The last time Pines won a premiership, Paddy Swayn was a 24-year-old in the prime of his football career, having just won his one-and-only premiership with the club. Coaching was not high on his agenda, but on Sunday at Frankston Park the now 48-year-old put the rubber-stamp on a 19-year coaching journey when the Pythons won a classic contest against Sorrento. An Aaron Ludewig kick after the siren gave the Pythons a 14.12.96 to 14.11.95 victory in the MPNFL Division One Grand Final. Swayn spoke to AFL South East media about his time in football and Sunday’s memorable clash.
Tell us a bit about your history in football Paddy?
I started playing as a young primary school kid in Ferntree Gully at the ground down the end of the street, and I just fell in love with footy. We moved to Rye when I was 14, played some under 15s there and then missed a year because the family travelled around Australia. I played some senior football at Rye under Barry Besanko, but then went to Uni with Stellar Jackson and that’s where the connection with Pines began. I was at Nathan Burke’s 21st birthday party and Barry Moore basically convinced me to come across to Pines. I felt right at home because the area reminded me a lot of where I grew up in Ferntree Gully.
So what success did you have as a player?
I played in the 1994 premiership for Pines and then played in two losing grand finals in ’95 and ’96 and then had a few injuries later in my career. It got to the point where we had just had the kids and I was going to have to fork out $7,000 for two groin operations. That didn’t go down too well at home so things just sort of progressed from there.
So how did you get into coaching?
I never saw myself as the coaching type but Mark Hustwaite – our 1994 premiership captain at Pines – was coaching Rosebud and asked me to come down and help him out as an assistant-coach in 2000. Rosebud made the Division One finals for the first time that year and I loved every minute of it. Pines just missed finals in 1999 and then had a shit year in 2000 so they asked me to come back and help Brendon Moore. We got through to a grand final against a great Edi-Asp team in 2002, and then I went for the Red Hill job in 2004. I didn’t get the job and the feedback I got was that I hadn’t coached my own team and they weren’t very comfortable with that.
So where to from there?
I stayed at Pines but went back and coached the reserves – because I needed to coach my own team – and we won 16 games, finished on top of the ladder, but got bundled out in straight sets. Then I got approached by Langwarrin and Somerville, coached Somerville for three years until 2007 and then went back to coach Pines in 2008-09. That was a real reality check for the club, because the demographics around the area had changed, the juniors weren’t coming through so we had to spread our wings a little wider. I then did five years as an assistant to Simon Goosey at Frankston and learned more during that time than at any other time in coaching. Just talking to opposition coaches like Gary Ayres and Andy Collins got me thinking about football in a different way. Blokes like that were all so giving of their time.
And then back to Pines in 2015?
Barry Moore wanted me to come to the club but I told him I only wanted to do it if we were going to take things serious and do it properly. I had watched a couple of Pines games the year before and the club didn’t look professional, things had sort of slipped back in my opinion. I took on the job and told the committee we had to be positive and talk the club up at every opportunity, basically just paint a better picture. It’s amazing what a positive mindset can do and I think things have turned out pretty well for the club.
And you steadily built the list?
I remember talking to someone from Seaford about their premiership years and how they built their list. The basic plan was to bring in two high-quality players each year, retain them, and then build on it again the next year. We brought in (Aaron) Edwards and (Luke) Potts in year one, then Bongo (Tim Bongetti) and Chewy (Paul Scanlon) the following year and then got (Ben) Thomas and Lachie Marshall last year. Tom McDermott came on board this season and that paid off, especially on grand final day.
So what happened at the end of last year, with Nick Jewell reported to be taking over your job?
It was just a miscommunication that’s all. I remember being on air with Toe Punt and he said, “So you won’t be coaching Pines next year.” That sort of threw me a bit, because I had just had breakfast with the president and he didn’t mention anything. I never felt let down by the committee or anything like that, it was just miscommunication that’s all. It’s all worked out pretty well in the end.
How did the Beau Hendry tribunal appearance, suspension, and finally the appeal, affect your preparations heading into the grand final?
We knew Beau was being investigated after we won the second semi but we just tried to keep it in-house, because it was long period of time for a negative to be hanging over the players. I didn’t address it all in week one, but then spoke to the players about how we’ve overcome adversity all year and this was just another thing we had to overcome. Beau was suspended on the Wednesday, so we went through our match-committee process with Beau not in the team. I didn’t mention him at all during selection and thought if he gets off it’s just a huge bonus. He got off on Friday night and it did give the place a lift.
