Captain Kirk – Persistence & Durability

Neil Cordy profiles the nomination of Brett Kirk to the AFL NSW Hall of Fame:

Twice dead and buried before his AFL career got off the ground Brett Kirk is the ultimate story of persistence.

He’s also an incredible tale of durability.

Kirk missed just one game in his entire career, country and reserves footy included, that’s right, one solitary game in 18 years of footy.

From the age of 16 when he was thrown into the deep end of the Ovens and Murray League playing for North Albury to his ‘Swansong’ in the 2010 semi-final loss to the Western Bulldogs at the MCG 18 years later, Kirk had just one week on the sidelines.  It was a Swans reserves match in his first season in Sydney in 1999.

“It was a nick in my quad,” Kirk said. “I remember having a chat with Matt (Cameron) the Swans physio. I thought that I could play and Matt thought I should take a week off.”

Neither Cameron nor Kirk knew at the time they were putting the kybosh on a ‘Guinness Book of Records’ type effort for resilience. Imagine going through an entire footy career without missing a game.

On top of his 241 games for the Swans Kirk estimates he played more than 80 games for North Albury and another 60 plus for the Swans Reserves. That’s more than 380 games and only one missed through injury.

Brett Kirk

It’s a phenomenal effort in any era of football but Kirk achieved this feat with the added challenge of playing as an inside midfielder. Heavy body contact was a given and in his case it was being delivered by players like Mark Ricciuto and Nathan Buckley who were more than 10kg heavier than his 80kg frame.

“Timing was everything,” Kirk said. “I did a lot of homework on my opponents. Mark Ricciuto for example I would push him under the ball and hit him late and move my feet. I kept away from situations where I was vulnerable, if I got into a wrestle with these guys they would move me and I wouldn’t be effective”.

“You changed your tactics according to whether it was Lenny Hayes, Simon Black, Nathan Buckley or Mark Ricciuto. They all had different strengths, it was about knowing their strengths and where I could expose them”, he added.

Kirk also learned a thing or two from his dad Noel Kirk who played for the Burrumbuttock Swans in the Hume League. Noel lost his hand in a farming accident at the age of four but still played out a long and successful career.

“He played on the half back flank and was as tough as an old boot,” Kirk said.

“He would spoil the ball with his right fist and then hit someone in the back of the head with his stump. He was a left footer and played an aggressive bruising style of footy. He played for a long time.”

Growing up Brett loved the atmosphere at the footy at Burrumbuttock, when he wasn’t sneaking into the rooms he would be climbing trees, eating chips and peeping over the fence to see how it was going. He even followed the Sydney Swans because they wore the red and white of Burrumbuttock. He also gleaned some pretty handy footy IP”.

“When I was growing up my dad said if you hesitate you get hurt,” Kirk said. “He was right, the way I attacked the contest was I was fully invested in it every time. I was never in the in-between phase, I was in it or through it.”

The footy and life lessons Brett learnt from his dad would come in handy over the coming years as the knock backs came.

The first was in 1996 when Kirk was on the Swans supplementary list. He was studying a Bachelor of Education at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga and flying in each week to play for the Swans Reserves. He had played every game for the season (19) but was dropped for the Preliminary Final.

“I was shattered,” Kirk said. “I didn’t hear anything from the club from that point on. The first I heard from the club was a letter from Rob Snowdon in January. It said thanks for your service but I was no longer required. I just put my head down and worked harder, spent another couple of years at Uni and finished my degree and got another chance.”

He earnt another shot thorough a stand-out performance for Victorian Country at the national country championships at Bendigo in 1998 and he was selected in the All-Australian Country team. The Victorian team was managed by David Matthews (now Giants CEO) who strongly encouraged him to have another crack at the AFL.

Kirk was back at the Swans in 1999 and kicked three goals on debut in round 19 against the Kangaroos. He played the remaining four games including a losing final against Essendon and another 36 games over the next three and a half seasons but when Sydney hit a bad patch of form midway through 2002 Kirk was in the gun again.

“Rocket (Rodney Eade) took Daniel McPherson and I into his office and said we’re not going to make finals so we will play younger players,” Kirk said.

“I remember going home devastated but within seven days Rocket had left and Paul Roos took over. I didn’t play in his first two games as coach but I played in his third and then the next 200 consecutively.”

Those 200 included the 2005 premiership, that year when Kirk won the Bob Skilton Medal and added another in 2007. He was runner up four times, third once and eighth in his last year.

His partnership with Paul Roos was an enormously successful period for the Swans resulting in 18 finals appearances over seven campaigns in eight years.

“Paul coached 202 games and I played in 200 of them. We finished up in the same match in 2010,” Kirk said.

“Paul and I had a strong relationship that was built on honesty and trust and we would challenge each other to be better”.

Kirk is currently the Head of Wellbeing and Development at the Swans.

His family are all involved in footy, his wife Hayley coaches and their children Indhi, Memphys, Tallulah and Skout all play.

