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Swan Songs - with Clem Goonan

In Jim Main's series, 'Swan Songs', on great players from the past, this week he talks to former Swans utility Clem Goonan...

Clem Goonan
Born: June 18, 1939
Played: 1961-64
Games: 50
Goals: 3

Former Swan utility Clem Goonan has a favourite line when discussing his football career.

He tells everyone: “Adam Goodes and I have won two Brownlow Medals between us while wearing number 37 with the Swans.”

The joke, of course, is on Goonan himself, but it is typical of this self-effacing former police officer as he was a more than handy defender or ruck-rover in his brief career with South Melbourne.

He spent just four seasons with the Swans and retired from VFL football at just 25 years of age in moving back to his native northern Victoria.

Goonan first came to attention when he won the Ovens and King League best and fairest while playing with Whorouly in 1958.

This alerted several VFL clubs to his potential, with Melbourne, Geelong, St Kilda and South seeking his services.

Goonan, however, accepted an offer to play with Myrtleford under the coaching of former Richmond and South Australian half-forward Jimmy Dean.

VFL clubs kept an eye on him and South eventually won his signature in the lead-up to the 1961 season.

Goonan explained: “Melbourne had just won a string of premierships and I thought I would struggle to get a regular game with the Demons. Geelong was a bit out of the way and St Kilda was having coaching problems, and that’s why I settled on signing with the Swans.”

Goonan was a genuine utility who could play on a flank, on the ball or even at centre half-back, and also was tough and quick.

However, he had another career, with Victoria Police. After being stationed in the Melbourne suburbs of Fitzroy and Oakleigh, he was transferred back to northern Victoria and played with Albury before being captain-coach of Rutherglen for four years.

Goonan spent 31 years in the police force, retiring in 1989 with the rank of sergeant.

Meanwhile, he kept a close eye on the Swans’ fortunes and was devastated when it was announced that South would fly north to become the Sydney Swans from 1982.

“I was on the Keep South at South bandwagon,” Goonan said. “And it took me 14 years to get over the heartache of the club relocating.

“I think the 1996 Grand Final appearance against North Melbourne turned me around as I could see that it was still the same club, wearing the same colours. There is no point in being a bitter old man and I have come to accept the reality of what happened.”

Goonan has been vice-president on the Past Players and Officials Association for the past 10 years and sees the Swans as often as part-time work commitments allow.

He works at the MCG as a member of the match-day staff and either sees the Swans there in that capacity or when he takes the day off to join other former Swans at an official function.

Goonan, who now lives in the north-eastern Melbourne suburb of Doncaster, also gets to the occasional Swans game at Etihad Stadium and was there to see the red and white triumph over North Melbourne earlier in the season.

“I don’t get to Sydney for games that often, but I was there for the game against Port Adelaide when we unfurled our 2005 premiership flag,” Goonan said.

“That was a terrific occasion, even though we got beaten. I don’t suppose too many of us would have thought the Swans would win a premiership as there were so many lean years, so it was something very special.”

Goonan kicked just three goals in his 50 games with the Swans, disputing the two credited to him in The Encyclopedia of AFL Footballers I wrote with Russell Holmesby.

“When you kick only three goals you remember them,” Goonan laughed. “I kicked two in a match against Carlton in 1962 and one against North Melbourne the same season.” There will be a correction in the next edition of the encyclopedia.

Meanwhile, Goonan’s favourite current player? It would have to be the number 37 dual Brownlow Medal winner, Adam Goodes.