Sydney Swans co-captain Dane Rampe has praised the leadership of fellow skippers Luke Parker and Josh Kennedy for their selfless work throughout a roller coaster season that ultimately inspired a sixth place finish and welcome return to finals football.
Rampe reflects proudly on the 2021 campaign that saw the club record 15 wins after just five the previous year, although admits the bitterly disappointing finish, which saw the Bloods suffer a heartbreaking defeat in the Elimination Final to GWS, will add fuel to the fire for next season.
"I'm bitterly disappointed with how the final went and it wasn't the way we expected to go but that's footy," he said.
"I think once I get a chance to reflect it will be one of pride, excitement and optimism for what we've done and where the group is going.
"It's still a hard pill to swallow but really exciting in terms of where our group is at and where we are going."
Despite the youth of the playing squad, which saw the likes of Errol Gulden, Justin McInerney, Chad Warner and Braeden Campbell play key roles at various stages throughout the season, the Swans defied the odds of a COVID-impacted season.
Rampe lauded the efforts of the leadership group, particularly Kennedy and Parker, who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to drive the club's high standards and establish a selfless team ethos.
"As a leader and working closely with Joey (Kennedy) and Parkes (Parker) it's been a real pleasure. Their leadership has improved massively, particularly off the field.
"They constantly amaze me at the work they're putting in and the commitments to making the group and other players better.
"I like to think I feed off that and made improvements as well, but that's not for me to answer."
Although conceding the loss in the opening week of the finals was unexpected, Rampe admits the future is bright for a team who are yet to hit their potential.
If their vast improvement over the last 12 months is any indication, the co-captain says the potential for success is endless.
"i think the fact is we are scratching the surface and a good majority of our players are just scratching the surface of their potential," he said.
"That's what gets me most excited...we had 15 wins this year and just missed the top four by percentage.
"The sky is limit for where our potential is and it's what makes me really excited and keen to get back to work when the time comes. "
While the season was thrown into disarray and and the fixture constantly changing, one thing that remained consistent was the support from the club's passionate fanbase across the country.
Whether it be in Victoria, Queensland or Tasmania, Swans fans were out in numbers and Rampe says it helped spur the playing group in the backend of the year.
"To be honest, I have been quite blown away with our fans all across Australia. Particularly, the Melbourne games and i think it was fitting we got to wear the South Melbourne jumper.
"I think we felt that support all around Australia and we couldn't be more proud of our supporters and what they do for us."