What an incredible grand final day it was?
When we were out in the middle getting our photo taken we just couldn’t believe it, the crowd was incredible and I still get Goosebumps now just thinking about it. I was talking to Pottsy (Luke Potts) out on the ground and we were just amazed by the atmosphere, it was a pretty unique day of local footy.
Sorrento led by 28 points at quarter time, but had the wind, did that concern you?
When there’s a breeze blowing at Frankston you have to wait until half time to get a clearer picture, but we knew going in they had the edge in grand final experience so it was important we tried to settle as quickly as possible. We had 17 of the boys playing in their first grand final and Sorrento probably had 20 blokes who had been there and done it before. I actually thought that for most of the day they coached very well against our style of play and had the game played on their terms.
The second quarter didn’t start too well, but you fought your way back?
We knew scoring was going to be difficult at one end of the ground, so when they kicked a goal inside a minute in the second quarter I knew we had some work to do. We moved DJ (Daniel John) into the ruck and moved Beau (Hendry) down back just to stiffen things up back there. When Aaron (Edwards) kicked the first I think that really settled the guys down. A couple of them said to me at half time that they probably got caught up in it all the emotion and tried to overplay things a bit.
The midfield battle was enormous, there are some great players in there?
I thought James Hallahan was starting to get off the hook so we moved Perry Lewis-Smith on to him and he did a great job of nullifying his influence in the second half. Pottsy was unreal, but he and Chewy (Paul Scanlon) were basically gassed by midway through the third term, like a lot of their players as well, so Perry’s ability to run the game out was really important. Chewy actually said to him at three-quarter time that he would have to run the game out, because the rest of us were buggered. It was a real war of attrition in there, but Perry’s run probably kept us in the game in the final quarter.
So what made the difference in the end?
Obviously those three goals from Tom McDermott at the end of the third quarter made a huge difference, but it was just a fantastic game of footy where no-one ever gave in. Normally it’s the team that goes for harder for longer that wins, but scores were locked at the final siren and that shows how good a game it was, how both teams never gave in. I felt for Sorrento, it was a really great game of footy.
Can you believe you’re a premiership coach?
To be a premiership coach, particularly at Pines, is something I’ve always wanted and I still can’t believe it to be honest. If you persist long enough things like this can happen, but to do it at Pines, where people have been starved of success for so long, it’s an incredible feeling. It has exceeded my expectations because I didn’t realise how big it would be for the people outside the club, outside the 22, the bigger picture stuff. When you see people like Dale Carpenter and Paul Williams crying you know you’ve achieved something pretty special and you think ‘What have we done here’. It’s only just starting to sink in.
Your thoughts on Sorrento, the respect for each other must have grown through the roof after that contest?
Spot on, I feel for Sorrento because that was a great game of footy. Even after everything that has gone on during the week I think the 44 players that played in that game will always have a special bond. The size of the crowd, the quality of the game, everyone involved in both clubs should be extremely proud of what was produced on the biggest day of the year. Our 1995 side that lost to Hastings has a similar bond, that was a huge day as well, but this was something else.
Premierships are always special, but are there stories surrounding this win that make it even more special to be a part of?
The big one for us as a club is Cowboy (Pines legend Steve Nicolls), he’s been pretty crook with MND so for him to see Gordo (Gordon Hendry) present the cup, and to see his two nephews (Beau and Guy Hendry) win a premiership was pretty special. Jack Fisher is retiring, so it’s great for him to go out on a high, and Brendan Barfoot is another, he’s had to work hard to achieve what he did today. I said to him after the game that his dad would be very proud, and then a bloke standing next to him said ‘I am his dad…and I am very proud.’
And anything personally from you?
I’ve been back at the club for four years now and I still remember the first training session back in late 2014. My brother Daniel had just committed suicide and I was due to take my first training session for the pre-season. So to see my family embracing after the game, we all knew what we were thinking and who we were thinking of.
I’m sure there are a few people you would like to thank?
I won’t individualise, because I know I will forget a few people, but to my family, my assistant coaches, and everyone associated with Pines, I say a massive thank you. To Jeff Svigos and his committee, they do a wonderful job, and to the supporters, for making Sunday so special, on behalf of the players I would like to thank them as well. And to Simon Goosey, we mentor each other on a weekly basis and his support, and that all of the other coaches in the competition, is a great support network that can only make us better as coaches.