Tom Papley reflects on the 2021 season as one the club can certainly be proud of after an incredible resurgence to finals football that saw them record 15 victories and an awe-inspiring sixth place finish.
While it wasn't the fairytale finish the Swans were searching for with a heart-breaking 74-73 defeat to GWS in the opening week of the finals, the challenges the club had to persevere through - that being a 10-week travelling period due to the COVID-19 outbreak in NSW, makes this year's campaign one to cherish.
For Papley, it is arguably his best individual season of his 122-game career, finishing with 43 goals and a well-deserved maiden All-Australian selection to sit amongst some of the most dynamic small forwards in the competition.
While the season had countless memorable moments, including a famous comeback victory over Geelong in Round 7 which saw Papley kick the match-winning goal, the 25-year-old praised their character-defining win over GWS in Round 18 as the best of the season.
It was a match that was thrown in disarray pre-game as Callum Mills, Callum Sinclair, Colin O'Riordan and Harry Cunningham were late withdrawals after being caught in a Tier One hotspot in Melbourne, which saw James Rowbottom, Dylan Stephens and Ben Ronke (medi-sub) rushed into the side with just 30 minutes until the start of the game.
After a sluggish start, the Bloods clawed their way back to produce one of the most courageous performances of the year, recording a 15.8 (92) to 11.6 (72) win at Metricon Stadium, highlighted by starring performances from Luke Parker, Josh Kennedy and Papley, who kicked four goals in another brilliant display.
"It obviously wasn't the way we wanted to finish but I think overall if we look at where we were last year compared to this year we have come a long way," he said.
"The Giants game in Round 18 stands out for for me where some of the boys weren't able to play and we overcame that and got the win.
"That was probably one of the better wins that I have been a part of."
As the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Swans into a hectic travel period, which saw them swiftly move to a Hub in Melbourne on June 22, coincided with ventures to Adelaide, Queensland, and Tasmania up until their exit in the Elimination Finals.
Papley lauded the influence of the families who were able to join the players and staff after six weeks on the road, and said their profound impact is one that he will value as he looks back on this unforgettable season.
"Obviously last year we didn't have the partners and families with us, but this year was a little bit different because they were able to join us," he said.
"It was good to get to know them, and having the little kids running around was just a good experience and something I won't forget."
Papley's electric year also saw him claim Goal of the Year nominations in Round 7, 10, 18 (two goals) and 20, while winning the vote in Round 10 to be shortlisted for the Goal of the Year award.
13.6 disposals per game
1.5 tackles per game