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My Australian Life: Tom Harley

As told to Ros Reines

"There’s no better feeling than running out through the MCG tunnel to a full house on Grand Final Day," says Sydney Swans Football Club, CEO, Tom Harley.

And Tom Harley, the South Australian born grandson of a War Hero, Bryan Rofe, should know. A veteran of 198 AFL games, Harley captained Geelong in 2007, leading the team to three successive grand finals and two premierships, in 2007 and 2009.

But of course, this Saturday when the Grand Final is played out between Richmond and Geelong the MCG tunnels won’t reverberate with the thud of football boots, only to be drowned out by the roar of the 100,000 strong crowd in a footy frenzy, who at this moment have claimed ownership of the players’ hearts and souls.

This year, amid the Covid pandemic, the MCG tunnels will probably be as eerily empty as Melbourne’s CBD during lockdown. The Grand Final is now being contested at Brisbane’s Gabba and Tom Harley is just one of many shaking their heads in wonder.

Grand Final Week is usually different to any other week but this one will go down in history.

Both Geelong and Richmond have huge supporter bases and they would have both had tens of thousands at their final training sessions. And then there’s the Grand Final parade with 100,000 people congregated around Spring Street at the end of it all. The teams ‘colours would have been flying everywhere and then everyone almost holds their breath before the start of the big game. Covid restrictions mean that it’s going to be very different at the Gabba.

Playing In The AFL Grand Final Is a Remarkable Achievement.

It’s the pinnacle of any football career. You really have to appreciate how fortunate it is just to be out there on a grand final because they don’t come around very often.

You hear lots of platitudes on Grand Final Week.

Many past players and club champions turn up to talk about their experiences. What resonated the most for me was to try to keep everything as normal as possible. So anytime that you’re required to train in a group or you’re working out in the gym, you try to keep it as controlled as you can.

However, there’s lots of things that you can’t control whether it’s a Brownlow Medal Presentation, a Grand Final Parade or those hundreds of requests for tickets. And then there’s the nerves, you have to acknowledge that this is different but you don’t let it overwhelm you.

Everything changes at the first bounce of the ball.

Then you’re just out there playing your hardest for your team, you block out the roar of the crowd and your world becomes smaller to just what’s happening on the field.

There’s often Herculean efforts and epic acts of bravery.

In 2012 at the Grand Final between the Swans and Hawthorn, Adam Goodes damaged the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the second quarter but played out the rest of the game as a permanent forward, kicking the winning goal. This will go down in AFL folklore along with Brisbane Lions player Nigel Lappin, who played in the 2003 Grand Final, with two broken ribs and a punctured lung.

These feats are not just the result of adrenalin kicking in

There’s also the notion that there’s no tomorrow, there’s not another game next week. So you no longer have to worry about doing yourself too much damage and being out for the season. You just put it all out there.

Playing in Grand Finals and running a club in the pandemic have tested me in different ways.

This year’s been very challenging for the AFL and for our team. I have been unbelievably proud of everyone involved in the Swans both players and staff to get us through the season. Clearly, we would like to be playing in the Grand Final this weekend but we’re not. We finished 16th in the season and we still have a lot of work to do but I know that we can eventually get there again.


Ros Reines is a Sydney journalist and the author of four books. She is currently penning her fifth - a memoir of a life in the media.

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