Scintillating Swans: The Ultimate Season
Round 13 – Welcome
Sydney v Essendon – Round 1, 2015
It was Nelson Mandela who once said that ‘it always seems impossible until its done.’ The road travelled by Isaac Heeney to his AFL debut was unconventional. The win in the match he debuted in is remembered for being almost unimaginable. However impossible they both seemed, they both got done.
Heeney grew up in the Rugby League heartland of NSW’s Hunter region. However, the road less travelled appealed to Heeney. “I just loved playing sport, like most kids growing up I just played every sport possible.” He continues, “When I was 12 I made the QBE Sydney Swans Academy and I thought that’s pretty cool, there’s a nice little pathway there, but never really thought much of it. When I got to 14 or 15, Chris Smith (QBE Sydney Swans Academy coach) spoke to me and said if you want to make a good go of something, it’s worth picking one sport over the next year or two and just have a red-hot crack at it. And that was AFL. Mainly because of the Academy and seeing the pathway through to the Swans.”
But the decision wasn’t a straightforward one for him. “To be honest I probably enjoyed Rugby League a little bit more up until that point, but at the same time the Academy were really good to me. Mum and Dad had put in a lot of hours up and down the freeway and taken a lot of days off work just to allow me just to train with the Academy, let alone pursue it as a dream, so it didn’t take too long to decide, but there were a few decisions to be made.” Heeney recalls.
The early days of his venture were heavily influenced by the QBE Sydney Swans Academy. “I was pretty lucky in that the Swans moved me down to Sydney for Year 12 to go to school at Waverley College where I stayed with a host family. So, I was around the club a lot more than I obviously would have been if I had stayed in Newcastle. The Academy itself was great. It instilled a lot of good qualities in me like professionalism and to be as disciplined as you need to be to get your body to perform at its best,” he recalls.
As the 2015 season drew nearer, the likelihood of an early debut had almost become a fact of existence. However, Heeney wasn’t prepared for an impromptu meeting at club headquarters in the lead up to Round One. “As a new player, you don’t expect to play straight away. It was on the Wednesday before, when Horse called me and asked me to come in. So, I drove into the club and I got there and saw Horse and Kieren Jack sitting in his office and I wasn’t expecting anything, so I wasn’t nervous at all.” He continues, “I walked into the office and Horse told me that ‘we haven’t decided to go with you this week, we love what you’re doing and what you bring to the team but we just want you to keep putting in the work and you’ll eventually get your opportunity.”
As he was about to depart, happy with the words of reassurance ringing in his ears, John Longmire sprung the surprise. “I just said, yep, not a problem, that all sounds good. Then as I went to leave they said, ‘we’re just joking, you’re in the team.’ I was pumped. A few choice words came out from me, they had cameras there filming and they couldn’t actually post it on the socials because I was letting go with a few explicits!” laughs Heeney.
Reality began to sink in and the sacrifices made, became worthwhile in that moment, as he reflects upon. “That’s when it all kicked in and I drove home pretty pumped, but I had to keep it quiet for a day or so. I called my parents and told them and organised tickets. I had the whole of Mum’s side of the family come down, there were about 25-30 of my family up in the stands cheering me on, so that was a pretty special moment.”
Game day arrived and after a sleepless night, a nervous Heeney arrived well before he needed to, sporting the incorrect team uniform. An inauspicious start was brushed aside as a boyhood dream was realised. “Nothing really changed for me and I didn’t really know what to expect until I ran out there. I wasn’t the type of person who really watched much footy either, so I guess I didn’t really understand it a whole lot.” He adds, “I think that helped me initially to a point, but looking back on it now, I don’t think I fully appreciated the opportunity I had. I took it with both hands and I’m not the type of person to be complacent with anything so I had a red-hot crack from the start, but I didn’t appreciate the opportunity for success.”
He’s referring to the team he joined and their standing among the competition’s elite. “It was just ridiculous. I look back now and I was just so lucky to play with someone like Goodesy and obviously Buddy at the moment and for them to both be in the team at the same time was just incredible. Our midfield was incredible too with Joey, Parks, Kizza, Hanners, Macca, it was just an amazing team. It was one of the all-time teams.” Heeney adds.
As he joined his idols running on to a sodden ANZ Stadium, thoughts of a victorious debut quickly dissipated. “I remember being extremely nervous leading up to the game and running on to the field. It was sprinkling and messy and for the first three quarters, Essendon absolutely smashed us. It was a bit of a shock to the system to be honest,” Heeney recalls. The Bombers had in fact opened up a forty-one-point lead and with a solitary quarter to play, our Swans had only kicked three goals.
The Bloods culture ensures that our team fights until the end however, and as Heeney explains, this trait was instilled from the start. “I believe you should never put your head down in any circumstance, you always fight it out until the end, even if you’re getting smacked, you keep going.” And that’s precisely what we did.
He remembers feeling content with his first-up personal performance, although the score line was far from favourable. “I felt like I was doing alright, I was getting my hands on the footy and I was reasonably happy with my game even though we were losing.” Then, the final quarter brought a Bloods blitz as we stormed home to kick the last seven goals of the game.
For Heeney and for many Swans supporters, the match-sealing goal remains resplendent. “The most vivid thing I remember was playing that wing role holding off the back of the stoppages. I remember fumbling at first, then I picked it up and snapped it on my left and I couldn’t have hit it any sweeter.” He continues, “The boys all got around me and I remember Shawry being the first one over to me and everybody just came from everywhere. There wasn’t long left and we knew that was pretty much the sealer. I just remember the excitement in the huddle and all the headlocks I was in. It was pretty cool.”
And so, the dream debut was complete. But the best was yet to come. “The celebrations after this game is one of the highlights of my career so far,” he beams. “When we got to the rooms afterwards, my parents, grandparents and brother were all there and it was pretty amazing. They were over the moon, with big smiles on their faces. It was a special moment. The song went off, everything about the celebration was just insane. Honestly, it was just about the dream kind of debut game.”
As his career progresses, Heeney now draws upon his early experiences as a motivational tool for himself and his younger teammates. “I still think about the opportunity we had to play in a Grand Final in 2016. I’m still shattered we didn’t win it, but on more of a selfish note, being so young, I wouldn’t have understood how much of an achievement it would have been.”
The ultimate goal now constantly occupies his mind and he believes that with our clutch of cygnets in tow, that goal may just be achieved. “I’m lucky to now have 100 games experience under my belt, so hopefully I can help drive these younger lads and be a role model for them. Honestly, we can do something pretty special in the next few years if our group stays together.”