The QBE Sydney Swans Academy opened its doors this week to welcome hundreds of young boys eager to one day play AFL in the red and white.
More than 200 boys aged between 10 and 13 were inducted into the Academy at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Tuesday night, and another 200 aged from 13 to 18 were inducted on Thursday evening.
QBE Swans Academy head coach Paul Roos told the young footballers and their parents that the Academy - which will train and develop 720 boys each year - was critical to the future of the football club.
Roos said the Academy was effectively a joint venture between the young players and the Sydney Swans.
“We’re providing the environment for you to reach your potential. We provide the balls, the grounds, the coaches, the training. You have to provide the commitment and show us that you want to one day play for the Swans,’’ Roos said.
“We’re here to produce Swans players.’’
The Academy will select, nurture and develop boys in the Club’s NSW zone (primarily the coastal region from Wollongong, through Sydney and Newcastle and beyond to Coffs Harbour) from the ages of 9 to 18.
Roos said the Academy also aimed to woo the best athletes in the state, and drive the evolution of an AFL culture in NSW.
Swans 2010 best and fairest winner, Kieren Jack, spoke to the boys and emphasised what an enormous opportunity they had.
One of those listening intently was his own brother, Brandon, who is 16 and plays for Westbrook in Sydney. Brandon took up the game a couple of seasons ago and is showing plenty of promise. "And he's already taller than me!'' quipped Kieren, the 2010 Swans Club Champion.
Kieren and his brother Brandon grew up in Sydney playing mostly rugby league. Kieren didn’t play any junior AFL until he was 12. He was a late bloomer who was given a chance as a rookie at the Swans when he was 18. “I would have been much better equipped to play AFL if there had been an Academy like this when I was coming through the ranks in Sydney,’’ Jack, 23, said.
Ten year old Josh Turner, who plays for the East Sydney Bulldogs, said he was excited to have been selected in the Academy. “I’m really excited but it’s also a bit daunting,’’ Josh said. “I love playing footy. I’ve been playing since I was 4 and the Academy will help me progress in the long term,’’ he said.
Jonathan Neiser, 10, from Wests, said he had been playing since he was four and was happy to have made the Academy list. “Learning the skills will help me improve when I play for my club.’’
Riley Lucas, 11, who plays for Drummoyne Power in Sydney, was very happy to be selected in the Academy’s Under 12 squad.
“It will be great to train and play with all the other talented boys and to be around all the coaches that have a lot of experience,’’ Riley said.
Lawrence Neil-Smith, 11, a Newtown Swans player, said he was prepared to do the extra work required to be part of the Academy.
“They want us to do 400 extra kicks a week but if you want to become talented you have to do at least that,’’ said Lawrence, who also plays representative cricket.
The boys will train with expert AFL coaches wice a week for 22 to 25 weeks a year at three main locations in Sydney, as well as regional centres in Wollongong, the Central Coast, Newcastle, and Coffs Harbour.
Tom Banuelos, 12, said the QBE Sydney Swans Academy was a great opportunity to excel in the sport he loved most.
Banuelos is also talented at rugby and athletics and wants to fit them all in for now. “I like AFL better but my dad played rugby and he likes rugby,’’ Banuelos said.
“I play rugby at school but not for a club any more because I like AFL better. The Academy is a great opportunity for me to hopefully one day play for the Swans,’’ said Banuelos, who plays junior AFL at East Sydney Bulldogs. “I’ll develop my skills and get lots of chances if I’m good enough.’’
General manager, former Swans captain Dennis Carroll, said the QBE Sydney Swans Academy would provide the right environment for boys to reach their full potential. “And without QBE as our major partner, none of this would have happened,’’ Carroll emphasised.