Paul Roos

Paul Roos did what no one had done for 72 years in 2005 when he coached the Sydney Swans to the premiership. Picture sydneyswans.com.au

In 2005, Paul Roos coached Sydney to the premiership, and in the process did what no Swans coach had been able to do for 72 years.

In 2005, Paul Roos coached Sydney to the premiership, and in the process did what no Swans coach had been able to do for 72 years.

Going into the 2005 season, things were full of promise in the harbour city. Sydney, under Roos, had made consecutive finals series in 2003 and 04, and Roos was back in the fold to start 05.

Two strong seasons should have seen Roos comfortable, but he knew that there was only one real way to secure your role.

“Until you win the premiership, because that’s the ultimate goal, until you win it there’s that uncertainty,” he told The Inner Sanctum.

“We’d had a good season in 03 and 04 and going into 05, [but] you’re always conscious of what your role is and you’re always challenging yourself, ‘am I good enough, are we on the right track.’

“I don’t think that sort of thing ever really stops until you win the premiership.”

False start and a big blow

The season wasn’t going to plan so far by round six. A big loss to (ironically West Coast) left the Swans in 12th position.

To make matters worse, the game against the Eagles was Swans captain – and one of the architects of the Bloods culture – Stuart Maxfield’s last game.

One of the architects of the Bloods Culture, Stuart Maxfield’s retirement left the Swans with big shoes to fill. (Picture: Sydney Swans/Facebook)

With Maxfield having resigned the captaincy, it left some big shoes to fill, as Roos recalled.

“Stewy was sort of the heart and soul of our culture, he was an incredible captain in 03 and 04, but with his bad knee he couldn’t,” he said.

“We had some discussion about what we were going to do, whether [to] replace him with one captain. In the end, we decided to just use our leadership group because we trusted that we’d created a really good system, we trusted our leaders, so we put in a rotating captaincy.

“It was certainly a difficult period for us, but I think it was proved that our culture was strong, and it worked as well as we probably could have hoped.

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Six players would rotate as captain throughout the rest of the season – Brett Kirk, Barry Hall, Leo Barry, Ben Mathews, Adam Goodes, and Jude Bolton.

The turnaround wasn’t immediate, as another big loss in round 10, this time at the hands of St Kilda, saw criticism coming thick and fast from commentators, and even the CEO at the time, Andrew Demetriou.

The Swans may have been the talk of the football world for the wrong reasons, but Roos saw it as merely noise. They knew they had work to do.

“It just exploded from there – when the CEO of the AFL says something like he said,” Roos said. “

“It was more an external thing, we used it internally to galvanize us, but it was more external the noise really.

“I think it’s the role of the coach to determine if it’s your game plan or you’re just playing poorly. The coaching staff was really strong with the way we wanted to play so we just weren’t playing very well.

“We articulated that to the players, it’s not our game plan, our game plan can stack up if or when we play our best.

“Players were going away from the way we wanted to play, so we just had to re-establish our brand and play better, and as it turned out it was the correct decision.”

A rapid turnaround

Things changed dramatically from there. Sydney only lost three more games for the rest of the season by single-figure margins to Richmond, Adelaide, and West Coast.

Injuries remained a concern, with veteran (and now Crows head coach) Matthew Nicks also playing his last game in the middle of the year before retiring due to injury.

Now that the Swans were playing the way they wanted to play, it was easier to replace roles, as Roos described it.

“I think we believed that if someone went down then someone would come and play that role because the role was really clear,” he said.

“So that was important when you lose good players. You can’t replace their talent, but you can replace their role.”

Very few were able to top the Swans once they got on a roll in 2005. (Picture Sydney Swans)

“When we started to play the way we wanted to play, our team was all about roles, all about function, all about system.

“So, then it becomes easy to replace players when you are playing at your absolute best. That tended to happen in 05, and we were able to cover those injuries because all our players were committed to their roles.”

Hope? Maybe?

Were there any hopes of premiership glory, internally? Not until near the end of the season, when Sydney recorded three big wins to go into the finals full of confidence.

“I mean you’re always on edge as a coach and looking to get better. I remember a few teams we smashed toward the end of the season, and I remember thinking ‘we are a good team,’ Roos said.

“Teams find it hard to score against us, when we get the ball back, we go quick, and we score.

“[It was] probably towards the back end of 2005, when we had some really big wins, and the players started to believe in themselves.”

The steps to making the grand final started with a loss against West Coast in the qualifying final followed by an incredible come-from-behind victory over Geelong in the Semi.

Anything seemed possible after this performance in the semi-final. (Picture: Sydney Swans/Twitter)

With both games decided in the final minute, Roos discussed what a coach can do in tight contests, which would be crucial just a few weeks later on grand final day.

“We rehearsed so many variables from November through to March. We rehearsed them over and over and over and over again,” he said.

“On gameday no, you can’t do anything about it, but during your week, in your lead-up, during your pre-season, you can rehearse all those things.

“The players and coaches did a good job doing all of that, the players took responsibility during those games, and were able to action what we wanted to put into action.

“On gameday, the coach can’t do anything, but during training and pre-season [they] absolutely [can].”

The buildup begins

A preliminary final showdown against St Kilda saw Sydney overwhelm its opponents in the final quarter and eventually record a 31 point victory.

The Swans would be back at the G the following Saturday. A very important someone was in danger of not joining them, however.

Fiery star goalkicker Barry Hall had been reported during the match, leaving Roos with a headache to kick off grand final week, and pausing the excitement of the occasion.

