Harding Proud Of Making Finals, Confident Of Good Showing

Saturday, September 2, 2017 - 10:00 AM

AS his time comes to a close as Swan Districts coach, Greg Harding can't help but be proud to have helped Swans back to the WAFL finals in 2017 after a horror season in 2016 ahead of Sunday's elimination final with West Perth.

Harding has announced this the 2017 season will be his last in charge at Swan Districts having taken over in 2011 following the premiership year of 2010 during which time he had been an assistant coach to Brian Dawson and also a successful colts coach.

Taking over a premiership winning team can often be a thankless task and the job ever since has certainly had its challenges for Harding considering some of the off-field difficulties the club has had in that time.

But he has proven himself over and over as a tremendous coach, outstanding man manager and more than anything, one of the best developers of young talent in the state and possibly even the country.

His track record of that speaks for itself and now after a horror season in 2016 that brought about the wooden spoon and just two wins, the positives were the young players who gained valuable experience.

Then with the arrival or returns of the David Ellard, Corey Gault, Ryan Crowley, Jamie Bennell, Xavier Ellis and Clancee Pearce this year, there was good reason to expect Swans to be able to rise up the ladder.

Despite Pearce injuring his knee during pre-season and Ellis being limited to five games, Ellard, Gault, Bennell and Crowley have been strong contributors as Swan Districts won five of its first six games, then had another three-game winning run between Round 14-16 to guarantee a finals spot.

While Swans have lost their past four matches heading into this Sunday's elimination final against West Perth at Steel Blue Oval, it has been a terrific effort to get back to the finals after where the club was in 2016.

Harding is now confident of a strong showing on Sunday.

"It would be nice to be going into finals with a little bit more momentum, there's no doubt about that, but I'm really confident that we've been able to manage some of our players through the last few weeks when it was almost guaranteed that we were going to make it," Harding said.

"We went through a process of looking after a lot of the senior boys to have them in as good a nick as we possibly could. And when you've got the quality of Ellard, Gault, Crowley and Banfield, I've got no doubt they are going to lift going into a final. While the form's not ideal, it's not a concern."

With the combination of the young players who gained valuable game time last year and then the experienced players joining Swans this year, Harding was always confident of the group being able to bounce back.

Now no matter what happens in the finals, the fact that they are playing finals suggests it has been a successful season after just two wins in 2016.

"Once we got those four or five in even though we got a little bit unlucky with Ellis' body and Clancee's knee, but once that mostly homegrown quality came in with that care factor about the jumper and furthering the club and making it better, then we thought we could bounce back," he said.

"On top of that given we were able to get 20 games into Jesse Turner, Jack Watson and those sorts of boys, we were pretty confident we could bounce back pretty quickly. And that was the case, it was just going to be about if we could manage an aging player group after being the youngest group last year.

"It was all about how we would manage the senior boys and when we've been able to get our best team on the park we've been really competitive. When we've battled through suspension or injury we came back to the pack a little bit. We are reasonably happy with the season we've had, we have won several close games and we haven’t beaten anyone by more than 33 points which shows a fair bit of character."

Swan Districts also won't be too far from full strength for Sunday's elimination final with Ellis, Matthew Rogers, Jacob Coniglio and Warrick Wilson the only regular league players not available for selection.

"We are pretty close to full strength but Rogers has been a big loss for us through half-forward. We lost Coniglio as well and obviously there's Ellis who we won't have. He was a big part of some momentum early and Warrick Wilson has been a staple across the middle of the ground as well," he said.

"He has a broken jaw and has three fractures in that so he certainly won't be playing. We are probably three or four down on our best but West Perth is probably in a similar position. We haven’t got everyone available but it's not like we are in horrible nick right now. We have been managing guys like Crowley through to make sure they are ready to go this week."

Swan Districts will also be celebrating the 200th game of versatile big man Tony Notte on Sunday and Harding couldn’t speak more highly of the 27-year-old.

"I think it's a testament to the quality of player that he is that a lot of opposition clubs now put a lot of time into him and trying to shut him down because of how he plays his footy," Harding said.

"The beauty of Tony is that he's so versatile and if we get into trouble we can throw him forward and we don’t like throwing him in the ruck, but he's an outstanding ruckman as well.

"His versatility since he's gone behind the footy in 2011 has been critical to us and he has been very strong in a period of time when he's lost a lot of his teammates whether it be through retirement or moving to greener pastures. He is a young lad who has grown up in our community and has been super strong, and a true Swan Districts person."

By Chris Pike.