Vaucluse, Sydney Australia
The story of Australian Rules Football in the state of New South Wales never ceases to amaze. Many of the good folks of Melbourne think the game of AFL has only been a recent addition in the past 30 odd years or so, with the Sydney Swans and now Greater Western Sydney Giants. Many assume the game has lived in the shadows of rugby league and rugby union and that it has been a footballing wilderness.
Nothing could be further from the truth, with the Sydney metropolitan league and regional based leagues having a long and proud history. The 1970’s Sydney football era is spoken by many in the know, as being one of the toughest leagues in Australia. Former Richmond premiership player and AFL coach John Northey has been quoted as saying as much.
The Riverina area in southern New South Wales has produced some incredible AFL talent. Former Sydney Swans skipper and Brownlow medalist Paul Kelly and one of the greatest centre half forwards of all time in Wayne Carey hailed from the town of Wagga Wagga. Legendary St-Kilda forward of the 1930’s and 40’s Bill Mohr was a goal kicking machine booting 735 goals in a 195 game career. He to came from Wagga Wagga.
Then we get to last Saturday at ANZ Stadium in Homebush where the story of AFL footballing success from New South Wales continued. This time in the guise of a young man by the name of Isaac Smith. It was his 100th game for the Hawthorn Football Club and what an incredible journey he has taken to reach his football dreams.
Isaac born in the NSW town of Young in 1988, began playing his footy at Temora in the Riverina district and then went on to play with the Wagga Tigers. Incredibly Isaac played some of his junior footy with fellow Hawk team-mate and fellow dual premiership player in Luke Breust. In the late 2000’s Isaac headed off to the Victorian town of Ballarat to take up studies in Sports Management at the University of Ballarat. During his time there he was encouraged to play footy with local club Redan. He was involved in a premiership with that side in the Ballarat Football League and then was asked to join North Ballarat who participate in the Victorian Football League. It seems success follows everywhere Isaac goes as the North Ballarat team won the 2010 VFL premiership. His skills were not missed by the Hawthorn talent scouts who penciled him into their black books and come the 2010 AFL National Draft day, he was snapped up by the Hawks at selection nineteen.
Smith took on his role at Hawthorn with his usual solid application. He played 16 games in his first year including 3 finals games, not a bad effort for a first year drafted player. And as they say, the rest is history. Isaac went on to play in more premiership teams, this time at the highest level in Hawthorn’s back to back wins of 2013 & 2014. On Saturday night he played an important part in the Hawks absolute thrashing of the Sydney Swans. Isaac amassed some 21 disposals and kicked an important goal.
He’s taken the longest route possible to reach his football dreams. but has achieved the goals that many greats of the game never got close to. To his credit he is very humble about his football and extremely appreciative of the support his family has given to him over the journey. We observed Isaac go straight over to his family in the Hawthorn sheds as soon as the club song and coach debriefing formalities were over.
When we interviewed Isaac one of the key points he made was that he “respected” the support his family had given him over the years. It was a fitting statement, particularly coming from a player of the Hawthorn Football Club which has long been known for it’s “Family Club” title.
Certainly skill and desire for the ball on the field wins games, but off the field club culture and the virtues and goals a team sets for itself are just as important. Isaac Smith’s approach and attitude that he has displayed over his 100 games epitomizes that ethos that has made the Hawthorn Football Club an AFL powerhouse. It also underlines the talent and quality of Australian Rules footballers who hail from the great state of New South Wales
*We sincerely wish to thank Hawthorn Football Club Communications Manager Leah Mirabella for her kind assistance in granting an interview with Isaac post-game v Sydney last Saturday.