“Someone said ‘oh Hally’s done something,’ and then you look at the vision and the nerves come in,” Roos recalled.

“You switch quickly from excitement to ‘let’s sort this thing.’ It was a nerve-wracking first couple of days, Monday, Tuesday to get Hally off and get him playing.

“It’s an emotional week, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, but you get that excitement again when your player gets off and he’s ready to play in the finals.”

Throwback: 2005 Prelim comeback
The Swans flew into their first grand final since 1996. (Picture: Sydney Swans)

Grand final day would soon arrive, a feeling a handful of players knew well – including Roos himself.

Having played off in 1996, it was easy for him to say that players were much more nervous than the coach was.

“A player has to prepare, the player has to run, a player’s fear is playing a shocker on grand final day, I remember playing in 96 myself so I remember,” he said.

“I think the players are more nervous because the coaches are more helpless at that stage, and it’s a different type of nerves.

“We want the game to get on because we’re standing and standing and waiting as coaches while the players are warming up, getting a massage, getting tape, and preparing themselves individually for their own game.

“I would probably say the players were more nervous than the coaches.”

A match for the ages

Not for the first time, and as it turned out not for the last either, Sydney and West Coast would put on a memorable encounter.

The Eagles were led from the front with arguably the best midfield in the competition, that included the last two Brownlow Medallists in Ben Cousins and Chris Judd, and Daniel Kerr, runner-up in the 2005 Brownlow.

A contest just as tight as the match itself. (Picture: Sydney Swans)

On the Swans end, it would be the evolution of a handful of players that would stand up on this day, as Roos recalled.

“[it was] the evolution of Nic Fosdike and Lewis Roberts-Thomson and Amon Buchanan and [Adam] Schneider- not household names like Goodesy and Kirky and Barry Hall and Micky O’Loughlin, and Leo Barry,” he said.

“We couldn’t win when we only had two or three good players, and that was obvious for us.

“I often say it’s your bottom five or six that win you premierships, but it was really hard to pick who that bottom five or six was, because we had such an even team, and all our players played their role.”

As it happened, Fosdike would finish with a team-high 26 disposals, Schneider and Buchanan would have a goal each to their name (Buchanan kicking the final goal of the match) while Roberts-Thomson would play arguably the best game of his career with 17 disposals, six marks (two contested) and seven one-percenters.

But one player, much like Nick Davis two weeks earlier, would etch his name into footy folklore after the final kick of the match.

That mark

With little to no time left, Dean Cox took his seventh mark of the match and quickly bombed the ball back inside 50. A mark and there could have potentially been a kick after the siren.

There was a mark… but it wasn’t an Eagle with the ball. It was Leo Barry.

The mark that won a premiership. (Picture: Sydney Swans)

The most incredible mark he would ever take, that saved a premiership. And Roos didn’t see it happen live.

“I remember the ball got kicked out, Dean Cox marked it and kicked it in, and I looked down the other end of the ground [like] ‘nothing we can do about it now,’ he said.

“And then someone yelled out ‘Leo’s marked it’ and we couldn’t hear the siren – someone had yelled out ‘the siren’s gone’ so yeah it was all over.

“I put my head down like ‘there’s nothing the coaches can do now, we know there’s hardly any time to go so hope that our players, you know it stacks up and we win,’ and that’s what happened.”

Drought broken

A 72-year premiership drought was broken. And Roos was the man to do it.

The emotion of the occasion became clear as he sat in the box, before making his way down to the field.

“The emotion after the game, sitting with the coaches, going down onto the field watching the fans in the grandstands, all the supporters and members who’d put money in, the high-profile supporters that had chucked money in for private ownership, and lost a lot of money,” he said.

“Barry Round, Dennis Carroll, [and] Paul Kelly [who] gave us the premiership cup. It’s just hard to articulate, it’s just an incredible day.”

So how did Roos attempt to do so? Through three simple words, which came to him as he was coming down to the field.

“I remember seeing a banner that said two cities one team and I thought, it really is the culmination, and you could see the excitement, but you could also see the pain and the sweat, and it wasn’t about the 22 or even about 2005,” he said.

“It was about the guys who relocated, it was about Bobby Skilton, it was about all the years establishing the culture and that sort of stuff.

“So, I think that’s what it came as, for the enormous amount of work over 72 years and for the enormous amount of people, here it is, finally, here it is.

“I didn’t know how it was going to come out, but I think it did articulate it for everyone. Here it is, it’s finally here.”

AFL / Aussie Rules Football Training: Coaches Pump Up Speeches
HERE IT IS! 72 years washed away with just three words. (Picture: Junktime AFL/Twitter)

So, after it was all said and done, what did Roos take away from 2005?

“I think we established a culture; we established the way we wanted to act and behave, we had high standards and that just set the standards for Sydney for many years to come, and that’s exactly what I tried to bring to the Melbourne Footy Club,” he said.

“Everyone knowing their role, everyone playing their role, no egos, clear set of behaviours, and I certainly still believe in it in my business life.

“That’s just the way I see a high-performing team, it’s difficult, its time consuming, it’s tough it’s relentless, but that’s just the way it has to be.”

Roos’s role in securing a premiership long thought unobtainable for South Melbourne/Sydney means he will never be forgotten.

For what he did as a player, Paul Roos is a Fitzroy and Swans legend. But for what he did as a coach, he is a Swans icon.

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