Notte Reaches 200 With Plenty Left In The Tank

Thursday, August 31, 2017 - 3:41 PM

THERE is nothing that Tony Notte hasn’t achieved in his WAFL career bar win that elusive premiership which continues to be his motivating force as he prepares to reach 200 games in Sunday's elimination final against West Perth at Steel Blue Oval.

While it might seem like Notte has been around forever at Swan Districts having come through the ranks to play State 16s and State 18s before being drafted to West Coast in 2007 and making his league debut in 2008, he is only 27 years of age approaching game 200 this Sunday.

Notte will bring up the milestone in front of his home fans at Steel Blue Oval in the elimination final against West Perth and while the 200-game mark is a big one to reach, given he is only 27 and has missed remarkably few games since debut, he has plenty left to offer Swans.

Notte played 20 of 23 games in his rookie season of 2008, 19 of 22 in 2009 and then 19 of 20 home away games in 2010 and then the first semi-final before missing the preliminary and grand finals.

He then missed five games in 2011 but since then has played 124 of a possible 124 matches. The last game he missed for Swan Districts was when he was out for the last three matches of 2011.

That is a remarkable run to bring up the 200-game mark and it couldn’t possibly be a better occasion than a home elimination final to celebrate the occasion for the popular figure as well.

"It's been a while since we played a final at home and the crowds get pretty big, and I expect a big crowd here again on the weekend," Notte said.

"We've got such a great following and I'm more looking forward to getting the win for the boys. But for my 200th game to fall on the day as well is pretty exciting and I can't wait to play finals footy again and see how far we can take this season."

It's not just the 200 games that Notte has achieved that have made him such a popular figure at Swan Districts though.

Aside from missing the 2010 premiership, he has achieved it all with the black-and-whites having become a life member, winning the 2013 Swan Medal, having represented the WAFL on four occasions and playing two AFL matches with West Coast in 2008.

Missing the 2010 flag, though, after being a regular member of the team that season still stings for Notte. Swans haven’t won a single final since so it's that desire to play in a premiership that continues to motivate him even though he is proud of what he has achieved.

"I'm pretty proud of those individual achievements but for me it's always been about being able to win a premiership. That's the one thing I have always wanted," he said.

"When you go into the system and play off in a grand final in 2008 and it's so close, and then not play in another one for so long you realise how rare the opportunities can be. That's the one thing that is keeping me here, that desire to win the premiership.

"It was obviously really tough missing out in 2010. I had played the whole year and only missed out on the last couple of finals but that was pretty much the driving force for me to come back to the WAFL and play good footy and try to win that premiership.

"I wanted to prove to a lot of people that I still had the talent to perform at a high level and it wasn’t on my mind to get back into the AFL, I wanted to come back here and have some fun and enjoy footy again, and have some success.

"Footy became a bit of a chore there for a while and it weighed pretty heavily on my shoulders but I came back to Swans where I had grown up playing my whole life, got to play with great mates again and it got back to being fun again and hopefully my form has reflected that ever since."

Notte is proud to reach 200 games with Swan Districts and given he's only 27, he isn’t ready to rule out chasing down Tallan Ames' career mark that looks set to finish somewhere in the 260s.

"Amesy just reached his 250 earlier this year and it will take me a few more years to reach that point and I'm not sure there's too many other players these days will be able to get to that sort of number, so that definitely makes me proud to reach 200 games," Notte said.

"I think it's a massive achievement and I'm happy that I've been able to get there especially at my age. It does take a lot of years of consecutive games and it's not easy to reach that number in a short period but I'm pretty proud to get there.

"I'm only 27 and a lot of the boys think I'm a lot older but I'll keep going until the enjoyment is gone or the body can't do it anymore. I love being down here and I haven’t put a time limit on my career at all.

"Amesy has announced that he is pulling the pin at the end of the year and he's had such a great career, and been such a great leader so it would be nice for us to help him finish his career by us going deep into the finals as well as for Greg (Harding).

"Greg has been a massive role model for me and he's someone who has given me the confidence to play the way I want to. A big thing for us is to try and send those boys out on a big note."

While Notte does take pride in looking after his body and doing all the right things in preparation and recovery, he gives credit to the staff at the club for him to have now played 124 straight games. But it does take the odd bit of luck too.

"I have actually had a few injuries but they've been lucky that those injuries have come in our last games of a season. I did my knee in the final against East Freo and I would have missed a few chunks of a season then if it happened earlier," he said.

