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Midfield bolstering for battle

Kirk: Knowledge is key SwansTV caught up with Brett Kirk today at the first training session at Henson Park this pre-season.
Gone are the days where you’ve got three or four key midfielders that spend the bulk of the time in there. We want our midfielders to be able to go forward, wing and even spend time back if we can, to keep them flexible and adaptable.
Brett Kirk

Battle-hardened Sydney Swans midfielders Josh Kennedy and Luke Parker have claimed five Club Champion honours between them as the trailblazers of the club’s on-ball brigade.

And midfield coach Brett Kirk hopes a boost in depth will see the Swans’ engine room tick over to even higher revolutions in season 2019.

Half-back Callum Mills and small forward Tom Papley have both earned an AFL Rising Star nomination since signing with Sydney as draftees ahead of season 2016, but the two young stars are now brushing shoulders with Kennedy and Parker in pre-season midfield drills.

Kirk told Swans Media ahead of the Christmas break that Oliver Florent, Zak Jones and Will Hayward were likely set for greater midfield responsibility themselves in 2019 – and the former Sydney captain says at the centre of plans is a more multi-faceted squad.

“We just want to have more flexibility in there at the moment,” Kirk told SwansTV.

“Gone are the days where you’ve got three or four key midfielders that spend the bulk of the time in there. We want our midfielders to be able to go forward, wing and even spend time back if we can, to keep them flexible and adaptable.”

Kennedy, who will lead the Swans alongside Parker and Dane Rampe in a three-way co-captaincy structure in season 2019, has piled up 227 games.

Parker has stacked up 173 matches ahead of the 2019 campaign, and both Kennedy and Parker honed their trade under the guidance of Sydney greats Adam Goodes and Jude Bolton in the early days of their careers.

Papley and Mills, on the flipside, have played just 60 and 55 games respectively, but Kirk says players of all levels of experience are slipping on the teaching hat as the road to Round 1 ramps up.

“You’re always passing on your knowledge and wisdom, and we allow for the players to be coaches and pass their teachings on,” Kirk said.

“We’re all learning all the time no matter how long you’ve been around. Josh Kennedy will learn something from Tom Papley about the way he moves and vice versa. We try to encourage them to be sharing their experience and their knowledge because we think that’s the greatest resource. Us coaches can teach them a few things, but it’s about experiencing footy for yourself, learning and then passing that on.”

Kirk has been doing exactly that since returning to the Swans ahead of the 2016 campaign, overlooking Sydney’s forward line in 2016 and 2017 before taking charge of the midfield unit.

Established midfielders Isaac Heeney and George Hewett are just two of Sydney’s troops mounting glittering pre-season campaigns, and 241-game Swan Kirk says the work ethic of his players cannot be questioned.

“What gets me up in the morning and fuels me is coming in to get the best out of these guys,” Kirk said.

“I love working with a group of individuals that are really driven to get the best out of themselves and collectively as a team.”

Sydney tackled Wednesday’s all-in training session on a different patch of turf to usual, waving goodbye to Moore Park’s Bat and Ball Oval and touching down at Henson Park in Marrickville.

The venue is a 30-minute drive from the Swans’ SCG home, but Kirk said it made for a welcome change of scene.

“It’s a good change-up and there’s good coffee on this side of the street here as well,” Kirk laughed.

“We like to use a few different surfaces and train on different ground sizes. They’re obviously not all the same – some are a bit wider or a bit longer.”

While the Swans will throw on their guernseys for a pre-season clash with the Giants at Henson Park, they’ll get their 2019 campaign underway against the Western Bulldogs at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium.

And excitement for the season is only continuing to rise as the summer months amble by.