strength of their midfield would mean they would be thereabouts, but I was thinking they might finish fourth or fifth.

"They've certainly overachieved in my eyes.

"But when premiership glory is that close you want to see them grab that opportunity."

While their opponents in tomorrow's grand final, the Bulldogs, are renowned for their youth, the Swans will take in about 2300 games of experience, well down on past premiership deciders - 2976 in 2014 and 2890 in 2012.

"The ability to rebuild on the fly and still maintain standards ... to win the minor premiership when they've had seven debutants has been an incredible effort," Bolton said.

"But they have all stood up as well and played their part."

Only Brisbane has blooded more players this season.

Callum Mills during today's grand final parade in Melbourne.
Callum Mills during today's grand final parade in Melbourne.

While defender Aliir Aliir has sadly missed out, first-year players George Hewett, Tom Papley and Callum Mills will step out tomorrow.

New South Wales-bred pair Mills, who returns to the side after recovering from a hamstring injury, and second-year star Isaac Heeney, who has dominated in finals wins against Adelaide (32 disposals) and Geelong (28), in particular have made big impacts in a short time.

"From non-traditional pathways, to perform the way they have has been unbelievable," 325-gamer Bolton said.

Coach John Longmire has pulled off a coaching masterstroke and is aiming to become the first man to coach the Swans to two flags.

"He's been fantastic," Bolton said of his former mentor. "He's got this real passion and energy for the team.

"He's been a wonderful coach and will continue to be."

While he helped beat the might of West Coast (in 2005) and Hawthorn (2012) to attain premiership glory, Bolton knows the Bulldogs will be a very different opponent, but one he knows well - a club trying to claim a rare flag.

"That's what the Swans have to overcome," he said of the wave of emotion driving the Bulldogs. "It's a very powerful thing.

"We had that in 2005."

Jude Bolton celebrates Sydney's success in 2005.
Jude Bolton celebrates Sydney's success in 2005.

The Swans' own premiership drought had lasted 72 years.

Bolton says he still vividly remembers the words of teammate Michael O'Loughlin before heading into battle against the Eagles.

"He said 'Don't ever take this for granted guys. I played in a grand final in my second year (1996) and I thought it was going to happen each year,'" Bolton recalled.

"We knew the weight of expectation; it plays on you the whole time. You've got make sure you succeed.

"It's a real mental driver."

Bolton will host the premiership "after-party" at the MCG tonight, and while he has a soft spot for the "super impressive" Bulldogs and their "fairytale" journey, he is understandably hopeful he will be presenting a number of his former teammates to the stage as premiership winners.

"Losing that first week (of the final to the Giants) has set them up for a real resurgence," he said. "To lose so significantly, they re-established their standards after that."



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