To be an AFL footballer is rare; to be a best and fairest winner is rarer; to be a club captain, well, that’s perhaps the highest individual honour a club can bestow on a player.
In his time at North Melbourne, Andrew Swallow's gritty, determined and fearless approach to the game personified everything a Shinboner should be, but his humility, approachability and off-field leadership made him one of the club’s great servants of the past generation.
One of the all-time greats of the club when it comes to pure, contested football, he is responsible for 15 of North’s top 20 performances for most tackles in a game by a Kangaroo.
His 32-disposal, 17-tackle, one-goal performance against Melbourne in Round 18, 2012, and his 39-disposal, 17-clearance, two-goal performance against Adelaide in Round 11, 2011 are two of the greatest inside midfield performances the game has ever seen.
While his combination of class and courage may have characterised him on the field, Swallow’s influence on the club today is still felt today through the leadership of current captain Jack Ziebell - his successor. Swallow helped redefine what it meant to be a leader at this great club both on and off the field.
This is North Media’s ‘Where Are They Now?’
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We’ve just picked up five new players in the AFL Draft, from Jason Horne-Francis at pick one to Jackson Archer at pick 59. Going at pick 43 yourself, you had a bit of experience about what it’s like to be pick one with your brother David being named the number one pick in 2010. Is there anything you’d change about your draft experience?
There’s probably not. I actually missed out on being drafted in my first year as a 17-year-old. I initially finished school and then leading into the 2004 draft I thought I was a chance. Halfway through that year they changed the draft rules which meant I went from being eligible to suddenly not being eligible. I couldn’t be rookied so I ended up missing out on that one, and in the end I think that one was probably a blessing because it meant when I was actually able to get on a list I’d had a bit of extra time to try and prove myself. I was definitely nervous because after my experiences of the prior year I didn’t know how it was all going to turn out and how it was all going to go. I was reasonably confident I’d get drafted but I had no idea where I was going to go.
Heading through your career, you become captain in 2012 and Jack Ziebell takes on that responsibility from you in the 2017 season. What was the idea surrounding the captaincy handover at that point in time, and how much of a guiding hand did you offer Jack in the early days of his captaincy?
Part of it was probably to do with (coach) Brad Scott at the time and wanting to make sure whenever a captain finished and had served their time there could be a handover so there wouldn’t be this huge void left. We were really conscious the whole time of wanting to develop the guys we had around us with the knowledge they’d be taking over. From a personal point of view it was a good time to actually step aside and move away from it. I stayed involved in the leadership group for that first year but it just took so much pressure off of me in regards to all the extra bits and pieces that come with being skipper. I was always there for ‘Ziebs’ and to give him a hand when he wanted it, but he was well and truly ready and he certainly didn’t need much from me. We’ve all seen how well he’s done over the last few years to do his bit to help carry the club through a difficult transitional period.
I’m sure a lot of people entering the AFL system don’t just want to be a player. They want to captain a club and win best-and-fairests, much like you did. How do you think you fared as captain of North Melbourne? As someone who grew up watching the club, you’re the first person I think of when I think of a North captain.
How do I think I fared? That’s always an interesting question because there’s always this niggling thought of wondering if there was more I could have done. I do feel like I could have done more and I don’t know whether that’s because we didn’t quite get over the hump but still made two preliminary finals. As you get older and gain more life experience you wish there were things you could have done that you didn't do. In saying that, when I started as captain taking over from Boomer (Brent Harvey), I wasn’t even in the leadership group prior to that. It was quite a big learning curve for me, and Boomer was great for me in those early days. I feel like I was able to instil quite a few things in how the leadership group was run. I think before me they didn’t meet all that regularly, it was an every now and then sort of thing. I tried to be really proactive and figure out what could be improved and worked on, whether that be relationships with the coach, the playing group or even all the other departments. I really wanted everyone to be connected and on the same page so we could all drive in the same direction. It was also really important to try and develop that next group of leaders below that, obviously we had Jack who was a young kid when I took over, but Robbie Tarrant also came along really well and moved from being a really quiet guy to being a really strong leader for the group and taking control of that back line with Scotty Thompson. Jamie MacMillan is another one who came through, and even Shaun Higgins. For me that’s probably what I’m most proud of, helping make sure that next group of guys were there to help take the club forward when I finished up.
You finished your career with three Syd Barker Medals which puts you on par with some other absolute legends of the club. From a personal perspective, if I think of someone who embodies that grit and determination of the Shinboner spirit, and someone who really personifies the club’s values, I immediately think Andrew Swallow. What do you think your legacy is at North?
It’s always hard to define your own legacy. I feel like that’s the sort of thing other people are better placed to interpret and decide. When I first got to the club Adam Simpson was captain and the likes of Brady Rawlings and Glenn Archer were there, and they were really big on instilling the history of the place into the players, what it meant to the people who’d played there before, and to the supporters. All I ever wanted to do was try and continue that on. We were going through a phase where we eventually moved into new facilities and we were advancing and keeping up with the times, but we always wanted to stay true to what a North Melbourne person was. It can be difficult at times to define but it goes back to traits of hard work and being honest, trustworthy and loyal, and that’s just what really stands out to me.
