If I’m being honest, Crouchy and Davo are a bit of an odd couple. I feel I have the liberty to say that after being coached by them for most of my tenure at the Swans. I’ve seen the backs of their heads on early morning bus trips to Canberra more times than I care to admit, and have stuck my fingernails in the dirt under more groundballs rolled by them than I could ever possibly count.
I do of course say this with the upmost respect, but I mean, come on, just think about their playing styles and it’s like a casting director has deliberately sought out the yin and the yang in the fabrication of an unlikely coaching duo.
Crouchy was the no fuss tagger who always had his arm (he calls it his bumper bar) in the back of his opponent. For over a decade he played on the most dangerous small forwards and midfielders in the game, and if you came away from a day at the footy wondering where the likes of Akermanis, or Didak were, then it meant he had done his job. “Unsung hero” was a usual preface to his name in match reports and I think it goes without saying that he usually wore all black boots.
Nick Davis is, well… Nick Davissss… NICK DAVISSS! He talks about those goals from time to time, but for anyone who has been coached by him over the years, it’s very obvious that he is much more than just those four incredible moments. As a coach he cares, he develops relationships, he puts his arm around your shoulder when you’re in need and he knows when and how to tell you to work harder with only the rise of an eyebrow. I’ve spent many a day off with Davo on an empty SCG kicking goals and it’s fitting that his official title within the Academy is head skills coach because he’s still probably the best kick in Sydney (outside of Jake Lloyd and Jordan Dawson).
Should Jarrod Crouches and Nick Davis’ be archetypal players, it would be correct to say that the role of Jarrod Crouches was to stifle the Nick Davis’. So, forgive me for thinking they are an unlikely pairing! Though it is this unique combination that makes them work so well together. Just like they did as players, each brings their own strengths in a bid help the next generation of aspiring footballers in the QBE Sydney Swans Academy reach their goals.
They are the latest in a succession of high calibre coaches to be involved in the Academy. In only a brief period of time, the young talent wearing red and white has had the privilege of being tutored by Paul Roos, Michael O’Loughlin, and now Crouchy and Davo. There’s no other junior pathway in Australia with such a consistent stream of coaches who have been there and done that.
While I’ve been watching training from the sidelines, it’s clear that the teachings and philosophies of the Sydney Swans are finding their way into the Academy from a young age. In a basic three-man weave drill, I heard 13-year-old boys talking about “shape”. “Shape” is something that you spend months learning about once you make it on an AFL list. It’s about not worrying going to where the ball was, but to where it going to be. Kids learning this now will have such a head start as they continue their progression towards top tier competitions.
During an Academy Cup game, I alternated between the quarter time huddles of the two competing teams. Davo told his players to look inside when they had the ball and to trust their skills. He reminded them of the importance of the ball coming in one side and out the other, and how handballing to a runner coming past could break the game open. It’s the same thing you hear at the elite level. Surely enough, when play resumed, the boys had listened to him and they switch the ball out the fat side of the field. They trust and respect his instruction, and it pays off on the field. Crouchy said much the same to his group, though of course, he added some extra notes about defence and the importance of working together as a team. With this instruction, his team would make it harder for their opposition to move the ball. Each would have to adapt on the field and improve their style of play as a result.
While the differences between Crouchy and Davo allow them to complement each other in many ways, they do have much in common. They were both a part of that memorable 2005 premiership and they have that enthusiasm for the game, and the desire to see it grow in the state of New South Wales. What else is clear is that both share an excitement about the girl’s academy. Crouchy says being around the enthusiasm of the girls has reinvigorated him, and the rest of the coaching staff. What coaches love is potential, and coachability, and with the girls, they have that in spades. It’s a great time to be at the helm.
For Davo, the girl’s academy brings an added level of joy. When I arrived to watch my first session, we greeted each other as we usually do and caught up on each other’s lives, before a young girl came and stood beside him. It took me a moment, because she’s a fair bit taller now than I remember, but I recognised this young girl from the early morning sessions I’d do with Davo over Summer each year. It was his daughter Jordan. I asked her if she was still playing soccer, or doing little athletics—I remembered she was a star at both—and she replied with a big grin on her face, “Nah, I’m playing footy now!” I looked at Davo and there was a similar smile on his face. He’s excited because he knows that Jordan is on her own footballing journey now, and wherever it takes her, or however far she wishes to go with it, it’s something that will help shape her as a person.
The ultimate aim of the academy is to create AFL footballers in both the men’s and women’s competitions, though alongside this, the Academy has the opportunity to create good people. In the pursuit of both these goals, the girls and boys of the QBE Sydney Swans Academy are in good hands with the complimentary pairing of Crouchy and Davo at the helm.