The Tackle: Is Heeney ready to rival Dusty?
It's a kind of "Ring a Ring o' Rosie".
You can see a bit of Michael O'Loughlin in Isaac Heeney, O'Loughlin sees a little of Brad Johnson in Heeney, while Johnson sees a little of O'Loughlin, a little of himself and lot of Dustin Martin in Heeney.
That's the level of expectation on and admiration for the Sydney forward in 2020.
With key forwards Lance Franklin and Sam Reid both injured again, the spotlight which has hunted Heeney for the past three years has finally landed on him.
The just-turned 24-year-old has played 103 games, mainly as a forward-midfielder who can link, run, mark and win his own ball.
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His next 20 games are shaping to be as a key forward as Sydney looks for solutions.
At 186cm and 84kg, he would be the smallest and lightest spearhead in the competition.
Johnson was 183cm and about 86kg at the Western Bulldogs.
O'Loughlin was 188cm and, at 24, was roughly 86kg at the Swans.
Martin, at 24, was 187cm and about 90kg.
The weights and heights differ marginally, but their roles and capabilities in the forward do not.
Speed. Instinct. Terrific overhead. Use of the body. Opportunistic on the deck. Nimble on their feet.
Play a tall on them and they can beat them on the ground. Play a small, and they can scare them overhead. It's the match-up that sees match committees have A, B, and C plans to counter. Or in Richmond's case, Dylan Grimes. In other words, rare.
"I honestly believe he can become one of, if not the best player in the competition,'' Johnson says of Heeney.
"He's got the attributes of a Dustin Martin, he's just got to know how to use the smarts to become as good as Martin.''
O'Loughlin: "There's no shortage of work ethic with Isaac, he has an incredible work ethic. He's very, very humble, parents are incredible people. You see all the attributes he has, there's only one way he can go and that's up.
"I don't see what the limit is at this stage.
"I love the kid's attitude and when you've got the right attitude, I think the sky's the limit. Who knows, he hasn't reached the ceiling yet, he's not even the near the ceiling yet. I can't wait to see the next three, four five years unfold.''
Isaac Heeney with a couple of moments of genius during this game, what a player ⭐️ #AFLCrowsSwans— Tas Mavridis* (@TasMavridis) March 21, 2020
Attitude equates to knowledge and mindset in Heeney's new employment.
Destined to be high-forward with expected increased minutes in the midfield, that synopsis has changed with the injuries to the big blokes.
In the past two seasons, Heeney has played 55 per cent in the midfield and 45 per cent forward, according to Champion Data.
In Round 1 this year against Adelaide, he was 92 per cent forward and eight per cent in midfield.
His main opponent was Jake Kelly (190cm and 89kg). He kicked four goals, three of them on Kelly. One was a mark and set shot. One was crumbed from a marking contest. One was a handball receive and curl around the body. The fourth was another gather from a marking contest.
He won six ground balls inside-50m that day. The No. 1 player in 2019 averaged three a game. His name was Eddie Betts. He is 12cm shorter than Heeney.
At the same time, Heeney was Sydney's No. 1 inside 50m target with nine. Tom McCartin was next with eight.
"Athletically, he's miles in front of what I was,'' O'Loughlin says.
"I see similarities in terms of that smaller person/body being able to become the key forward.
"That's the difficulty of the match-up. I was able to exploit guys on the ground and if they put a shorter guy on me, you could actually use your bodywork.
"And you can see Isaac has a beautiful pair of hands.
"He's better than me in terms of jumping over buildings. The body-on-body stuff was a strength of mine to tell you the truth after you've lost your spring and agility stuff as you get older.''
Johnson says Heeney's mindset is crucial as he assumes responsibility as Sydney's No. 1 forward.
It's about taking a "midfielder's mentality'' to the forward half of the ground.
Johnson began his career as a wingman before evolving into arguably, pound for pound, one the great forwards, and at various times in a key forward role.
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"His attributes … in the air, on the ground, he's smart, he knows when to attack the contest in the air or front and square,'' Johnson said.
"He's got that ability to be able to control that forward half of the ground.
"The biggest aspect for Issac is putting himself as a forward first, in that he's got to work on contest-to-contest.
"He has the ability, the natural forward flair to be in the view of the kicker consistently, but he's got to see himself as the main forward, not a midfielder.
"That was the biggest challenge for me, stepping out of the midfield to the forward line was, you know, you're out of the action a lot more, but you've got to still have a midfielder's mentality but you've got to see yourself as a forward first.
"Therefore you become a bit more patient in the way you see the game, more patient in the way you hold yourself deep so you're not getting yourself out of position because you're trying to rush all the time.''
Johnson stressed playing forward in his time was different than playing forward in 2020. "That's a bigger battle … you're battling a defence rather than one opponent.''
Still, Johnson has high expectations this season.
"If he stays deep, kicks 40-plus, he's All-Australian forward pocket. That's the season I think he can have.''
"Without question, he could average 20 and two to three goals every week and probably three assists to go with it, and apply the pressure he will put on naturally. That's what Sydney should expect from him on a weekly basis''
He spearheads one of the youngest forward groups in the competition.
Heeney is 24. McCartin is 20 and 193cm. Nick Blakey is 20 and 195cm. Will Hayward is 21 and 186cm. Tom Papley is 23. Ben Ronke is 22. And the veteran is recruit Sam Gray who has played just the one game.
Clearly, the Swans will require Heeney's freakish ability and McCartin's heavy lifting, in a similar role Earl Spalding played for Carlton in the 1990s.
Blakey and Hayward, similar to McCartin, meanwhile, are still learning their craft.
It makes Heeney super important.
"I think he can handle it,'' Johnson said.
"This is the age we started to see Dustin start to take the competition by storm.''
Originally published as The Tackle: Is Heeney ready to rival Dusty?