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Goodes holds a place among the greats

This has been a journey worth reliving, writes Richard Withers.

It’s difficult to go to a Swans match these days and remain ignorant of the consistently-terrible puns plastered across a sea of red and white banners signalling the territory of Sydney’s cheer squad. A perennial victim over the past 14 years (you’ll find a ‘We’ve Got The Goodes!’ banner without fail), Goodes avoided an onslaught of horrendous puns when he was suspended for what would have been his club record-breaking 304th game at the Sydney Cricket Ground in round four. Instead, Goodes waited a week and travelled down to Tasmania last weekend to celebrate the feat in the lonelier confines of Aurora Stadium for Sydney’s round five clash against Hawthorn.

Rising to the occasion, Goodes orchestrated Sydney’s revival against Hawthorn in his milestone match. After a quiet beginning, Goodes sprung into action in the second half, kicking three goals to inspire the Swans to overturn a 20-point half-time deficit and run out 37-point victors to continue their unbeaten start to the season.

Whereas Goodes has been at the peak of his powers over the past decade, his success is derived from more than natural ability and he recognises that it’s something he has had to earn.

“That first year was a real eye opener for me, to know what was required to be a professional athlete,” Goodes told a packed press conference on Friday at the SCG.

Goodes’s career began at the end of 1997 when the Swans drafted the talented Indigenous youngster, granting him the opportunity to join his cousin, the silkily-skilled Michael O’Loughlin, at the club. When Goodes received a congratulatory phone call from O’Loughlin after his drafting, it was the first time he was made aware that they were related.

“That was a pretty special moment, to actually find out that I had a cousin waiting for me up in Sydney and here I am sitting in front of him 15 years later actually beating his club record,” Goodes recalled while sitting alongside O’Loughlin.

“It’s really nice to be able to share [this moment] with Michael,” continues Goodes, the godfather of O’Loughlin’s daughter Taya.

Best mates: O’Loughlin and Goodes continue their work together off the field. Source: Daily Telegraph

The strain of moving away from family at such a young age is a common dilemma for AFL players, with a draft system that involves interstate relocations on a large scale. Goodes was no stranger to such pressures, moving from rural Victoria and into the heart of Sydney upon his completion of high school.

“I knew that there was something bigger out there for me and I had some great role models here for me. I had Mick O’Loughlin, Troy Cook and Robbie Ahmat, so I really felt like I was part of something. I had family back home but felt like I was part of a new family at the Swans.”

Despite not debuting until 1999, Goodes exploded onto the scene by winning the AFL’s coveted ‘Rising Star’ award in his first season. The award was the first in an illustrious array of achievements; earning selection in the Indigenous Team of the Century, winning two Brownlow medals (in 2003 and 2006) as the competition’s stand-out player and winning the premiership with the Sydney Swans in 2005.

Goodes is now the Sydney Swans’ Co-captain, one of the competition’s most distinguished performers on the field, and one of its most admirable ambassadors off it.

It’s fitting that Goodes, the evergreen Swan who looks far from finished in his 14th season playing senior football, would be the one to surpass O’Loughlin’s record (303 games for Sydney) in the match against Hawthorn. Both interstate draftees, the pair have left their imprint on football in Sydney, with their work and achievements on the field matched only by their efforts to foster reconciliation off it.

As founders of the GO Foundation (Goodes-O’Loughlin), both spend considerable time promoting the engagement between Indigenous and corporate Australia. Their aims are focused on establishing an improved understanding and awareness of Indigenous communities in Australia by those in the non-Indigenous business community.

Despite still going strong at 32, questions are undoubtedly going to be asked over the longevity of Goodes’s playing days. “I still think I can improve as a player… if I’m not here to get better, I’m just making up the numbers,” he says.

“I really believe that we have a great opportunity at this football club to win another premiership while I’m still here… I know how good this group can be.”

After the 2005 premiership success ended a 72-year premiership drought, last weekend’s emphatic win over Hawthorn is the best sign yet that Sydney and Goodes have every reason to believe that another premiership could be waiting just around the corner. Call it a swansong if you must, but there may be a memorable final chapter in this career.