In Their Words - Nathan Blakely Round 7

Saturday, May 25, 2019 - 7:08 AM by Nathan Blakely

IT'S quarter past five Saturday afternoon, we’ve just gone down for our fifth loss of the year. The boys heads are down and we are being clapped off by our enduring supporters in another ‘close defeat’. 

In the space of a fortnight we have gone from being four goals ahead at three quarter-time against the undefeated Subiaco Football Club to losing against a winless East Fremantle side. How can we be so inconstent, why would we put in a performance like that when our season is on the line?

I walk into the change rooms knowing I’ve just been given a belting against returning club captain and ex-Fremantle Docker Jonathon Griffin. I haven’t had a belting like that since the days of being a young duckling up against the likes of AFL premiership player Mark Seaby and 3 x AFL club man, and East Perth champion Paul Johnson. And I tell you it doesn’t feel good. Embarrassing almost, you feel you have let down your teammates, your family and you know it will be at the forefront of your mind until about midweek. 

People will love to give you excuses, ‘Griffin was cherry ripe for this game’, ‘he was an inspired captain and really set him for this week’. But it's week in week out performances that make you a good player in the WAFL and performances like this show that I have a long way to go.

We go straight into a team meeting immediately after the game. Boys are silent for a few minutes until our captain, Tony Notte, has a few words about the performance. This is a man that has seen and done it all in WAFL, worn the black and white more than anyone else in the room, trying to lead the Swans back to the glory days of the 60s and 80s. Tony has given his all and done his part for the club and its time the rest of the group step up. 

I take this post game meeting to talk about something that has been on my mind for a few weeks now. I sprayed the group about life priorities and commitment to being a WAFL player. If Swans isn’t all our No. 1 priority between the months of March to September, we are no chance in this competition. We can’t leave any stone unturned in getting better. 

You see teams like Subiaco and how relentless they are on each other, how they train at the highest intensity and demand compulsory weights sessions each week. This is the level that we as a club we have to get to if we want to make our way up the ladder and have a successful period like Subiaco are currently having. We don’t want quick fixes, once we have a successful system, we want that continuing for years to come. 

Commitment and professionalism are traits coach Pickering has tried to instil into us over the last year and a half with the group. The persistence which is required to become a WAFL footballer cannot be underestimated. I believe this is the single biggest attribute that contributes to not just being a successful footballer but also in your job and getting the most out of life. 

Since my debut year for colts in 2010 there have been a total of 21 kids drafted into the AFL system. Of them now only nine of them are still on a list (not counting last year's draftees). Steve Coniglio, Rory Lobb, Charlie Cameron, Connor Blakely, Ethan Hughes, Nathan Broad, Brad Lynch, Griff Logue and Sam Taylor. So what happens to the rest of the 30-40 talented 18 year old’s that represent the club at colts level every year? 

From my colts age there are only four other people that I played with that are still playing at Swan Districts; Alex Howard, Corey Gault, Brandon Erceg and Leigh Kohlmann. Four guys that made it through the Swan colts’ program to be playing league football for swans in their prime age of 26-27. Is this a failure of the system or the nature of the beast? 

This clearly demonstrates that persistence and ongoing determination required to play at WAFL level. Everyone involved in football have all seen sublime talent come and go. Most would argue that in terms of pure talent I was very much down the bottom of our colts group. WAFL clubs have the challenge in developing talented kids into dedicated team first WAFL players. Every kid has the dream of kicking a goal on the ‘G for an AFL club, but few have the work rate and persistence to make it out of the colts system. This is the culture that coach Pickering and the senior group are trying to install to last beyond our time at the club. 

I truly believe we are on a path to installing this culture at Swans. We have Swan Districts people that represent our three key areas of WA. People like Notte, Ellard and Gaulty from the Swan Districts, Maguire, Kohlmann and I from Bunbury. Warrick Wilson, Brayden Hackett and Graydon Wilson from the Pilbara. We’ve had a boost to playing stocks of mature age guys to the club like Tony Stephens, Leigh Kohlmann and George Hampson. We have emerging talent such as Mitchell Bain, Nathan Ireland, Josh Cipro, Jack O’Sullivan and Will Reidy that are just learning what it takes to become solid WAFL players. 

We have a man in Coach Pickering at the helm that truly cares for each one of us and he rides the bumps as much as each player. Off field we have a solid sustainable business strategy been implemented by Jeff Dennis that is centred around our engagement with the community and in particular the people in the District. 

I don’t have all the answers which is going to immediately fix our inconsistencies and flaws at the moment. But I am confident with the process and trajectory we are headed as a football club. 

Swans will be force to be reckoned with in the near future. Swans supporters will be re-experiencing the premier years with the can bar overflowing and the mob chanting ‘Swans Forever’ any given Saturday.