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Magic Armstrong touch behind Colts Premiership

Wednesday, October 6, 2021 - 2:50 PM by Chris Pike

Swan Districts pulled off the fairytale from wooden spoon to premiership in the WAFL Colts of 2021 and it took the little touch of Armstrong magic as coach to get the job done.

Swan Districts had a challenging year in the colts of 2020 in the shortened and delayed WAFL season winning just two of eight games and then the preparations for 2021 wasn’t quite ideal when Simon Bergin stepped down as coach shortly before the season.

However, the appointment of John Armstrong proved to be a masterstroke and that fairytale was complete when Swan Districts beat Claremont in Saturday's Grand Final by eight points at Optus Stadium.

The premiership triumph is the first for Swan Districts in the colts since 2014 and marked a remarkable rise on the back of last year's disappointment with Armstrong able to extract the best out of a talented playing group.

It was a playing group full of talent for sure with the likes of Elijah Hewett, Max Chipper and Ben Hewett mainstays through the middle, Brodie Morris impressive in the ruck, Rhett Bazzo a standout key defender, Bryce Watson an attacking defender, the ferocity of Bailey Jenkin and then spectacular talents of Ayden Cartwright and Tyrell Metcalf just to pinpoint a handful.

However, any exciting playing group needs to be well coached and there's no question in his first season in charge Armstrong did a remarkable job to go through the home and away season losing just one game, winning the minor premiership and now capping it off with the Grand Final success.

Armstrong is grateful for the opportunity presented to him by Swan Districts and it's certainly cemented him wanting to continue to pursue coaching moving forward.

"The club has been fantastic for me. Phil Smart and Greg Harding have been amazing support for me and specifically Greg has helped me along the way as a coach but the whole club has been fantastic," Armstrong told 91.3 SportFM.

"They have allowed me to coach the boys and do it our way. I couldn’t thank the club enough and it was good to get the win and the reward for all their efforts and support they've given me by winning the Grand Final.

"I've coached for 10 years now throughout different levels and I'm a Phys Ed teacher. It's something that my dad has done, both my brothers are doing and obviously pop did so it's something that I've probably been bred into.

"I love it and I love the enjoyment you get with the boys and seeing them enjoy football gives me a lot of joy as well. I'm loving that at the moment and I would love to continue coaching."

By moving into coaching and now being a premiership colts coach, Armstrong is continuing on his family's remarkable legacy in WA football.

His grandfather is WA Football Hall of Fame inductee Ken while his father Gary was league coach at Perth and spent 30-plus years coaching at various levels while older brother Steve in an AFL premiership player who played 79 AFL and 93 WAFL matches, and is now embarking on coaching himself.

The whole family has a long and rich involvement in football in someway with his aunty Tania a ground breaking and leading journalist who was on hand at Optus Stadium to greet John as soon as the siren sounded on Saturday.

He is rightfully proud to be continuing his family's remarkable legacy.

"We've won a fair few premierships now as a family which is good obviously, but it's the journey along the way of winning them that makes them so enjoyable," he said.

"I've been fortunate enough to be coached by both my brothers, by my dad and won premierships with all of them as well which has been fantastic. It's the reward for a bit of hard work and the whole family just loves being involved in footy."

Looking back on Saturday's Grand Final where Swan Districts kicked four goals in the space of 15 minutes during the last quarter to come from behind against Claremont and secure the win, Armstrong always had faith his team could get the job done.

"On Saturday you are obviously pretty nervous and excited during the game, and then afterwards you enjoy it and now a couple of days later you can reflect a little bit. I've been able to watch the game again and am still enjoying but the day itself certainly goes very quick," Armstrong said.

"That end we were kicking to in the last quarter was actually the end of the ground where the scoring happened so we said if we were within a goal that we wanted to be super positive and continue to play the way we wanted to play.

"The boys were able to have a fantastic last quarter of footy, but that was both sides. It was a great quarter of football and we were fortunate enough to kick a few to get in front."

Coming into the season when he was appointed coach, Armstrong knew he was inheriting a talented group of players but getting them to play together as a team would be the challenge. He couldn’t be happier with how they ended up coming together.

"At the start of the year our main focus was talking about how we have some fantastic individual talents but how if we are able to come together as a real strong group then the possibilities of what we could achieve were pretty high," Armstrong said.

"We drove that from probably the first meeting and training session that we had, and to the boys' credit they all bought into that culture. You could probably see that in the Grand Final when we had a fair few of the boys that didn’t get to play but were still there supporting very loudly.

"I could hear them from the coaches box at some stages and that shows our culture. We drove that from the start of the season collectively as a group which was fantastic to see the buy in that everybody gave."

After Swan Districts were the dominant team during the home and away season losing just the one game and finishing on top of the ladder by three matches, they did have to win into the Grand Final the hard way.

Swans lost the second semi-final narrowly to Claremont but then beat East Fremantle in a thrilling preliminary final and win or lose the Grand Final, Armstrong was glad his players got the reward of getting to play on Optus Stadium.

"I guess that's finals football and everyone rises a little bit extra. Claremont have got some very handy footballers and they are a fantastic side so all four games that we had against them this year probably could have gone either way," Armstrong said.

"East Fremantle had a lot of momentum as well coming into the finals and then they took that through the finals but we were able to just get back to playing our strong brand of footy. That was good enough to hold off and good enough to win the premiership in the end.

"I said to the boys when we first got to the Grand Final to try and lap the whole experience up as much as they could because it's some sort of experience getting to play at the stadium.

"They walk onto the ground and you can see them all looking into the stands in awe of the stadium and even in the changerooms you have the big rooms, and four different rooms you can go into and use. It was a fantastic experience and the boys loved it, and it's a great experience for them to get to play there."