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by Lisa, reporting for AFANA from Chicago

Swan midfielder Brett Kirk stood on the Grand Final dais last year and proclaimed, "This is for the Bloods!" It was a nickname the Swan players adopted four years ago, harking back to the days of South Melbourne, when the team was known as The Bloods. They were also sometimes known as the Blood-Stained Angels.   The resurrection of the old names came about when Coach Paul Roos brought in leadership consultant Ray McLean because of concerns about the future leadership of the club, especially with the retirements of stalwarts Paul Kelly and Andrew Dunkley.

McLean conducted a series of discussions with the playing group, asking how they thought opposition teams perceived them and how they themselves wanted to be perceived. There was also discussion about the name of the team, the Swans, because of the passive nature of the bird as opposed to the "warrior" game of Australian Football. From this new age approach came an old-fashioned ethos. While such bonds and pledges are not uncommon among sporting teams, the Swans have taken it to a new level. And it has created a bond as strong as tungsten steel within the playing group. Coach Paul Roos has let his charges do it on their own and take ownership of the code they have adopted. It has also strengthened the bond between the supporters, those of Melbourne who have been there since the days at the Lake Oval and those in Sydney.

The ethos and ethic the players have adopted calls for hard, physical "Bloods footy" -uncompromising discipline, commitment to the team effort, and to play for each other and, sometimes literally, bleed for each other. They adopted the method which has become their trademark style of play: head over the football, creating contests, winning contests, one-on-one football, and suffocating the opposition. The blood-and-guts play was no more apparent than in last year's Grand Final when Kirk had to finish out the game in a protective helmet due to a hard knock he suffered, and Jude Bolton finished the game with his head swathed in bandages after receiving 12 stitches.

The discipline is there also for all to see, with the Swans the only team not to have a player suspended this year. And of course, there was the Nick Davis saga. A one week banishment turned into six weeks. While it is true he was dropped due to a lack of fitness, he also went outside the team rules when he proclaimed in a public interview that he was being made a scapegoat for the team's midseason slump. His breach infuriated his teammates and he had to work to win back their respect as well as his place in the seniors. It was a harsh lesson, but one Davis himself admits he has learned. If you want to be part of this Sydney team, there is no deviation from the code the players have adopted for on-field and off-field behavior.

Club doctor Nathan Gibbs says he can tell when the team is playing well: it's when he treats more head injuries. And when the Swans defeated the Eagles in the qualifying final this year, they were overheard yelling about ""Bloods footy" as they huddled in the middle after the game.

Victorian Institute of Sport psychologist Noel Blundell said the collective strength and commitment to the disciplines the players have adopted was a huge factor in their success and very powerful. This is another area which can be exemplified. The Swans lost their Round 2 game to Port Adelaide at the SCG, after unfurling the 2005 premiership flag. After that loss,  the playing group held several "truth meetings", where harsh words were spoken. The Swans turned their season around, winning eight of their next 11 games.

Should the Swans prevail again, all three co-captains will accept the cup unlike last year when Barry Hall accepted. This year, it will be Hall, Brett Kirk, and Leo Barry. The trio have shared the on-field duties of tossing the coin and addressing the players during matches, with even Coach Paul Roos never knowing from one game to the next who will take charge. Roos said he had left the players to decide and lead in their own respective ways.  

Source: Melbourne Age

Article last changed on Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - 5:36 PM EDT

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