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Swans lift eyes to big stage

The Sydney Swans forwards reconvene with assistant coach Steve Johnson.
We don’t get the opportunity to play at the MCG very often, so the boys will relish that opportunity.
Steve Johnson

A man who’s starred under Friday night lights at the MCG more than most has billed the Round 22 opener as an “exciting opportunity” for the Sydney Swans.

Steve Johnson carved out a glittering highlights reel at the home of footy in a decorated 16-year career, and the former Cat and Giant will on Friday have another hat on his head as Sydney meets Melbourne at the glorified venue.

Johnson, now in his second season as Sydney’s forwards coach, says Friday night footy at the MCG shapes as a wonderful chance for a team that rarely visits the venue.

“We don’t get the opportunity to play at the MCG very often, so the boys will relish that opportunity,” Johnson said.

“It’s a big stage for our players. Being Friday night there will obviously be a lot of people watching the game on TV, so it will be an opportunity for our group to put on a good display of footy.

“We do have youth in our side that haven’t played at the MCG before, so it will be an exciting opportunity for them.

“We want to finish off the season as well as we can and take a good feeling into the pre-season.”

If the Swans field the same team for Friday’s clash as they did for last Saturday’s trip to Adelaide Oval, Robbie Fox, Hayden McLean and James Bell will all run out at the MCG for the first time.

Fox has played 22 AFL games but has only ever visited Victoria for fixtures at Marvel Stadium and GMHBA Stadium.

The Swans will face the Demons without star forward Lance Franklin after the four-time Coleman medallist’s 300-match milestone was pushed back another week.

Sydney’s SCG match against St Kilda in Round 23 next Saturday afternoon now looms as Franklin’s only opportunity to reach a triple ton this year. 

The 32-year-old has played just nine of a possible 20 games this season and hasn’t featured since tearing his hamstring in Round 14.

Franklin’s absence on Friday night will see names like Isaac Heeney, Tom Papley and Nick Blakey join forces in Sydney’s forward 50 on the biggest stage in the game. 

“We haven’t had ‘Bud’ for the majority of the year so those younger boys have had to move players into different positions, which they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do if it wasn’t for the injuries we’ve had,” Johnson said.

“We think it’s an important learning period for our younger players while ‘Bud’ is out, and there’s no better place to play than at the MCG on a Friday night.

“They’re the guys that generally bring the excitement to our team and that’s what we want to see again on Friday night.”