“Caiden was the benchmark at the Academy, and I wanted to line up next to him.”
QBE Sydney Swans Academy products Indhi Kirk and Caiden Cleary are more than just teammates. Having often trained and played with each other, it wasn’t long before they developed a connection.
Then nature of elite sport meant no one could have predicted the fairy tale ending to their time at the Academy, which saw the young duo recruited to the Sydney Swans during the 2023 AFL Draft Period.
Sitting down with Sydney Swans Media the draftees recalled the moment they were recruited.
“It was definitely nerve-wracking,” Cleary said. “I’ve been with the Academy since U10s. It’s been a dream.”
Kirk - the son of Swans legend and premiership player Brett Kirk – echoed this notion.
“I’m over the moon. Dad knew I put in the work, so I was trying to stay calm and present, not letting the nerves get to me,” he said.
It’s no surprise both Kirk and Cleary credit the Academy for their success. In particular, former Academy chief Chris Smith, Leon Cameron and coaches Mark McVeigh and Nick Davis.
Kirk says trust and belief were important to his development, as well as additional hours outside of training for vision and extra skills. He admits pre-season is tough, but the senior system is akin to what they were exposed to at the Academy.
“There is a lot of structure and strategy involved and at the Academy we experienced the same from age 15," Kirk said. "That helped me slide right in.”
The athletes added it was influential in how they were shaped as people too, contributing to the longevity of their success.
“The coaches honed in on that footy isn’t everything, you have to have a balance and enjoy friends and schools,” Cleary said.
Kirk added, “Leon’s focus for athletes turning 18 and going through school was school comes first, because footy isn’t forever.
Speaking to Sydney Swans Media earlier this year Cameron, the then Talent Director of the Academy, said staff pay attention to a combination of qualities for successful athletes.
“The main thing we look for in our athletes, whether it be male or female, is a combination of character, their dedication, their ability to mix with a group and their selfless approach,” he said.
“They lead with their action which then gives young players around them a great example to follow.”
Cleary is one of the youngest members of the squad. He says he will be looking to the likes of “big midfielders” Luke Parker and Taylor Adams for guidance. Meanwhile, Kirk is excited to learn from Callum Mills.
Despite the prospect of a future debut, the boys agreed that training hard and gaining confidence was their main goal for the 2024 season.
“You want to understand the lifestyle of an AFL player and build that confidence and build those connections with the boys,” Cleary noted. “Express yourself, train hard. Earn your stripes and see what comes from that.”
The biggest piece of advice heading into their first season?
The Sydney Swans Foundation are proud to provide funding to contribute to nurturing the pipeline of young athletes coming through the QBE Sydney Swans Academy.