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Swan Songs - with Tony Haenen

In Jim Main's series, 'Swan Songs', on great players from the past, this week he talks to former Swans ruckman Tony Haenen...

Tony Haenen
Born: April 24, 1946
Played: 1966-71
Games: 93
Goals: 27

When 19-year-old Tony Haenen started attracting interest from VFL clubs while playing for country club Mildura Imperials in 1965, he had to choose between signing for Footscray or South Melbourne.

For Haenan, it was a relatively easy decision. “I liked the South Melbourne area more than Footscray,” he explained.

Haenen made his Swans debut soon after his twentieth birthday and went on to become one of the most reliable ruckman/defenders in the competition.

He played mostly in the ruck in his early seasons with the Swans, but later held down the centre half-back position.

Standing 193cm (6ft 3in), he would be considered too short to play in the ruck in the modern era, but was average size for the position in his era.

“I played against blokes like Carlton’s John Nicholls and Footscray’s john Schultz and they were about my size. We were considered pretty big at the time,” he said.

“Collingwood then produced young Len Thompson (200cm) and, as he developed from then, the ruckmen just got bigger and bigger and easily outstretched me. It was tough playing in the ruck against Thommo and North’s Barry Goodingham (199cm, and who also played with the Swans from 1976-77). I therefore was shifted to centre half-back.”

A particularly strong mark who liked to stand his ground in packs, Haenen left the Swans in 1971 at the height of his career and explained that he and coach Norm Smith “didn’t agree on a few things”.

He played in the losing 1970 first semi-final against St Kilda, but that was his only finals experience at the elite level.

Haenen accepted the position of captain-coach of North Launceston and stayed in Tasmania three years before returning to Victoria to play in the VFA (now VFL) with Port Melbourne.

He spent six years with the Borough, playing in the 1976 premiership side and, at the same time, being involved in one of the biggest controversies of the ‘70s.

A boundary umpire in Port’s Grand Final against Dandenong hit the deck, and stayed down. The next day, the Melbourne Suns-News Pictorial ran a photo of the prostrate umpire, with Haenen standing over him.

The image looked damaging, but Haenen was completely innocent of any wrongdoing. Although he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, he had to front the VFL Tribunal.

Haenen told the panel that he should never have been changed as he was merely an innocent bystander. “I also told them that the charge was a slur on me and my family and, as I expected, I was cleared of the charge.

“I had been reported only one previously in my 20 years in football and was cleared of that charge, resulting from a match against Footscray. I prided myself on playing the ball and I left the game with a clean record.”

Haenen retired when “kids started running past me” and concentrated on a career in real estate.

However, he had another sports thrill when son Toby won a swimming relay bronze medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.

Although now retired from the real estate business, Haenen and Toby run a couple of swimming pool businesses.

Haenen also keeps a close eye on the Swans and gets to as many games as possible.

“I am still a member of the club and would like to see them play more often,” he said. “But they don’t play too many games in Melbourne, do they? As long as they are red and white they’ll always have my support.”