Ryan Hebron was a Sydney Swans Academy player. He’s not the headline of the draft class, but he’s still a Sydney Swans player in 2021 for the VFL side.
His story has not been simple or easy, but he’s never given up, and after a few tumultuous years, he has found his way home.
Hebron was both an academy player, and a promising young cricketer.
He explains the impact the academy had on his decision, like so many others in the same position, to pick football.
“It was an amazing decision for a range of reasons for the Swans to invest heavily in the Academy program,” he explained.
“People realise when they come up to Sydney that they’re lifting the qualify of grassroots, and making people enjoy footy more.
“If you’re 50/50 with cricket, and you’ve got the Academy program, you’ll probably choose AFL.”
Hebron has long believed that Victorian recruiters and managers didn’t pay attention to the state leagues in non-Victorian states.
“There’s also the factor that the NEAFL was underrated… the top 5-10 people at most NEAFL teams were good, and I know that people in Melbourne didn’t care about that at all,” Hebron continued.
“I made NEAFL Team of the Year twice, and heard nothing from recruiters.”
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So Hebron made the decision to move down to the VFL, leaving New South Wales behind to play for Werribee in 2019.
“NEAFL was a good stepping stone, but you want to be competing against those good AFL clubs every week,” he said.
“There are ten or so in Melbourne, and you want to be playing against the listed players, because it means more when you play well.
“If you went down to Werribee and you didn’t know whether it was a VFL club or an AFL club, you’d think it was an elite facility, with elite coaches, and elite players.
“I had Mark Williams down there, who was unreal. I’ve got so much from him, and he’ll still check on me today, even though he’s at the Melbourne Demons now.”
With the pre-season announcement of the VFL expansion to include NEAFL standalone teams alongside the Swans, Giants, Suns and Lions reserves, it seemed almost pre-destined that Hebron would return to where it all started.
Part of why the return seemed a fait-accompli was Hebron’s background with the Swans. The other part of it was the fact that the team itself was almost a reunion side.
“I’ve played with or against most of the VFL boys. I played with Adam at Sydney Uni, and I knew Darcy [Cordell] and Harry Morrison [who played at UNSW] as well. I’d coached a couple of them, like Max Geddes [at the Swans Academy],” Hebron said.
Those AFL Sydney and NEAFL alumni are beginning to click now. Hebron believes they complement the listed players every week. And he can feel the energy about the club.
“It was a good vibe last time [with the Swans], but this time, you get the vibe that something’s definitely building at the Swans,” he said.
“They’ve got some unreal talent across the whole list, so I think its an exciting place to be.
“I think that if I can just go with the VFL boys, and we feel like we can definitely contribute to that in a positive way. We want to play finals, and that’s where you want to play well. VFL finals is a big stage with pressure.”
Hebron’s contribution is felt off the field as well.
In his final year of an exercise physiology degree, he has drawn close with the Swans training staff, and he plays an informal leadership role as well.
“It’s a pretty mature group, but I try and chip in when I can,” he said.
“I’ve been going pretty hard with my footy for a while, and I know I’ve got good relationships with the boys. I’ve tried to do that, and bring that experience to the team.”
And while Hebron nominated and was passed over in the mid-season draft, his eyes are firmly focused on his football, and the team for this season.
It will be fitting, if after all this time, there is something bigger on the horizon in Hebron’s future. The Swans may have invested in Ryan Hebron early, but he’s given back, and both sides can reap the rewards now.
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