John Longmire will post a milestone tonight that normally wouldn’t get too much traction but would privately be very pleasing if he’d been keeping count.
Sam Wicks, set to become Swans player #1432 against Collingwood at the Gabba tonight, will be the 50th AFL debutant of Longmire’s reign as Sydney Swans coach.
A 20-year-old competitive small forward who has graduated from the QBE Sydney Swans Academy, Wicks will join a list that began in Longmire’s first game in charge against Melbourne at the MCG in Round 1, 2011.
The first player given the news by Longmire that he would fulfill a lifetime dream to play at the elite level was Bryon Sumner. Alex Johnson followed in Round 3, with Nathan Gordon in Round 7 and Luke Parker in Round 8.
That Sumner played only one game, Gordon two games and Johnson 47 in a career that included a premiership and six knee reconstructions doesn’t make the life-changing moment any less special than that of Parker, who is at 204 games and counting.
It’s a moment every young player will forever cherish, and a moment for Wicks that was more than 10 years in the waiting. More than half his life.
He joined the QBE Sydney Swans Academy in 2010, having grown up on the northern beaches of Sydney and played his early football with local club Manly.
While he has slid under the AFL media radar until now, his progress has always been closely followed by the Manly Daily.
He told Amanda Lulham of the Daily in April: “I knew from an early age football was what I wanted to play for sure and I always wanted to play for the Swans.
“Then at the Academy you’d see Goodsy (Adam Goodes) and the others walking around and you’d want to be him, want to be them.
“I have visualised it (playing in the AFL). Everyone dreams about it. It’s the next big milestone. There would be no better feeling” he said at the time.
Wicks was born three years less 14 days after Swans champion Paul Kelly played his last game in 2002 but will share a piece of trivia gold with the 1995 Brownlow Medallist and AFL Hall of Famer.
He will make his debut in guernsey #45 just as a then 20-year-old Kelly did in his first game in 1990.
Kelly played his first 10 games in #45 and sits fourth all-time in games for the Swans in a guernsey last worn by Jordan Foote in 2016.
Warren McKenzie, who joined Sydney from Carlton in 1991, played 21 games in #45 in 1991-92 to hold the record from Jack Greenwood, who played 18 games in #45 with South Melbourne in 1967-68, and Graham Dempster, father of 2005 Swans premiership player Sean Dempster.
Dempster Sr played 13 games for South Melbourne in 1972-73 before switching to #13 to play a further 51 games for the club from 1974-79.
Greg Stafford also began his 130-game Swans career in #45, wearing it in his first eight games in 1993.
Wicks made his senior debut in the Sydney Premier Division competition with the Manly Giants at 16 in 2016 under coach Leigh Brain, who has always said he had no doubt he had what it takes.
“You need a few things to go your way at the top level, but I can’t fault Sam, he has been great for us,’’ Brain told Andrew Prentice of the Manly Daily at the time.
“Sam is like a sponge which is great, he wants to learn as much as he can on the run. If he keeps improving, more opportunities will come his way,” he said.
They did exactly that when Wicks took the huge step from the Academy to the Swans playing list after being signed as a Category B rookie in the 2019 AFL Rookie Draft.
It was the same AFL entry mechanism for Irishman Mark Keane, who debuted for Collingwood in Round 9, and Jason Carter, who broke into the AFL with Fremantle late last year.
Wicks joined the Swans playing list with Nick Blakey, James Rowbottom, Justin McInerney and Zac Foot, taken in the 2018 National Draft, and 2019 Category A Rookie Draft picks Durack Tucker and Harry Reynolds.
He will be the fourth member of the Class of 2018 to play in the AFL after Blakey (30 games), Rowbottom (21) and McInerney (5). Reynolds and Foot remain on the list awaiting their chance, while Tucker has been delisted.
While Wicks has always been a Swans fan, growing up in the Harbour City, he is from an Adelaide family. His parents are both from the SA capital and have been lifelong Crows fans.
“They were into it and got me into it from an early age,” he told the Manly Daily. “Dad is still a bit torn. Mum’s all Swans now. Dad is half and half. He struggles to watch the Swans v Crows sometimes.”
Wicks did his schooling at Sydney Church of England Grammar School, known as Shore, and played rugby in his youth. He is also a big Lebron James/ basketball fan and a keen surfer.
Having travelled to Europe with his family during the off-season, Wicks is now living with Swans academy player Sam Thorne and doing a finance and marketing degree at the University of New South Wales.
He will be Sydney’s fifth AFL debutant of the season behind Dylan Stephens, Chad Warner, Elijah Taylor and Matt Ling, and will join a team that has ranked among the two youngest and least experienced in the AFL in each of the last four rounds.
The side that played St Kilda last Saturday had an average age of 24 years 157 days and combined AFL experience of 1694 games to be younger than every side except Gold Coast and less experienced than every side except Fremantle.
This was after they were the youngest and least experienced in Rounds 7-8.
They will be even younger and more inexperienced against Collingwood tonight, with Wicks (20), Dylan Stephens (19), Lewis Melican (23) and Jackson Thurlow (26) replacing Blakey (20), Ryan Clarke (23), Lewis Taylor (25) and Sam Gray (28).
The incoming foursome have a combined experience of 96 AFL games, with Thurlow, playing his first game of the year after back surgery, accounting for 55 of them. The outgoing foursome have played a combined 310 games.
Tonight’s side will include eight players aged 21 or younger – one more than against St Kilda last Saturday. And it will have five players with 20 games or less – two more than against the Saints.
Nineteen members of tonight’s side made their AFL debut under Longmire. Sam Reid, a 2010 debutant under Paul Roos, and imports Thurlow and Callum Sinclair are the exceptions.