After a slow start to his Swans career, Scott Stevens could be the bolter
in the Sydney attack this season, writes Richard Hinds.
So far, Scott Stevens has not told Tony Lockett that he used to have his
poster on his bedroom wall when he was a kid back in Kellerberrin, a small town
in the West Australian wheat belt about 21/2 hours drive from Perth.
So far, Stevens hasn't said very much of a personal nature to Lockett at all.
That is partly because Lockett was only a part-time coach in Stevens's first
two years with the Sydney Swans. But it is also because it has taken the
20-year-old most of those two years to become comfortable and confident in his
Now, in the past month, Stevens has found that sense of belonging in the only
way a footballer really can. He has proven to his teammates and coaches, and
most importantly to himself, that he has something to offer on match day.
While most of the attention during the Swans' practice match against Essendon
and first two pre-season competition games centred on Lockett and high-profile
recruit Barry Hall, Stevens has been the surprise success story in the Sydney
Surprising, that is, for those who had begun to wonder if the lightly-built
forward the Swans' first selection in the 1999 national draft and the 21st pick
overall was ever going to have the physique or the ability to make an
impression at the top level.
Having failed to play a senior game in his first two years at the club,
Stevens admits he had begun to have doubts himself. ``Definitely having been
around that long and not having made my debut, that was starting to piss me
off," he said. ``I'm out of contract at the end of this year and you start to
wonder if it's going to happen."
It has not happened yet. But after kicking four goals against Collingwood in
the first round and two goals and five behinds against the Kangaroos last week,
Stevens's senior debut now seems much closer than it did at the end of last
``He's definitely put himself in the mix for round one," coach Rodney Eade
said. ``He really worked hard over the summer and we'd been hoping that would
pay off for him. Now he's given himself a real chance, which is very pleasing."
After playing most of last year with the Swans' Victorian Football League
associate Port Melbourne, Stevens said he took counsel from his father, who had
played senior football for Perth before a knee injury ruined his career at 19.
His advice was to work harder on his fitness, get out in front of the pack
during training sessions and give himself every chance.
Yet when Hall was recruited, then Lockett made his comeback, Stevens could
have been forgiven for thinking his own chances of breaking into the team had
been diminished. It is not that Stevens plays a similar key position role as
either Hall or Lockett. But with that high-profile pair dominating the goal
square, he would be competing with others such as Michael O'Loughlin, Adam
Goodes and Matthew Nicks for a spot on the flanks.
``It did enter my head," Stevens said of the effect Hall and Lockett would
have on his chances. ``But I talked a bit with [defender] Andrew Schauble and he
said he doesn't worry about who else is there. He just says he looks at the
position and wins it. I've tried to have that mind-set."
Eade says it was not so much the presence of Hall and Lockett but the dilemma
of where to play Stevens that was his greatest concern about the young forward.
Stevens did not seem robust enough for a key position or athletic enough for a
flank, yet his natural instincts have come to the fore in the pre-season.
``He just knows how to get into position to find the ball," he says. ``I
remember something Leigh Matthews said to me which was, `If they're good enough,
you'll always find a spot for them', and that might be the case."
Stevens's relatively slow emergence is understandable. Although he has put on
eight kilograms since he arrived in Sydney, he would like to add at least four
more. And in Perth he had played only schoolboy and colts football, meaning his
initial games for the Swans seconds were his first against men.
Now he is starting to prove he can cope in top company. One of his opponents
last week was Kangaroos defender Jason McCartney, not the most fashionable
defender in the AFL, but one who always provides a tough physical contest.
Seemingly at home on the field, Stevens's confidence off it has also risen.
``It's been really good for my motivation," he said of his start to the season.
``I really feel a lot more confident like I'm part of it."
Though still not quite confident enough yet to mention that poster to
Lockett. ``Nah, I haven't told him that," Stevens said. ``I'm a bit nervous."