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The Sydney Morning Herald

Swans in his Blood: academy can make Harrison's dream a reality

Author: Michael Cowley
Date: 08/03/2010
Words: 716
Source: SMH
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Sport
Page: 20
LIKE many eight-year-olds, Harrison Dyson has dreams for the future. He's Sydney born and bred, loves his footy, loves the Swans, and if the planets were to align a decade down the road, he would love to follow his dad and become a Blood.

In some sports such dreams are feasible. Work hard, hone your skills and, if the talent is there, you will get a shot. But AFL, particularly in Sydney, has always been a little different.

Had Harrison's dad, Kevin, a member of the Swans' 1996 grand final team, played 100 games with Sydney instead of just 35 after his five seasons with the Demons, then that dream would have legs as the youngster would be eligible to head to the Swans under the father-son rule.

But from next month, Harrison and like-minded youngsters, can begin to live their dreams of representing Sydney when the doors to the Swans Academy open.

After "six or seven years" of campaigning by the Swans, the AFL agreed to allow Sydney, Brisbane, Greater Western Sydney and the Gold Coast to set up academies that will ultimately see those clubs have first choice of the young players from their particular region.

The Swans Academy, which will provide coaching for youngsters from any of the club's 63 regions across Sydney and regional NSW, will begin trials for under-nines through to under-12s in the first week of April. Later in the year under-13s to under-18s will enter the academy.

"We will be inviting, through online registration, as many as want to participate in trials," academy general manager Dennis Carroll said. "That may be 200 or 2000. What we want to do is reduce those numbers down to a manageable level of about 30 in each age group to take part in the academy programs which will commence in June. In the 13s-18s, we'll have 15 in each age group."

The Swans and GWS have geographically split the metropolitan area, and the rest of the state has been divided between the clubs. Although GWS have secured the more traditional AFL areas such as the Riverina, Carroll noted that "with 3.9 million people in our zone we believe there has got to be a heap of elite athletes who would consider AFL".

The subject of academies came up in conversation when Kevin Dyson was recently in England. The eight-year-old son of one of his Australian friends had just been selected to enter the academy of Premier League club Fulham.

"To come back and find out about the Swans academy ... it makes perfect sense," Dyson said. "And it's not just the kids naturally gifted in football. Everyone is going to have the opportunity to develop, and the more information and coaching and guidance you can give to these kids, the younger they are, the better they are going to be later.

"And that doesn't mean from day one they are going to flog them on the track or do things to them if they miss the ball. They are going to give them the guidance they normally wouldn't get in community-based footy.

"Because I didn't play enough games for the Swans, the father-son rule doesn't covers us. Harrison ... loves the Swans and if he could play for any team that's where he'd love to be. This approach means if he is good enough and shows the capabilities, he gets to go to the club he loves."

Swans chief executive Andrew Ireland is excited the club's push for an academy has finally come to fruition, and hopes down the track for graduates good enough to play AFL.

He feels that many NSW children miss out on some of the formative years of involvement with AFL, and emphasised the younger age groups will be "more about being involved with fun games and the like", and they were "conscious of the fact that there is the capacity to be too intense too young and we've got some good people involved to make sure we balance it out".

"The reality is between Queensland and NSW there is something like 54 per cent of Australia's population and there's only 11 per cent of the AFL players from those two states," Ireland said. "We think the academy programs hopefully will give any of the kids who are coming through a much better opportunity to play AFL footy."

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