Troy Luff. Where do you start? Rarely has there been a more varied mix of personality traits and story lines. But almost 20 years on from his retirement as an AFL player the former Sydney Swans utility is still doing what he loves most … playing footy.
And, of course, he’s still wearing jumper #34. What else would you expect from a man so devoted to his old Swans number that, when told he couldn’t get his chosen personal email address with “34” or “3434” in it he took one that included “343434”.
Extreme? Possibly. Eccentric? Probably. Luff-life? Definitely.
He’s a fun-loving bloke who just loves football and all the good things that go with it. Like going to most Swans games at the SCG to ‘work’ as he does with Triple M and catching up occasionally with former teammates and picking up as if he’d seen them yesterday.
Once a Swans man, always a Swans man, he says.
If you were writing a football penpix on the now 51-year-old 155-gamer it might read: “Tall utility from Nelson Bay in Newcastle who has played ‘about 570’ senior games and broke through for his first flag in 2019 after 10 grand final losses in a row. Twice winner of the Sydney Football League’s Phelan Medal and now starring up forward for the UNSW-Eastern Suburbs third-grade side, he was a slow-starter at AFL level before peaking in the Swans grand final year of 1996 and getting better with age. Retired for personal reasons in 2001.”
That’s the public Troy Luff we know. But these days there are more parts to his life.
Having been a landscape gardener before his Swans days and worked full-time throughout his AFL career, he lives comfortably at the inner-city suburb of Waterloo, has his own landscape gardening business and dabbles in car detailing. Porsches, no less.
He is also a part-time single parent to nearly five-year-old Millie. And while he is no longer in a relationship with her mother, the pair remain ‘good friends’ and he sees ‘the most important person in my life’ every day.
Just as serious is his commitment to his ambassadorship with ‘Beyond Blue’, via which he talks regularly at conferences and seminars about the ‘personal reasons’ that ended his AFL career - depression.
“Physically I was fine, but mentally I couldn’t go on. It was all a secret. Outside one close friend at the time and the counsellors I was seeing nobody knew. No family, no other friends. I just bottled it all up and tried to beat it on my own, which I now know is absolutely the wrong thing to do,” he said.
A life of the party type for a long time, he withdrew completely. Social anxiety was a big part of it. He didn’t want to talk to anyone.
Two people who paid a price were his children from an earlier relationship – Mitchell, now 25 and plays football with the Burleigh Bombers on the Gold Coast, and Olivia, 22 and studying to be a nurse in Newcastle.
“They suffered a lot because I didn’t know how to talk to them. It was hard even to spend time with them. That’s something I really regret but it was part of getting to a point where I finally decided to do something about it,” Luff said.
A chance meeting with ex-teammate and men’s health pioneer Wayne Schwass about eight years ago prompted him to break his silence and make an effort to beat his stifling condition.
“I heard ‘Schwatta’ talking about the whole thing and I thought ‘that’s me’. I thought about it and decided ‘maybe I can help so I gave him a call and I’ve a done a lot of work in that space ever since.”
Luff was 31 when he played his last game in Round 21, 2001. After enjoying his best football from 1996-2000 he’d battled through the second half of his final season and called time to escape his dark off-field times.
“If it hadn’t been for depression I’ve got no doubt I could have played on for a few years,” he said.
He’d had a sniff in 1996 when he was a Swans standout through the finals series and was among his side’s best players in the grand final loss to North Melbourne. Having fought so hard to establish himself in the AFL he understood what it was all about. He knew what he was giving up.
Originally from Traralgon in western Victoria, Luff had moved north with his family during his school years. After 70 goals saw him top the Newcastle League goal-kicking in 1989 he joined the Swans in 1990, debuted in Round 12 under Col Kinnear against Fitzroy at the SCG and finished with six games in his first season.
Having worn jumper #57 in the Reserves the tall, blonde utility was given #34 when promoted to the seniors and despite being asked a couple of times to move lower in the numbers he refused. “It was like ‘this is me – this is my number’. I wasn’t going to give it up,” he said, still wearing #34 today.
So devoted is he to #34 these days he takes it home after each game to make sure it doesn’t get lost in the wash and is ready to go the following week.
Extreme? Possibly. Eccentric? Probably. Luff-life? Definitely.
Luff, content that #34 is in good hands with Jordan Dawson these days, is the only person to have played 100 games in #34 for the Swans and sits 10th on the all-time AFL list for #34s headed by Adelaide’s Ben Hart (311).
But even with his personal moniker on his back the 191cm forward cum defender cum part-time ruckman struggled early. In his first five years his game count went 6-5-8-2-11. He was delisted before being taken back by the club in the 1994 National Draft. But after his sixth season in 1995 delivered only 10 more games he was a 25-year-old 42-gamer who had won just eight times.
But in a reminder to younger players that it’s not over until it’s over, it all clicked for Luff under new coach Rodney Eade in 1996. After missing Rounds 1-2 he played 23 straight to the grand final.
Then, in a post-script reminder to the reminder, he struggled in ’97. Eleven games including a final. Still work to do. No more chances. He finished third in the club championship in ’98 and played 66 of a possible 69 in the next three years.
He loved Eade and had a unique relationship with his 1996 grand final coach. As the story went at the time, Luff was called to the bench so often it was suggested he should carry a walkie-talkie onto the field.
Having played his first game at 20, he’d had to wait until he was 26 to reach 50 games but got to 100 games at 28 and 150 games at 31.
That was 20 years and almost 270 games in the Sydney Football League ago. As a player and coach with Balmain and UNSW-ES he’s been a star, and two years ago topped the division two third grade goal-kicking with 69 goals and won the B&F in a premiership side. At 49.
His training regime these days? “I train once a week – and sometimes I just turn up,” he said.
It’s a medical miracle he’s still playing and 20 football-related operations. Plenty at the Swans, including a knee reconstruction in 2003, and plenty more since.
How long will he keep going? “Who knows. The surgeon said I really shouldn’t play anymore because my knee won’t last long, but he knew I wouldn’t stop so he gave me tips to help maintain it for as long as possible. He actually said he would say the same thing to a young professional footballer… that you can’t really play with that knee. But while I still can play I’ll keep playing. I just love it,” he said.
This year the UNSW-ES Bulldogs have gone up to division one. “And the bad thing is we’ve lost a couple of players,” Luff says. “But for some reason there are only six sides in division one. We are the fourth best so we’ll make the finals.”