Sydney Swans VFL coach Jeremy Laidler reflects on a 2021 campaign that has presented plenty of challenges on and off the field, and he casts his eye ahead to the rest of the season and what he expects from his playing squad moving forward.
How would you reflect on the 2021 VFL season so far?
It's been a bit of a merry-go-round. I suppose when we were in Sydney in the VFL we have been really close in a lot of the games and probably let ourselves down in a quarter in each of those games too. We have had some narrow losses but we have competed really, really well and we have seen some really good development in a lot of the young players, and there have been more senior players that have had to play VFL but they have had a really good attitude and they continue to push for senior selection.
Overall, we haven't got the results we're after, so it has certainly been an up and down season so far.
What has impressed you most about the playing squad throughout the year?
I think it's just how good they have adjusted to different situations and it's been really exciting to play against different AFL sides and now VFL sides. I think that has been good that we have been aligned with who we play in the AFL so that it's the same with who we play in the VFL. All the preparation is the same and the boys have really gelled together and we are a really strong unit throughout the entire AFL squad. The VFL boys who have come in, it is disappointing we can't have them all here at the moment but it has been really pleasing so far in how they have gone about it.
What has been the biggest challenge of 2021?
I suppose just being thrown around with so much travel. We had a steady start to the season with what opposition we were playing but then you might have something different thrown at you, then you might have the bye. Then on top of that when we eventually got to Melbourne we were playing with just eight listed players and had to play with guys who we had never met before. I suppose there have been a few challenges along the way but it's a credit to the boys who have been playing, they have controlled what they can control and they have put their best foot forward in the hope of playing senior football. I couldn't question their mindset or intention for every game they have played.
You and a host of players had to quarantine for a short period before joining the rest of the club in Victoria. What was that experience like?
It was another very unique situation. The club flew down to Melbourne now knowing what was going to happen with COVID and NSW had a strict lockdown as-well. We had three hours to get out of Sydney and I had to go get a mini van and we threw all the luggage in, drove up to Newcastle and spent the week there. I just didn't understand how much goes on with logistics and organising grounds, and all the planning side of things. I had a really good group up there and I had to lean on the players a lot, and another fitness guy, Dan Cosenza, and he was a massive help in that side of things.
I had guys like Sam Reid and Lewis Melican to lean on and help me, and understand that we had to help each other to get through. Their attitude with training while we were up there - it was basically just back to last year when we had to train in small groups and training at schools or on rugby fields, but we just continued to find ways to improve and help develop these guys and they were exceptional in the way they bought into it.
What impact has training alongside the AFL team had on the VFL side?
It's been a challenge. We were able to get two of our VFL guys with us, and we have a QBE Sydney Swans Academy product. It's really disappointing for the guys on the VFL list because they're not on a playing list and they're not able to give themselves the best chance to get recruited or keep developing the way they want to. I really feel for those guys in NSW and hopefully we can get back whenever we can to play more footy. If not, we get them back next year and we help give those guys every chance to improve and hopefully get on an AFL list.
Where would you like to see the squad improve moving forward?
We're just trying to look for games at the moment and once we get that, we will continue to develop the guys in each of their specific areas but I suppose just as a team we just want to, firstly, try and win and then keep on building those connection within the group. There is a good energy and vibe around the squad, so it's been awesome. We will continue to put pressure on the AFL guys and hopefully get success both levels.
What are your expectations for the squad, on and off the field, for the remainder of the season?
Being in the Gold Coast and within a little Hub, there isn't much we can do in terms of leaving the hotel. But that presents a perfect opportunity to build relationships because we are around each other, but then also have some of your own space as well. When the time is right, it's a good chance to hang out together and just build those connections that you wouldn't normally do.
I look at this as a perfect chance for the young guys to learn off the senior players, like your co-captains and Lance Franklin, because they have had such a long careers, so some of the younger players can feed off that. As much of a challenge it is, it's a really good opportunity for the young players to develop their careers, as hard as it is to be away from family and friends.