"Then last year I fractured a wrist in the last game. But aside from those I've just been able to manage injuries really and a couple of weeks ago again I thought I might have done my knee quite significantly and that was a bit of a scare, but it ended up OK.

"We have had great support staff with our trainers and physios here over my time that has helped me stay out on the park and they have looked after me pretty well."

Notte was originally drafted to West Coast as a tall forward and that's where he played a lot of his early WAFL football with Swan Districts, but it was Greg Harding taking over as coach in 2011 when he started to spend more and more time down back.

Whether playing as a loose man or as the actual centre half-back, Notte quickly built his reputation as the best reader of play in that role in the competition and combined with his height, reach and overhead marking ability he quickly excelled.

Notte has still spent time up forward on occasion and even pinch hit in the ruck at times, but it is that role intercepting marks down back where he's made his biggest impact.

He is proud to be such a versatile player still and he has no doubt that's helped him play 200 games and never get stale in one spot.

"I think it's a good thing having that versatility. If you get stuck in one spot it's nice to be able to change it up and it's a great trait to have for any player," Notte said.

"It's something that I did develop when I was younger playing junior footy as well even though I played a lot up forward, I still spent some time in the ruck and down back. It means it's always a different challenge each week not knowing where you'll be lining up.

"Stiff doesn’t like moving me too much now from back there and my time forward isn’t that much these days, but I love being able to play anywhere. It's nice down back when the ball isn’t coming in red hot and then up forward it's always good to go and kick a couple of goals.

"Wherever you are playing and you can have an impact and have a good day it's always nice, so I don’t really mind which end of the ground that ends up being."

Notte has enjoyed sharing that back-line alongside the likes of Ames, Justin Simpson, Graham Jetta, Kirk Ugle, Alex Howard and others over the years. He now has been happy to take on a leadership role to help the next generation come through and find their feet too.

"Obviously we've had a pretty strong six, seven or even eight guys down back for a few years now and that's probably been our rock even when the team has struggled a fair bit. We pretty much pride ourselves on being the best line on the team and it helps when you are best mates with each other as well," he said.

"A lot of those boys have left now and that makes it tough when they are great mates who you've played a lot of footy with, but now we've had to blood a lot of young kids and with that you go through some hard times in the short-term but it's all about building for the future.

"Now at my age it's nice to play with kids who are coming through like Sammy Taylor so you try to help them however you can.

"You can't be a good back-line player on your own so it's been great to have Tallan Ames, Justin Simpson, Graham Jetta and even Alex Howard beside me along with Kirky Ugle. Laurence Grescos has now played a fair bit of footy too and we all get along so well with each other."

Like many at Swan Districts, Notte was buoyed coming into 2017 with the returns to the club of Jamie Bennell, Corey Gault, Clancee Pearce and David Ellard along with the arrivals of Xavier Ellis and Ryan Crowley to top up the emerging group coming through.

While Pearce and Ellis haven’t paid off yet although the former will be back in 2017 and the latter has added plenty off-field, that gave Notte hope of improving on last year's two-win season and he's now delighted to have a finals series to be part of again.

"I think this pre-season had a pretty big buzz around it with us bringing in some big recruits when we haven’t been able to do too much of that over the past few years and with senior players finishing up or going to other clubs," he said.

"But this pre-season we had a big focus of pushing to get back to the top and when you add the likes of Gault, Ellard, Crowley, Ellis, Bennell and then even Clancee Pearce at the start and we might have had Chris Yarran for a stage so it has been exciting to have all those boys back.

"As well for the young boys to have such leaders and experienced players it provided that real buzz and that's what got us through that first half of the year and why we played such good footy. We are in a bit of a drought now but we are in the finals and things can change quickly. No one backed us in to be here where we are now after last year so we'll take this any day of the week."

Taking on West Perth is yet another chapter in that growing rivalry between the Falcons and Swan Districts as well with Notte's highlight still being the remarkable come from behind preliminary final win in 2008 at HBF Arena.

"I remember that one in 2008 when we won to get into the grand final which is a really good one to look back on, but throughout my career West Perth have always been such a good competitor and they always seem to play finals just about every year," Notte said.

"They knocked us out of playing finals a couple of years ago as well by losing their last game which hurt us and we haven’t forgotten that. But it will be nice to win in front of our home and pay back our supporters for a pretty poor month."

By Chris Pike.