Brett Kirk
241 games
96 goals
Premiership Player 2005
Best & Fairest 2005 & 2007
Co-captain 2006-2010
All-Australian 2004


When he was four, Brett Kirk's father, Noel, lost his left hand in a farming accident. When he was 18, his football coach told him that “a bloke with one hand couldn't play the game”. He found a new club, the Burrumbuttock Swans, and finished runner-up in the best and fairest seven years in a row.

Brett Kirk learned a lot about football from his dad. Along with his younger brother Jason, they spent a childhood in the changerooms, observing the connection forged between teammates and the positive impact sport can have on a community.

He also learned a lot about perseverance. In 1996, while studying for a Bachelor of Education degree at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, Kirk played all 19 games for the Sydney Swans reserves before being dropped for the Preliminary Final. He waited two years to get another shot.

In 1999, at 22, Kirk won a place on the Swans rookie list after graduating from university. All he wanted, all he needed was an opportunity. After showing strong form in the reserves, Kirk debuted in Round 19 against North Melbourne, kicking three goals. He retained his place for the final four games and the Elimination Final.

Kirk struggled to cement his place for the next two-and-a-half seasons. He recalls a meeting with senior coach Rodney Eade that could have spelled the end. A week later, Paul Roos took over. Kirk missed selection in the new coach's first two matches but played the next 200. In a testament to his resilience, he missed one game through injury for his entire career.

One of the first things Roos wanted to achieve was to empower the players. He focused on developing strong, honest relationships built on trust, and after a tumultuous time, the entire club stood united, ready to progress.

In November 2002, Roos asked Ray McLean of Leading Teams to address the team during a Coffs Harbour pre-season camp. Together, they created the 'Bloods culture'. McLean thought the group needed a trademark. The players wanted to play a style of football that opposition teams respected—hard, disciplined, and relentless. They agreed upon the values, but it'd be meaningless unless the players lived them. 

"It's hard to measure it, but what you do know is that you have 100% commitment and trust that the guys you're playing with will sacrifice and do anything for you; that they'll never let you down," Kirk said.

"No doubt, it's tangible and still powerful in our footy club. We really wanted to stand for something. We thought we'd lost that connection with our past and needed to reconnect. That's where it came from, and years later, it's still a significant part of the culture we have today."

On field results improved, and when the Swans travelled to Adelaide for a 2003 Qualifying Final against a powerful Port Adelaide, they did so heavily undermanned. Fearless and courageous, they prevailed. Instrumentally, Kirk played at his combative best in a win that set a significant benchmark.

Combining meticulous preparation with an insatiable drive to succeed, Kirk rose to the upper echelon of AFL midfielders, winning selection in the 2004 All-Australian team while placing fourth in the Brownlow Medal. He thrived on the contested nature of the Swans' game plan and often shut down the opposition's most dangerous onballer while impacting the game himself.

He'd grown into a fine leader. By his admission, leadership did not come naturally, but Kirk persevered like everything else. His leadership style was authentic and honest, remaining true to himself and his beliefs. 

The 2005 season arrived with internal expectations high, but typically, external expectations were not. AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou criticised the Swans’ style of play, essentially labelling their football ugly. 

After an early season slump, the Swans clicked into gear, winning 16 of the last 19 games to earn a top-four place. "We wanted to have that relentless attitude, and we never wanted to give up, which the club is synonymous with. We wanted that to be a big part of who we were, so we drove that pretty hard, and we talked about it often," Kirk said.

"I know we'd be deep in games, and we might be a couple of goals down, but I always had this faith that we'd be able to find a way. We tended to do that on most occasions, and then it becomes a bit like folklore when you start really believing in it."

During home matches at the SCG, a banner that read 'Brett Kirk: Toughest Man Alive' won notoriety for its accuracy. Physically and mentally, Kirk pushed himself to the limit. He found Buddhism during great loss and learned valuable lessons that aided his mental strength. 

During the 2005 finals series, he drew upon that fortitude. Famously, in the Grand Final against West Coast, the Swans broke a 72-year premiership drought. "When the siren went, it was a mix of relief and exhilaration. Goodesy and I embraced each other and fell to the ground. Then I shared it with every teammate I worked so hard with and sacrificed so much with,” Kirk recalled.

"Then there were past players out on the ground like Paul Kelly, Bobby Skilton, and Peter Bedford. These guys bled for our footy club, so it was special to have them out there. I just loved sharing it with the thousands of people who've followed our club and been starved of success for so long.”

Among other things, Sydney's sporting landscape changed forever that day. Kirk and his teammates fought hard to win respect in Australia's most challenging market, laying the foundations for the admiration the club now enjoys.

In the 2006 Grand Final, Kirk's ferocious performance in the heartbreaking one-point loss almost dragged his team over the line. That year, his peers voted him the ALFPA’s most courageous player. In 2010, after finishing in the top three of the Swans' best and fairest seven years in a row, he retired following a five-point semi-final loss against the Western Bulldogs. Fittingly, alongside Paul Roos. 

At Kirk’s retirement announcement, Roos paid tribute. “It’s not only his legacy as a player that is extraordinary. Equally important is his enormous influence on the culture of this football club. Hopefully, there will always be a little bit of Brett Kirk in the Sydney Swans Football Club.”

Six years later, Kirk returned to the Swans as an assistant coach. In 2021, he became Head of Player Development and Wellbeing, and it's a natural fit. Kirk has a tattoo of a lotus flower on his shoulder emerging from a muddy swamp; his unconventional path has taught him you can be what you want.

When Kirk retired, he left his 'brothers' a simple message posted on his empty locker—'It's all about the love.' It's also about connection, and Kirk has been a vital part of that. "As we were waiting to get our medals after the 2005 Grand Final, I thought I wanted to pay homage to the Bloods, which is our history and the mantra we'd taken on as players.”

“That's why when I got up there to receive my medal, I grabbed the microphone and said, 'This is for the Bloods.' I grabbed hold of my guernsey, and I just wanted to put out there in the world how important the connection was between our past and our history, with the legacy we wanted to leave."

Thanks to Kirk and his teammates, that legacy lives on.