The numbers tell a painful truth for John Longmire and his Swans.
They have not only won the least first quarters among top-eight teams this year but it’s half as many as the next worst: St Kilda, Geelong and Brisbane Lions.
Longmire’s men cost themselves a sixth victory at the weekend against Gold Coast with another slow and sloppy start, entering quarter-time trailing for the fifth time in eight rounds.
They have won only two first terms and were level in another.
It’s an unacceptable record that Sydney’s players and coaches must fix if they are to live up to the top-four billing many people, including myself, thought they were capable of in 2022.
The season is now eight weeks in, so the Swans’ poor beginnings are now a trend rather than something that can be largely ignored.
Longmire spoke this week about how they were reviewing their training loads and looking for ways for his footballers to be at their freshest on game day after several six-day breaks.
That might be part of the problem but arguably their worst opening this season came against Hawthorn in round 6, when Sydney had 10 days between matches.
The Swans leaked five unanswered goals within 16 minutes of the first siren that day before rallying to post a runaway 41-point triumph.
That’s another trend for the red and white – their ability to fight back.
But for every Hawks example there are others like against the Suns and Bulldogs where Sydney was made to pay dearly for its lethargic start.
The Swans are making life difficult for themselves for whatever reason, whether it’s fatigue, attitudinal or just not being switched on quickly enough.
I’ve written previously about how important contested possession is to Sydney’s success, which includes free kicks for and against, and many of its first quarter problems stem from this area.
The Swans rank 16th for contested possession differential in first quarters this year but come in fifth on the same metric between the second and fourth terms.
There is a similar disparity with opposition points from stoppages and clearance differential but another eye-opener is the lack of pressure they are applying early.
Sydney rockets from 12th to first in pressure applied when contrasting first quarters to the rest of games. It must be equal parts infuriating and perplexing for Longmire and co.
I want to see them focusing on the ‘controllables’ from the start against Essendon this weekend.
That includes discipline – something that was an issue last week – adhering to structures and a manic intent.
My former coach, Leigh Matthews, used to say the quickest players were the ones who should lead the way with their defensive actions, because they can physically do it.
There is no lack of leg speed in this Swans side, from Justin McInerney to Chad Warner, Will Hayward and Ollie Florent.
We know it’s in Sydney to be a strong team in the key performance indicators, judging off what’s happening in the final three quarters.
The challenge for the Swans players is to show how badly they want to be among the AFL’s elite.