Wayne Carey: The Greatest Player Ever

Australian Football celebrates its 140th anniversary in New South Wales this year after the founding of the NSW Football Association in Sydney on 30 June 1880.

To commemorate, 140 coaches, players, umpires, administrators and media personalities from both the Elite (VFL/AFL) and Community level will be inducted into the inaugural New South Wales Australian Football Hall of Fame.

Neil Cordy interviews his former NSW State-of-Origin team-mate Wayne Carey:


       A Young Wayne Carey

In the week NSW Australian Football turned 140 its greatest player, Wayne Carey, has revealed he grew up barracking for the Parramatta Eels and South Melbourne.

Its salt in the wounds for Swans fans who lost Carey and John Longmire to North Melbourne for $70,000 in 1988.

But the news should be taken with a grain of the same stuff when the prospect of losing the Kangaroos champion to Rugby League was a real one.

Carey was an Eels fan but his move to his auntie’s house in North Wagga brought footy into the mix. Auntie Pam and Uncle Bob Causley lived on William Street just 50 metres from McPherson Oval.

“They were my happiest childhood memories there at McPherson Oval,” Carey said. “They were really good times for me. I started playing at 8am in the under 10s. The fog would set in sometimes and you couldn’t see the other end of the ground. I would be there all day. I’d run the boundary in the reserves and sometimes, the seniors. I got a pie and a can of coke for doing it”.

“My footy boots were hand me downs from a cousin. The first proper footy I got, a Sherrin, was one I won at a Carnival when I was 10. I treated it like a baby, I polished it and never kicked it on the road. I didn’t trust my brother (Sam) to mark it. If Sam was kicking with me it had to be on the grass.”

Forty years later the game is celebrating their good fortune and Carey’s contribution by including his name alongside triple Brownlow medallist Hayden Bunton’s on the Carey-Bunton medal.

It will recognise the best player from NSW annually through the AFL Coaches Association voting.

The Coaches Association award started in 2004, and previous NSW winners including Brett Kirk, Lenny Hayes, Taylor Walker, Kieran Jack, and Zac Williams will be awarded the medal retrospectively. A team of the year will also be named with Carey one of the selectors along with Mark McClure, Gerard Healy, Mike Sheahan and Richard Colless (conveynor).

It’s a fitting tribute to Carey’s impact on footy north of the Murray and south as well. In 2008 he was named as the greatest player ever in a book titled ‘The Australian Game of Football’. The book, published by the AFL, included a list of the top 50 players of all time.

Remarkably Carey’s inspiration didn’t come from any of the champions listed. His was a home-grown product of Wagga, Laurie Pendrick (pictured below)

“Laurie was my first football hero,” Carey said. “He was a very good player and a standout in Wagga. He played in the centre but could go forward and kick goals. He was tough and hard and opposition fans hated him and North Wagga fans loved him”.

“He was the captain coach and had a really deep voice. The rooms were pretty small back then so they didn’t let many in. I tried to get in as often as I could and I loved the smell of the deep heat and the rah rah. If I wasn’t in the room I had my head sticking through the door. You could usually hear him outside the rooms because his voice was so loud.”

   Wayne Carey in his playing days with North Melbourne

North Wagga wasn’t the most exclusive area of the town and money was scarce. When Carey was named in the NSW primary school team the footy club raised the finance which allowed him to make the trip.

“North Wagga had raffles and raised funds for me to go to Darwin,” Carey said.

“The trip to Darwin was big and my first meeting with John Longmire”.

Carey cut his foot swimming near an oyster bed but did enough to impress then Swans recruiter Greg Miller. A decade later when Miller was working for North Melbourne came calling on the young pair of New South Welshmen.

Carey says at that stage he was the junior partner in the deal which would help secure the Kangaroos amazing run of success through the 1990s.

“Greg Miller remembered me from the carnival in Darwin and threw me in with the deal with John when we went to North,” Carey said. “They paid $70,000 for us and Horse was $60,000 of that and I was $10,000. John was a very accomplished player at a young age, he had every VFL club after him.”

It is the deal which broke Sydney fans hearts and still lingers in their collective memory, especially those who watched North Melbourne beat the Swans in the 1996 grand final.

The pill is made even more bitter by the fact Carey grew up following the red and white.

“I barracked for the Swans,” Carey said. “The Sydney blokes would come down and do clinics. That’s where I met Stevie Wright. He was my first VFL/AFL hero, he pulled me aside at a clinic and had a kick with me and I loved him from that time on.

“The reason why I wore the number 26 in the 1990 state game against Victoria was because of Stevie Wright.”

Wright coached Clarence (Tasmania FL) to back to back flags in 1993 and 1994 and is still involved in football. He is currently coaching Meeniyan-Dumbalk in the Alberton League in South Gippsland, Victoria.

“Wayne told me the story about the footy clinic but I hadn’t heard about him wearing the number 26 for NSW,” Wright said. “It’s obviously nice to hear that Wayne remembered me, it just goes to show what a difference it makes when you show interest in kids wherever they are.” (Ed. Steve Wright was vice-captain of the 1990 Origin team and wore #12 in that game).

