Scintillating Swans: The Ultimate Season
Round 16 – True Blood.
Richmond v Sydney – Round 19, 2009.
‘If you don’t know where you’re from, you don’t know where you’re going.’ – Michael O’Loughlin.
When Michael O’Loughlin speaks about footy, his words are steeped in red and white. The self-proclaimed skinny kid from South Australia arrived in Sydney under duress and in this match, fifteen years later, he became our first Swan to fly towards 300 games.
His passion for the club remains evident, as does the adoration reserved for him. Premiership teammate and enduring friend, Brett Kirk beams when speaking of ‘Micky O’ - “I love him. He’s my brother from another mother.” The pair shared eleven seasons and countless combative encounters, both pivotal cogs during one of the club’s greatest periods and Kirk recalls the night his great mate made history. “I can’t remember too many of my games, but I can remember most of my mates’ big games.” He continues, “I can remember going into Mago’s game and I just didn’t want to let him down. I wanted to have a win for him and I wanted to celebrate it with him. I knew that I just wanted to do something special in that game because it was so important.”
For the record, Kirk laid fourteen tackles.
For the milestone man, the occasion had arrived almost unknowingly. “I knew when I’d played 250, then 260, then broke the club record, but then 300 crept up on me really quickly. I absolutely knew that was my last year, and if I got over the line to play each week, I got over the line. But, you still had to train and prepare yourself and do all these things that you need to do to get yourself up to play the game,” O’Loughlin recalls.
While he had announced his impending retirement just weeks before, O’Loughlin felt energised by the prospect of finishing in fine form. “I was actually feeling in really good nick, although I couldn’t move as quickly or twist as sharply as I wanted to, and the strength of my game was that ducking, dodging, twisting and also marking. Luckily, I still had good judgement of where the footy was going to go and my hands were still good, so I could still get a kick.”
The club set the week up well and our beloved Blood began to enjoy the build-up. “The preparation was great. I didn’t know what the club were going to do, but I knew that something was in the works.” O’Loughlin adds, “We prepared as we always prepared and to tell you the truth it was really a quite enjoyable week leading in. Mum came over and my family came over. I had countless friends who’d sent me texts through, they were all coming over, driving across from Adelaide, so that was really special. Having the kids run out with me was awesome.”
“I didn’t feel much different until we got the ground and I knew the jumper presentation was in play, and to have so many ex-teammates and ex-players who are legends of our footy club in there was really special. All this happened while trying to stay in the moment and remembering the job at hand, because no one wants to play a stinker on their milestone game! The club have always been great at bring back our past players and keeping them involved with the footy club.” O’Loughlin recalls.
The significance was not lost on Kirk and his Bloods teammates either. “I can remember going out there and at every stoppage I went to, I just kept screaming out his name – “Micky O!’ ‘Micky O!’ ‘This is for Micky O!’ Kirk laughs. “And I just did it over and over and over again. I’m sure the Richmond guys were just like, geez this bloke’s an idiot’. I wanted to just reinforce that every moment we were out there, that we were doing it for Mick.”
Kirk’s sentiments materialised in what was a comprehensive team performance. Our Swans saluted in some style, to win by fifty-five points and it surprised no-one to see Adam Goodes complete a best-on-ground performance in tribute with twenty-five possessions, four goals, twelve marks, six tackles and three Brownlow votes.
The players didn’t need to dig too deep to find inspiration. “He’s just such a special human being. I just love being around him.” Kirk continues, “Footy wise, he was just such a smart footballer, he always read the game so well, but he also had some exquisite skills and talent. But you don’t get to 300 games by just reading the ball well and being really talented, you’ve got to have the other stuff that goes with it. You need the work ethic and the perseverance, you need to be working on your craft and he had all of that.”
Michael O’Loughlin treasured his time as a Swan and wanted to leave a lasting impression on those coming after him. “Something I’m very adamant about is when you come to a footy club, you’re only passing through. You’ve got to leave it in a better place than you found it. Footy clubs owe you nothing, you’re only there for a short amount of time and it’s about what you do with it. I’m really lucky to have gone through with so many mates who were on that journey with me. It’s been amazing.”
That legacy remains and in what must be the ultimate compliment for any footballer, Kirk classifies O’Loughlin as the total team man. “He’s just someone that’s really special and he’s left a lasting legacy at our footy club about what a teammate should be – on and off the field – he really cares for you.” Kirk adds, “Players at other footy clubs respect him, he’s so respected in his community with his work for Aboriginal people and he continues today to be a role model and to lead the way for so many.”
While life these days is busy, Micky O still commands a presence at the SCG. “When I got to Sydney, I knew nothing of the history except that they’d been on the bottom of the ladder. The club now recognises how the past players can help the younger generations coming through, to learn about what the club has been through. It’s done really, really well these days. All of the senior coaches have really brought in to that and they’ve done an incredible job. I always say, ‘if you don’t know where you’re from, you don’t know where you’re going.”
“I love that we’ve come such a long way.” O’Loughlin adds, “We were a basket case, people used to get drafted to us and leave us, but now I think if your son is lucky enough to get drafted to the Sydney Swans, you’d be absolutely pumped if you were his Mum and Dad. It’s a real pleasure to have been lucky enough to wear the red and white.”
As long-time friends, Kirk and O’Loughlin share a special bond. They continue to embrace the Bloods culture and although that may not always be appropriate on the local amateur sports scene, it’s just simply ingrained. “He’s super competitive. I still play basketball with him now, along with Goodesy, we still remain very competitive on the court together! We hate getting beaten!” Kirk laughs. The good times are now shared on and off the court. “Mick can lead the way on and off the field, he definitely knew how to have fun and still does.”
No doubt, much of that fun revolves around our Swans, and for Michael O’Loughlin, that will always be the case. “I say to my mates that no one’s more red-and-white than me.”