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Reserves 2023 Season Review

Thursday, November 2, 2023 - 4:29 PM

Greg Harding was delighted that the players in his Swan Districts Reserves group got the cherry on top of winning the 2023 WAFL premiership, but he's even more excited to see them now continue to advance their careers.

Harding now enters rare air as a premiership winning coach with Swan Districts at both Colts and Reserves level on top of the seven seasons he spent in charge of the league team, but all he is worried about is helping the players he's in charge of keeping on developing.

Swans started the Reserves season on fire winning nine of the opening 10 matches before ending the home and away season in second position, and going on to beat Subiaco in the qualifying final and then West Perth in the second semi-final.

That earned the black-and-whites the week off ahead of the Grand Final where they again faced West Perth at Optus Stadium. After a slow start were able to work on top and then hold on despite some sore bodies to secure a first Reserves premiership since 2006.

Looking back on premiership triumph

Ahead of the Grand Final, Harding talked about wanting his hard working players to get the reward for their efforts throughout the season by winning the premiership, and he was delighted that was able to happen.

"As we said before the grand final, I was just really pleased for the players who had really improved over the course of the season and then to get the opportunity to put the cherry on top," Harding said.

"A lot of them had a really good year of developing individually and then as a group to show the ability to come back and win a flag, I was just really pleased and happy for the players who have put in a lot of work from all the way back in November.

"They've put in just as much work as the league players and to get their just desserts so to speak, I was just really pleased for them."

How the grand final panned out

It turned out to be a fascinating Grand Final as well at Optus Stadium with West Perth starting strongly to kick the only two goals of the opening quarter.

Harding was expecting a hot start from the Falcons so he wasn’t too concerned and was glad to see his team take charge in the second term, but he just wouldn’t have minded if they did a better job than kicking 2.8.

That changed in the third quarter with Swans kicking four goals to go into three quarter-time leading by 14 points.

"We thought we ambushed them a little bit in the second semi-final and then we played so well that once we got in front, the way the boys were playing defensively it was almost going to be impossible for them to get back," Harding said.

"Then West Perth started extremely well in the grand final and pinned us in our half of the ground for nearly the entire first quarter, and all year we hadn’t really been able to score heavily ourselves.

"So once they got that little jump it was always going to be a close one, we were never going to blow them away or at least that's how it felt. But I thought the boys did a great job in the second quarter but we just couldn’t convert, we had 10 or 11 shots on goal but only kicked two goals.

"I then thought we had complete control in the third and I thought at three quarter-time even though the margin was still only 14 points that the game had broken completely our way."

While Swan Districts was looking good at three quarter-time, it was a challenge in the last quarter particularly with key trio Ben Hewett, Mitch Bain and Lawson Humphries either struggling to run or going off for the rest of the game.

"But then we had three big injuries with Ben Hewett locking up and cramping horribly when he was the most influential player on the ground," Harding added.

"Mitch Bain copped a really big cork to his calf too and couldn’t go, and then Lawson Humphries got knocked out and that all sort of happened in a five-minute period at the start of the last when we thought we were in control.

"Someone like Luke Kelly had to go through the middle of the ground, Jiah Reidy had to spend most of the time there and we had to change that midfield group, but in the end the boys did a great job hanging on after they got headed."

Getting players ready for next step

While winning is obviously always the preferred outcome over losing and winning a premiership is an experience you cherish for the rest of your life, a large part of the job as a Reserves coach is helping players develop and get them ready to take the next step in their football.

Harding has enjoyed the chance to bring players from the 2021 colts premiership into his team and do what he can to get them ready to graduate to the league team, and he expects plenty of his premiership team to play a lot of league football in 2024.

"I think it was made really easy by the fact that it's a great group of kids. That group's really tight and Tester and the other boys who came out of the 2021 colts flag are very tight so myself and Simon didn’t have to do a hell of a lot to bring the group together," he said.

"It was just a really easy group to coach and we're really happy with the way the group is coming along and am really pleased for how all of the developed their game, and how they committed themselves to come in and watch their vision, and see ways they could improve.

"At the end of the year, we're really pleased with where they're at individually and am super excited about the next step for those kids. I look at Ethyn Kane, Lewis Tester, Luke Taylor and kids like Tom Smith who have their foot on the till in terms of playing some sustained league footy in the not too distant future.

"On top of the fact that they won a premiership and that's a great experience to play on the last day at a great venue, but we're probably more excited about where those young kids can now go with their footy," Harding added.

"I'd be very surprised if our half-back line of Ethyn Kane, Luke Taylor and Lawson Humphries wasn’t doing that in the league side before too long, and that's just the start of it. We're pretty confident our supporters will see a lot of these boys at league level early on in 2024."

Future involvement in 2024 and beyond

Harding isn’t quite sure exactly what his involvement will be at Swan Districts in 2024, but he's open to anything the club asks him to do and it's fair to say he will only be involved with Swans while he's doing anything with a WAFL club.

"I'm just happy to be involved wherever the club sees fit really. I'm not exactly sure what that looks like yet and we haven’t spoken about it, but I'm happy to still be involved in some capacity whether that's helping out Pruey or doing a bit with the colts or doing this job again in the reserves," Harding said.

"Straight after the season I went away to Vietnam and that was wicked so I flew out the night of the grand final, and have been away with work since a little bit.

"So I haven’t thought about footy too much, but myself and Simon are really looking forward to staying involved in some capacity and we'll wait to see what that looks like.

"When you're the coach and your name is on the top of the page, but I couldn’t have done it without the help of guys like Simon Bergin and then there was Johnny Armstrong who popped up to help late, Mark Piani helped out and Shane Sander is a long-time supporter and volunteer who has been our runner.

"All those guys have put in a heap of time and energy to help these young men, and deserve some recognition because it really is a genuine team effort to help out at reserves level."