The kid Steve took some time with is now the ‘King’ or ‘Duck’ depending on who you talk with.

He’s looking forward to presenting the first Carey-Bunton Medal later this year.

“I’ve always felt strong about where I come from,” Carey said. “I was born and bred in Wagga and I’m proud of that.”

Neil Cordy played 235 VFL/AFL games with Footscray and the Sydney Swans. After his AFL career Neil coached and played for East Sydney. He worked for Network Ten for 15 years as a reporter/presenter and on their AFL coverage. He was the AFL Editor for the Daily Telegraph from 2011 to 2018 and is currently a member of ABC Grandstand’s AFL broadcast team.



As it did when Sydney won in 2012, this year the premiership will feature New South Welshmen.  But the question is, how many?

Today though, presents an opportune time to reflect on the best performances by New South Wales players in some VFL/AFL grand finals.

1. Lenny Hayes (Pennant Hills) – St Kilda v Collingwood, 2010 (drawn grand final)

Lenny Hayes produced the greatest grand final performance from a New South Wales player when he starred in the 2010 drawn grand final.

In the process, Hayes received the honour of being the first player from NSW to win the Norm Smith Medal “ a clear winner by six votes over the next best player.

The statistics confirm Hayes’ dominance in this match, as he was the leading possession winner on the ground with 32, as well as racking up a game-high 12 tackles.

2. Tom ˜Tomahawk” Hawkins (Finley) Geelong v Collingwood, 2011

The high rating for Tom Hawkins is due to his momentum stealing second half in the 2011 decider.

Every time Collingwood gained the momentum in the third quarter of this grand final, Hawkins kicked a goal to keep his Geelong team in the contest. The match see-sawed as a contest until Hawkin’s third goal in the quarter put the Cats up by eight points, and from that point onwards Geelong seized control of the match.

The marks that Hawkins took in the last quarter had the commentators in raptures. “He’s playing out of his skin, Tom Hawkins,” said commentator Anthony Hudson after Hawkins took a strong contested mark in the last quarter.

Just a few minutes later, Hawkins took a one-handed mark while fending off his opponent with his other hand. “Hawkins again, oh this is amazing, who is this man?” Hudson said.

3. Chris Laird (Paddington) – South Melbourne v Collingwood, 1918

Chris Laird has generally been overlooked as a great grand final player due to the passing of time since the 1918 grand final, yet he kicked one of the most important goals in grand final history.

If the VFL had awarded a best on ground medal back in the 1918 grand final then the Sydney recruit would have been in line to take that award.

He kicked the winning goal for the red and whites against Collingwood with just 30 seconds remaining in the match, and was also the equal top goal scorer in the match with three goals to his name.

Without Laird’s final goal, Collingwood would have most likely won this match, so Laird’s influence could not have been more pronounced.

4. Gordon Strang (East Albury) – Richmond v Carlton, 1932

The Sporting Globe’s W.S. “Jumbo” Sharland listed Gordon Strang as Richmond’s best player in the grand final of 1932 as a result of his dominance in marking contests.

This high rating was also backed up by the report in The Age, which wrote “One of the most outstanding was G. Strang, who was unbeatable in the aerial duels, and who pulled down sixteen marks.”

To put this feat in perspective, no one player since the 1990 grand final has taken this many marks in a grand final. For his aerial dominance alone, Strang deserves his spot as one of New South Wale’s best grand final performers.

5. Jarrad McVeigh (Pennant Hills) – Sydney v Hawthorn, 2012

The 2012 AFL grand final is the high point in Australian football history for New South Wales.

For starters, it legitimised the 2005 grand final victory as being more than just a flash in the pan moment. The players recruited from Sydney football clubs such as Kieren Jack and Lewis Roberts-Thomson also had a significant role in the match.

Furthermore, important history was created when Craig Bird became the first player to achieve premiership success after being recruited directly from a mid-northern NSW club (Nelson Bay).

Yet there was one New South Welshmen who, more than any other, led the way in the 2012 grand final – Jarrad McVeigh.

McVeigh accrued 21 disposals, laid nine tackles and, most importantly, kicked two goals. One of those goals was scored while he was matched up against Cyril Rioli and the other, when Hawthorn’s Sam Mitchell gave away a 50-metre penalty during the third quarter, became the turning point in the match.

The ultimate team player, McVeigh had as many as 36 pressure acts against the opposition as well. The football purists say one-percenters, pressure acts, tackles and smothers win you football matches.

McVeigh’s performance in the 2012 grand final was one for the football purist.

The other players considered were Brett Kirk (for his role in the 2005 grand final for Sydney), Bert Clay (pictured – the 1944 ruckman for Fitzroy), Lewis Roberts-Thomson (the 2005 and 2012 premiership player from the North Shore), Frank Gumbleton (for his role in the 1975 grand final for North Melbourne) and Leo Barry (2005 premiership defender for Sydney from Deniliquin).

In this case, they fell just outside the top five.

Article, courtesy of Miles Wilks