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Swans fly under the radar
Sydney Swans midfielder Josh Kennedy. Picture: AFL Media.

Why are we continually surprised by Sydney?

Discarded in pre-season premiership betting, Sydney will hit round six of the premiership season undefeated and in second spot on the ladder.

Their draw gives them a real chance of hitting double figures without a loss, well on the way to the top four and a shot at a flag.

The draw so far has not been brutally hard - but hardly easy either.

They were handed a round-one win against fledgling Greater Western Sydney, but they beat finals fancies Fremantle, top-eight prospects North Melbourne, and yesterday one of the premiership favourites, Hawthorn, in Launceston.

When Ron Barassi went to Sydney to save a dying club in 1993, the club was virtually winless, friendless, fan-less and penniless. The one win that disastrous season came against Melbourne in front of 8250 people at the SCG.

In the 1994 pre-season draft, they took a banged up Dermott Brereton, unheralded Peter Filandia and an overweight Derek Kickett, who had done little training after walking out on Essendon for being left out of their 1993 grand final team.

The Swans were pilloried - one recruiter privately labelled the club a disgrace. In reality, 1994 was the turning point for the club on and off the field.

Tony Lockett joined the club at season's end and gave them a toehold and credibility in AFL's toughest football market in the short term. But the most remarkable story in AFL football has unfolded over the longer term.

Since Rodney Eade joined the club as coach in 1996, Sydney have played in 13 of 16 finals series. While there is a myth that they fall into the top eight too often and topple out too often early in September, the reality is different. They have played in three grand finals for one premiership, four preliminary finals and have won at least one final in eight of their 13 visits to the eight.

Last year they beat premiers Geelong at Skilled Stadium and were the only team to topple the Eagles at Patersons Stadium.

And yet we have again underestimated them at our peril.

Eighteen years on from the 1994 pre-season draft, the Swans are among the savviest recruiters and one of the smoother run clubs.

While Collingwood's coaching succession plan from Mick Malthouse to Nathan Buckley has proved a political minefield, Sydney's from 2005 premiership coach Paul Roos to John Longmire has been seamless.

Like Billy Beane's Oakland A's in the book and movie Moneyball, the Swans have a unique ability to find performance in players that others have either rejected or overlooked.

Even superstar-in-residence Adam Goodes slid through two rounds of the 1997 draft before being taken at pick 43.

They came from 20 points behind Hawthorn at half-time yesterday to win by 37 - a result that has implications for the premiership credentials of both clubs. Hawthorn reject Josh Kennedy was, as usual, a midfield powerhouse, topping his 27 possessions with three goals. Essendon reject Ted Richards was, as usual, solid in defence with 17 touches. Ditto Adelaide reject Martin Mattner.

Emerging star Luke Parker and rising star Dan Hannebery were both second-round draft picks, the latter in 2008 and the former in 2010. Strong marking forward Sam Reid was a third-round draft selection in 2009.

The Swans are off to a flyer and will start favourites in their next five matches, against Adelaide (SCG), Richmond (MCG), Melbourne (SCG), St Kilda (Etihad) and the Bulldogs (SCG).

They remain on the sixth line of betting for the flag, with Carlton, Hawthorn, West Coast, Geelong and Collingwood above them.

Go figure.