The championship-opener often throws up questions but the QBE Sydney Swans Academy is rapt with its first outing in the Academy Series.
The Under-18s clinched a 49-point win over the Brisbane Lions in Blacktown on Saturday as they got their five-round Academy Series campaign underway.
They are now set to meet the GWS Giants on Saturday and head coach Jared Crouch said the Academy fired in a number of key areas in the Lions clash.
“You’re not sure how the boys are going to perform in Round 1 but from my perspective they turned up, they had a go and they played some good football,” Crouch said.
“We work on making sure we get good shots on goal. It was pretty windy at Blacktown on Saturday. It was certainly favouring one end and going across the ground, so they had to work hard to get their goals and to their credit they made sure they were getting good shots on goal in front.”
Utility Nick Blakey bagged five goals and forward Cooper Kilpatrick kicked three of his own to lead the Swans to a polished return of 16.6 in front of the sticks.
The Swans were particularly pin-point in the second term in kicking five majors and no behinds.
They ran in three first-quarter goals, five in both the second and third terms and another three in the fourth.
“It’s a full credit to our strength and conditioning guys,” Crouch said.
“It was windy, it was about 32 degrees, but the strength and conditioning led by Steve Kelly had the boys really fit and ready to go.
“Nick Blakey played very well, Kyle McKellar – another of our Under-18 boys – played well in the midfield and across half-back, Sam Wicks who went through the midfield, Zac Cameron and Christian Loone are undersized ruckmen but certainly competed very well in the ruck.
“Cooper Kilpatrick played as a small forward and the thing we’ve been working really hard on is his defensive pressure. He got three goals but the thing I was most pleased with was his five tackles. Right from the start he was putting the pressure on the Brisbane defenders, keeping the ball in our forward line, and if you do that not only Cooper gets a chance to kick a goal but the team gets a chance to kick a goal.”
Every Academy player who will be 18 years old by December 31 will be eligible for the National Draft in November, while those not selected will be able to enter the Rookie Draft later in the month.
The Academy Series is crucial to Draft chances as some of the best young players around the country square off under the eye of AFL scouts.
The Swans secured James Bell and Jake Brown in the Rookie Draft last November and the two midfielders played integral roles in Sydney’s undefeated Academy Series campaign in 2017.
But while a number of Swans fired in the clash with the Lions on the weekend, Crouch said it was important the players maintained a team-first focus.
“What’s important is that they don’t worry about the Draft right now,” Crouch said.
“It’s about playing your role in the team and we know that if we play to our structures and play good football that everyone gets a chance to show their wares.
“Cooper got his opportunities and kicked three goals but it was because of the defensive pressure he put on – the stuff he did for the team there. Kyle McKellar, who was in the midfield, went to half-back just because it was so hot and we needed rotations.
“So these guys get opportunities to show their strengths but provided they continue to do that in the team framework they will be successful.”