“So, what’s your favourite thing about footy?”
Asks the novice interviewer to the young, enthusiastic, ponytailed footy player.
“Tackling, and getting low,” the reply.
Of course it is, thinks the interviewer, feeling a tad naïve for considering the response to be anything else.
“And how about you?”
Asks the interviewer to the equally as enthused and ponytailed footballer, standing on the other side of the fence.
“Tackling, and getting low.”
Of course it is! What else would I expect to hear from a couple of Kirks.
Kirk, it’s a name synonymous with the Sydney Swans. Brett, the taped head, spiritual leader of the club through the 2000s, was the embodiment of the bloods’ culture. I used to love watching him go about his business from the ladies stand at the SCG on Saturday afternoons. He wasn’t the biggest, or the fastest, or the most damaging kick; but he was a competitor, a leader, and a warrior. He fought, and scrapped, and tackled, and didn’t let up until the final siren echoed across the ground. He went head to head with Judd, Cousins and Kerr and helped win the Swans their first premiership in 72 years.
Kirk, it’s a name Swans fans would love to hear again. There’s a rare form of nepotism to Australian rules football where bloodlines are cherished. The father-son rule is dear to the hearts of footy tragics, and in recent years, the growth of the AFLW has made possible father-daughter selections too. For Swans fans, this should be welcome news because it means when that AFLW team is established, there could be another couple of Kirks running around in the red and white: Tallulah and Memphys.
“Both girls are developing really well,” Brett tells me. “Tallulah is an in and under style player who loves the physicality and has really good hands, and Memphys is very similar. She loves and enjoys the contest but has really worked on her kick and is a reliable drop punt every time she puts it to her foot.”
It’s clear that Brett is a proud dad, not just of the girls, but of all his five kids—Indhi (the girls older brother by two years), Sadie (their younger sister) and Skout (the youngest of the Kirk clan). For this series, I ask whoever I'm interviewing to start by introducing themselves to the camera. Something simple, like “Hi my name is… and I’m…”. When Brett does so, he starts saying he’s a father of five, then lists his footballing credentials—omitting many things that would be on the door of the 31 locker at the club. I tell him not to worry, people will know.
Footy has given Brett so much over the years, and he has given so much to it in return. It’s always been a way for his family to spend time together. Tallulah and Memphys both tell me their first memories are of kicking the footy around with their dad and older brother at home and Brett tells me that one of the things he’s cherished most about this year is that before going into the Hub with the Swans, he was able to get some one on one kicking time with the girls.
“With 5 kids, an easy-going kick turns into competition pretty quick. I really enjoyed the chance to kick with the girls one on one.”
Footy is still central to the Kirk household, but Brett is no longer the focal point, and that is role which he is happy to assume.
“I love that my girls are involved in teams sport,” says Brett.
“Footy clubs and footy teams teach you so much about life, and life lessons, and discipline and resilience, and teamwork. I’m really enjoying watching them develop and really grow in footy,” he adds with a smile on his face.
Kirk DNA is footballing DNA, but to assume that the girl’s talent and love of the game stems directly from their father would be a mistake. After all, they are both right footers, unlike dad.
“What I love about the girls playing is that they’re so brave, they’re so courageous and strong. They’re picking up the game fast and they’re so coachable. I love empowering them to improve and do better and to grow as a person and that’s what’s so beautiful with team sports, it’s those life lessons as well as the game. “
That’s their mum Hayley who is not only the girls’ number one supporter but also their coach at the Maroubra saints.
The team is a dominant force, falling agonisingly short of a three-peat when they lost the grand final this year (their first loss in this time), and their style of play has revolutionised the league so much so that opposition teams copy their run and gun, handball centric style play.
Hayley was herself a sporting star. She grew up playing hockey, softball and touch footy in Wagga. Though she jokes with me about the one game of Aussie rules she has played in Canada, she does wish that a pathway like the Academy for girls existed when she was dipping her toes in the depths of the sporting world. “I would’ve been really interested to play AFL if something like the Swans Academy was on offer growing up. My friends that played footy had to give up when they turned 13, so having the academy now is so critical for girls and their footy.”
The importance of the Academy is acknowledged by Brett too.
“If one day they decided they want to keep pursuing it that’s great. The Academy is such a great opportunity, I think what happens now is that they see some hope and they have a pathway. Previously with the girls, they didn’t see a pathway and they got to an age of 12 and 13 and there wasn’t anything to look forward too. Now there is a pathway. The Academy has great coaches, and the pathway is there now. I just want them to be happy, as long as their happy.”
The same hopes and dreams which Brett once held, and that Hayley wishes she had the chance to experience, are now able to be shared by their daughters as they follow the path of the Sydney Swans Girls Academy. If you want to know how the impact it’s having, I’ll let Tallulah, explain: “Being in the Academy is really fun and special because girls can play AFL too.”
Tallulah and Memphys Kirk. Remember the names.