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On This Day: O'Loughlin breaks club games record

Eleven years ago today, on 8 July 2007, Michael O’Loughlin was carried from the SCG as the South Melbourne/Sydney Swans games record-holder.

It was Round 14 and O’Loughlin had played his 261st game to break the 260-game club record of John Rantall, which had stood for almost 31 years.

It was an enormously proud moment for the then 30-year-old South Australian, and one of the great moments in Swans history.

It was a double celebration, with Adam Goodes playing his 200th game on the same day.

Fittingly, the club marked the occasion with a 28-point win over Fremantle, with O’Loughlin collecting 17 disposals and two goals, while Goodes picked up two possessions and one Brownlow Medal vote.

It had been a long journey for O’Loughlin, who had been selected by the club with pick #40 in the 1994 Draft after they had earlier taken Anthony Rocca (#2), Shannon Grant (#3), Stuart Mangan (#20) and Matthew Nicks (#21).

He debuted under coach Ron Barassi in Round 5, 1995 in a 57-point SCG win over Adelaide in what was Mark Bayes’ 199th game for the club, Paul Roos’ 5th game and Tony Lockett’s 3rd game. He had 14 disposals and kicked three goals.

Even then the Rantall record had stood for almost 26 years since 1979 as Mark Browning (251), Tony Morwood (229), Rod Carter (217), Stephen Wright (246) and Dennis Carroll (219) had each reached 200 games.

After O’Loughlin arrived on the AFL scene Bayes (246), Paul Kelly (234), Daryn Cresswell (244), Andrew Dunkley (217) and Leo Barry (237) each joined the Swans “200 Club”, but still Rantall’s mark survived.

O’Loughlin, who missed seven games in his first season, had raced to 165 games by  the end of 2002, playing five complete seasons while missing five games in 1999 and three in 2002. But still he was 95 games short of Rantall.

While he remained an automatic selection through the next three years, playing 57 of a possible 74 games including the breakthrough premiership win over West Coast of 2005, he struggled at times with his body.

At the time, the record would have seemed like an eternity away, but after an unblemished 25 games in 2006, when the Swans lost the grand final rematch against the Eagles, O’Loughlin was back on track.

The Swans struggled at times through the first part of 2007, and in Round 13 lost to Geelong to slip to 10th on the ladder, but they knew only too well the milestone that was approaching and its huge significance, not just to the ever-popular O’Loughlin but the entire club.

A rejuvenated O’Loughlin saw out the 2007 season without missing a game and added 16 games in 2008 and 17 games in 2009, including his 300th in Round 19.

At season’s end, aged 32 and after one of the most decorated careers in club history, the future AFL Hall of Famer headed off into retirement having stretched Sydney’s games record to 303.

At the time 1356 players had worn the red and white of the Swans in VFL/AFL football, including player #1356 Dan Hanneberry, who was the 94th player to debut for the club after O’Loughlin had become player #1262 to debut in 1995.

O’Loughlin was the 14th player to hold the South Melbourne/Sydney Swans games record.

Six of these – Bill Fraser, Tom Gilligan, Bert Howson, Dinny McKay, Jim O'Hara and Mick Pleass – had done so together throughout the club’s first season in 1897, when each played in all 14 games.

McKay, who kicked the Swans’ first VFL goal, never played again, and O’Hara missed Round 1 of 1898 to leave the other four at the top of the list.  Then Fraser missed Round 3 and Howson missed Round 6, leaving Gilligan and Pleass alone with the record at 31 games after the second season.

Gilligan missed Round 4 in 1899 to leave Pleass as the solo games record-holder as the club went all the way to the grand final in that year, only to lose by a point to Fitzroy.

Pleass, a ruckman or ‘follower’ originally from Kent Town in South Australia who had played with South Melbourne in the VFA era, was the first player to play 50 games for the club in the first game of the new century – Round 1, 1900.

By the end of 1900 Pleass had stretched his club record to 63, one ahead of much-revered centreman Bill Windley, a South Melbourne local who had played in the club’s very first game VFL only to miss three games later in the first season.

Twelve months later Pleass was still clear at the top of the list with 78 games, now thee ahead of Windley, a long-time teammate who was six years his senior.

