A member of the drought-breaking Swans in 2005, Jared Crouch compares his famous side to the 2016 Bulldogs.
Grand Final week is unlike any week you can experience in the AFL. In 2005, I was lucky enough to experience this with the Swans.
Our year started slowly — winning only two of the first six games for the season — and I remember a bit of criticism throughout the competition of the style of football we were playing.
Then we got things right and got on a roll. We managed to finish in the top four which was met with elements of excitement. We came up against West Coast in Perth in the first week which is always a tough task.
The beauty of our group during that time is we had made only one change in five or six weeks — poor old Luke Vogels going out for Paul Bevan — so we had a very settled list and were playing week-in, week-out with each other. There was a strong familiarity with the guys on your line and around you.
We lost to the Eagles in one of the many tight games we would play against them during this era and there was a real disappointment coupled with all sorts of emotions because we didn’t feel as though they had beaten us. But we had the double chance which meant putting our best foot forward at home against a very good side in Geelong.
It’s been well-documented how we won in that game and it very quickly got that belief back in the playing group. We were down and out all day — who knows what the reasons were but we weren’t playing our best football and then to storm home and literally win in the last two seconds was incredibly exciting.
That win really gave our confidence a massive boost and next up we travelled down to Melbourne to play St Kilda again on the Friday night.
We played better in the Preliminary Final but it was such a fierce contest. St Kilda was a very good side with the likes of Fraser Gehrig in his prime and Robert Harvey still playing great footy, so it was just a great match.
We were down at three-quarter time but not to the extent of the Geelong game the previous week and we were confident we had some run left in the legs despite traveling around the country in the last few weeks.
To win in the same style just continued that self-belief and boosted our confidence. We were proving our style of football was standing up in finals.
We were battered and bruised but still hadn’t made a change to the side. Everyone is sore at that time of year but you know you’re about to go and play in a Grand Final so it doesn’t really affect you that much.
The Swans were obviously in the midst of a 72-year premiership drought at the time but the thought of that hanging over the club’s head never really entered my thoughts during Grand Final week. I was more focussed on us as a team — we made a Preliminary Final in 2003 and a Semi-Final in 2004, so we knew we were around the mark as a group.
I vividly remember the whole city of Sydney getting behind us and it might’ve been due to the way we games like the close one against Geelong and the fourth-quarter blitz against the Saints.
So for those fans watching it at the game or on the TV, it would’ve been hard to not get emotionally involved and there was an excitement of doing something that no one had done before — winning a premiership from Sydney.
The local Westfield shops would have red and white in their front windows and cars with flags which is a great feeling when so much of the city is involved.
Training at the SCG during the week was normal, with the addition of a fair few more people coming along to watch — and a quite a few cameras. There might’ve been a couple of hundred swans supporters and as many media.
It’s funny, I was also at the Swans in 1996 when we also played in a Grand Final. I was 18 at the time and had been injured all year so had no expectation of playing but I feel like the crowd that watched us train at the SCG in 1996 was larger than the one in 2005.
I remember sitting in the middle of the ground on a beautiful, sunny day at the SCG with Benny Matthews, Paul Licuria and Clinton King and thinking ‘how cool is this.’
There’s no other week like it on the AFL calendar and you just need to embrace and roll with it, that’s the nature of Grand Final week.
There’s normality in the fact that you’re still training and are practising the same things you’ve done all year except there’s a few more requests for media and there’s a lot more people watching.
I was fine with enjoying the week but I understand that each individual might deal with it differently. I was never one to get nervous before games and I didn’t have any in the lead up to the day.
I did, however, get a few nerves on the day itself. I remember being in my hotel room and packing my boots and mouthguard into the footy bag to take to the ground and at that point I got quite nervous.
That lasted throughout the bus trip — which was quieter than normal so I suspect a few of the boys were going through the same thing.
The only thing that alleviated those nerves was running up the race and seeing the grass. There was a feeling of we’ve been here last week and played well and I was overcome with a real sense of belonging.
There’s a lot of emotion getting through to Grand Final and it would be something the Western Bulldogs would be dealing with at the moment. It can be both positive and negative for your performance depending on how you handle it as a group.
The Bulldogs have been on a roll in a similar fashion to the way we did it in ’05 and they have played some brilliant football, so there’s an element of rolling with that emotion but there’s also a chance it could become very tiring.
You need to have those moments during the week where you switch off for a little bit and get a bit of normality, but it’s great to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy it.
If you embrace everything, you’ll be fine but if you try to hide form it, it can have a negative influence.
Best of luck to those involved this weekend, it’ll be one of the best experiences of your life.
And go Swans!