SWANS? HALL OF FAME
By BRAD GREENSHIELDS
A CROWD of more than 1000 fans flocked to the International Stadium yesterday to join in the Sydney Swans celebrations of their historic 2005 premiership victory.
Rock star treatment was afforded Barry Hall, Nick Davis, Lewis Roberts-Thomson, Ben Matthews and Luke Ablett as people of all ages jostled for position to get autographs and photos of the Swans stars as well as touch the trophy that is the holy grail of Australian football.
The gathering was part of the Swans statewide premiership tour that kicked off in Coffs Harbour prior to moving on to Newcastle and other regional centres.
There was no doubting which of the five premiership heroes the majority of the crowd had come to see.
The players were introduced one by one by radio presenter Ian Henderson but the biggest roar of all was saved for last when captain and spearhead Barry Hall was introduced.
Hall's football has improved remarkably since moving north from St Kilda and the anonymity that he used to enjoy in Sydney has helped him realise more than most how much of a profile AFL has gained in NSW after the Swans' thrilling four-point win over the West Coast Eagles in the grand final.
"We had the parade in Sydney and we thanked all the supporters there but looking at the size of the crowd here today it shows that we've also got a lot of support out here," he said.
"It's great to see over 1000 people in Coffs Harbour.
"It really does make it the 'People's Cup' and it was especially great to see local schools turning up en masse and all the youngsters seemed to have a good time too."
There was particular significance in the tour for the Sydney raised pair of Roberts-Thomson and semi-final hero Davis.
"We've just won the premiership but it's important for the next year and the years ahead that we get out and we keep developing the game," Davis said. "This is only going to help that and winning the premiership as well with the people that obviously saw us win the game on TV."
Roberts-Thomson's story is probably the most extraordinary of any of the 22 players that tasted glory on grand final day.
He primarily had a rugby union background and was plucked from anonymity when he was drafted after playing less than 40 games of local AFL.
He admits that even now some seven weeks after the big day that he still needs to pinch himself in amazement at his ride to the top.
"It was one of those occasions where there's a surreal feeling surrounding you, there's plenty of excitement as well," he explained. "It's funny that you sort of look back and you've achieved a premiership but sometimes there's a feeling of disbelief."