Pleass missed the first four games of 1902, allowing Windley to move past him, but when Windley missed Round 2 of 1903 they were level again. And in Round 9 they shared the honor of becoming the first Swans to play 100 VFL/AFL games for the club.

At the end of 1903 Pleass and Windley had each played 106 games, but Bert Howson, another of the club’s former VFA stars who was four years younger than Windley, was closing the gap. He’d played 102 games.

Pleass played the first three games of 1904 but never again wore Swans colors, finishing at 109 games and leaving Windley alone as the record-holder.

When Windley missed three games mid-season Howson pulled level at 113 games, and by the end of the season Howson was the solo leader at 118.

Windley pulled level at 119 in Round 1, 1905 but when he retired a 129-game veteran at the end of the season the record stood to Howson at 133. And in the final game of 1906  Howson became the first South player to play 150 games for the club.

Howson, a champion wingman who later coached South Melbourne’s 1918 premiership side, added one game in 1907, when South lost the grand final to Carlton by five points, and one more game in 1908, retiring at the end of that season with the record at 152.

It was a record Howson held for six years until Vic Belcher played his 153rd game in the  1914 preliminary final, when the Swans beat Carlton by 19 points only to lose the then traditional grand final challenge match to the same side by six points.

Belcher, originally from Tasmania, had moved to Melbourne with his family and, ironically, after playing at Brunswick in the VFA in 1906 was recruited to South in 1907 by Howson, who by then was the club secretary.

Belcher went on to be a long-serving captain and one of the club greats, playing in premiership sides in 1909 and 1918 before later winning selection in the Swans Team of the Century and induction to the AFL Hall of Fame.

Primarily a key defender at 180cm, he became the first player to play 200 games for the club in the 1918 grand final and stretched the club games record to 226 in Round 18, 1920.

In the years that followed Mark Tandy joined the 200 Club in 1925 and Jim Cleary and Jack Graham did likewise in 1947, but still the Belcher record stood.

Cleary, the 1942 and ’44 club champion widely known as ‘Gentleman Jim’, retired at the end of 1948 four games short of the record, but Graham, the 1945 club champion and one of the few players of his era who used the place kick, played Rounds 3, 4, 5 and 6 in 1949 to extend the record by one game to 227.

Twice placed top 10 in the Brownlow Medal, Graham, was the father of Ricky Graham, who played at Geelong, and the grandfather of Ben Graham, another Geelong player before a successful stint as an NFL punt kicker.

The Graham games record stood for 11 years until Round 12, 1960 when it fell to champion key position player Ron Clegg, the 1949 Brownlow Medallist and 1951 Brownlow runner-up who had joined the Swans’ 200 club in 1958.

Clegg, also the 1948, ’49 and ‘51 club champion and later chosen in the Swans Team of the Century and inducted to the AFL Hall of Fame, retired three games after he’d broken the record, leaving the mark at 231.

The Clegg record stood for 11 years until the great Bob Skilton, who had posted his 200th game in 1970, bettered it in Round 16, 1971. As had been the trend, the triple Brownlow Medallist, nine-time club champion and subsequent Team of the Century captain played only five more games to stretch the record to 237.

Again there was a significant break before the Skilton mark was even challenged. And it took the return of a player who had left the club to better it.

John Rantall had played 174 games for South from 1963-72 before he was lured to North Melbourne under the short-lived 10-year rule. But after 70 games and a premiership in four years at North he returned ‘home’ to play a further four years in red and white.

In Round 21, 1978, in his third year back at South, Rantall played his 238th game for the club to knock Skilton from the top of the games list. In 1979 the man they called ‘Mopsy’ became the first player to play 250 games for South.

Rantall stretched the Swans games record to 260 by the end of 1979, and although he finished at the club that year at the age of 35, he was recruited by Fitzroy in 1980. There he played six games and broke the all-time AFL games record of 333, at the time held by Fitzroy’s Kevin Murray.

O’Loughlin was all of 923 days old on the day Rantall set the Swans games record at 260. And it would be 10,537 days before O’Loughlin himself would better it.  As the Swans faithful would say, it was worth the wait.