You retired at 30 after a potential move to Gold Coast fell through. Do you think you had enough left in the tank for another couple of years at the top level, and do you have any lingering disappointments in how your playing career finished?
I definitely think I had two, maybe even three years left. I suppose at the time I was ready for a new challenge and it seemed like the club was going through a bit of a transition phase to being more youth focused. I felt like if I wanted a new challenge I’d want to go up to Queensland and play with (younger brother) David, because that was something we’d spoken about for a long time and we were keen to see if we could make happen, but unfortunately that never came off. I could have easily come back to North because I still had a year on my contract, but my wife at the time was struggling in Melbourne, and at the end of the day I had to put my family first and support her, so we went into a new chapter of our lives. We moved up near Byron Bay and we’ve been here for four years and we’ve absolutely loved it. Every now and then I’ll look back and think ‘jeez, I probably could have still done a couple more years’, but I’m grateful to be where I am now and I got to have a really good couple of years where I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with my kids while they’re young.
Not many players stay in football after retirement. You did a bit of coaching with the Suns’ AFL and AFLW programs, but how did you set yourself up for life after football while you were still playing?
When I was at the club one thing I was really passionate about for myself and my teammates was having something to work towards outside of footy. It didn’t matter what it was, whether that was going to uni, doing a trade, working on business ventures or even going and doing work experience somewhere just to learn what life is about and what you liked outside of footy. I did a Bachelor of Business at VU during my time. I really enjoyed that and having something outside of footy. In my final year I did a level two coaching course. I really enjoyed that, learned a lot and wish I even did a bit earlier. When you can understand what the coaches are trying to do and why they’re doing it then it helps make you a better player. I played in the NEAFL for a year with Aspley and I could see there was a big void of knowledge at that level, especially with northern New South Wales and southern Queensland not being traditional footy areas. I felt like I had a lot to offer. I was lucky enough to spend a few years in both the men’s and women’s programs at the Suns. I loved my time coaching, just building connections with young players and helping them make the most of not only their football ability, but develop them as people. I did that and one of the things I did do when I was playing was build a house through a guy who was a North Melbourne coterie member. That got me really passionate about building, so I’m currently building a house up here near Byron and I’m really excited about it. I don’t really know what I’m doing but learning is all part of the process and it’s a unique experience that a lot of people don’t get to do.
So are you more involved in physically building the house, or is it more of a property developer type of role?
Probably a bit of both. I’m doing as much physically as I’m able to and my skill level allows me too, but I’m also managing a lot of it. I’m lucky my father-in-law has come over from WA and he’s living over here and I’m doing it with him. It’s been really nice that we can do this project and we’ll hopefully get the slab down soon and get right into it after Christmas. It’s a bit of fun and it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a few years and we’ve got the opportunity to do it at the moment. It’s busy, we just had another little girl about eight months ago, so I’ve got three kids now, but it keeps us busy.
You have a strong association with the club through coaching there and your brother playing there, but would you say you’re still a North man?
Yeah. It’s actually funny, when you start working at a place you really get invested in it. You put so much into it and it becomes such a big part of your life and who you are. I grew up a West Coast supporter, then went to North and onto the Suns. I’ve got a lot of good relationships at the Suns and know a lot of people there, even Cam Joyce is up there now from North running their women’s program. As the years go on I’m wanting to educate my kids on North Melbourne and who I played for. My daughter, Isabelle, was two when I finished up, so she’s been to a few games but didn’t really understand what I was able to do and never really got to see that side of what I did for a long time. I want to be able to educate my kids about it. Even heading into this draft I just wanted to learn about Jason Horne-Francis and what type of player he’s going to be, and I’m looking forward to learning about the other players we drafted.
You mentioned Jason Horne-Francis, he’s a South Australian boy who’s had to move interstate for footy. It’s not quite the move you made from Western Australia to Arden Street, but what were some of the challenges of moving across the country at such a young age?
I think even going back to the start of this conversation and not getting drafted in that first year, I had a year out of the system where I was working part time and playing footy. I think over that time I developed a lot of skills which really helped me the next year, but the club has changed so much since I was drafted. Before we didn’t even have a proper welfare manager. Neil Connell came on a few months after we started so we were almost left to fend for ourselves. I moved in with another player for a few months and then eventually found a place with a guy who got drafted with me, Tim Hutchison, and we lived there together for a year. We were pretty much left to fend for ourselves. It was good at times but it also had its challenges. I always found when I didn’t have footy on, it was hard in that first 6-12 months. I’d really miss home, but whenever i was training or playing I didn’t even think about it.
One final question for you, if you could sum up your time at North Melbourne in a few sentences, then how would you?
Only a few sentences? That’s a tough one. It was the chance to fulfil a childhood dream. I loved the people I got to meet and the memories and things I miss the most now are spending time in the change rooms with the players and just going out there and competing and trying to win something together. I’ve got mainly good memories of my time at the footy club. We got close a couple of times and never quite reached the ultimate success, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time and I’m so grateful I got to be a part of the North Melbourne community.
Calling all past players
The club is seeking past players, who have represented North Melbourne at any level, to be part of the Kangaroos' past players' association. If you are a past player, or know someone that would like to be part of the Association, please fill in the form below and a representative from the club will be in touch with further information.