Resilience – A Story of Sydney Swans Legend Michael O’Loughlin
Micky O, as he if commonly referred to, has had an incredible journey in AFL football and is in a unique position to share his vast experience with the next generations of footballers. At the 2017 National AFL Male Kickstart and All Nations Championships Michael did exactly that when asked to motivate the boys with a talk about his background.
The following story is taken from a transcript of his presentation to the players during the championships. Not a pin drop could be heard as Michael entranced his audience.
I’m originally from Adelaide and moved to Sydney as a 17-year old to play footy with the Swans. I’m from a little place called Salisbury in Adelaide where I spent a lot of time at the Central District footy club. I guess the journey to get to Sydney has been a pretty tough one.
I can remember an incident playing when I was 16, just turned 17, when I was playing for Centrals and it was half time [in] a final and the coach pulled me aside in front of everyone and said “Michael O’Loughlin, you’ve been the worst player on the ground. You’ve been shithouse.” – and there may be some coaches here who have maybe used that language – and he said “you will never play league football here in South Australia.” That was his words.
And you can imagine me, just turned 17, how do I feel about that? [It was] half time of a final and I went out in the second half and played absolutely terribly again. Luckily for us we had a double chance.
I went to training on Tuesday at Centrals and I walked into the room with my bag and footy boots and what not and a couple of my friends and my cousins actually said “what are you doing here?” I said “What do you mean? We’ve got another game on Saturday [and] we’re going to win this game and get to the grand final.” They said “the coach absolutely just shamed you out, called you everything under the sun. Why are you here?” I said “well, I’m a part of the team and I think we can win this game – I’ll train hard and if I get picked, great, and if I don’t, so be it. I’m not going to let a coach tell me that I’m no good because I reckon I’ve got something to offer.”
So, anyway, I played Saturday and I played a pretty good game – we lost [and] we were out of the finals.
Fast forward about a month later, I got a couple of phone calls from AFL clubs to say “Hey, we’re interested in you – we’ve been watching you since you were 15, we’d love to come and have a chat with you.”
So, one of the last clubs to come was the Sydney Swans – I’m thinking Carlton was the other club, Melbourne and the Brisbane Bears as it was then. My name ended up getting read out at the draft by Sydney.
I got picked up at the airport and I got talking to the recruiting manager who picked me up and I sort of scratched my head, and all I had in my backpack – all the other boys had luggage and I had this backpack, poor little black fella from Salisbury – and all I had was a pair of socks, jocks and footy boots, a pair of jeans and a jumper. That’s all I had. The Swans had to take me shopping to buy me stuff.
But I sat there and spoke to the recruiting manager and I said “can I ask you a question?” and he said “Yeah.” [I said] “Why did you draft me?” He said “Oh, Michael, we think you’ve got some talent. You’ve got to work harder and do a lot of other things to be a better player.” And then the one thing that really, really clicked was – little did I know that that recruiter was in the huddle when the coach went off at me about a month before that and he heard the coach call me this, this and this and he said you’ll never play league footy in South Australia, “and what surprised us is that you actually went to training, you played and you played really well.” He said “that told us a lot about you.”
“We knew you had got some real talent, but you showed you had some resilience and showed some toughness and showed some shit.”
And that’s a really big lesson and I hope it resonates with a lot of you guys. Now I think back to those days when the coach got stuck into me.
Not only that game but a few games and I thought that coach had it in for me and I was probably a frustrating player to coach. But if I had given up and not turned up at training, you know what? The Swans wouldn’t have picked me and other clubs wouldn’t have come and knocked on the door either. So I think about going through tough times – you’re out of form or struggling with injury – [and] I always think about that day when the coach tore me to shreds and I say “OK, I think I’ve got something here. I reckon I’m an OK player. I’ve continued to train and get picked and obviously play.
And I think about that coach and he was actually right. I never did play league footy in South Australia – I only played 300 AFL games instead.
So the whole point is you are going to have so many doors shut on you and so many people tell you you’re no good – only one person can change that, and that’s you guys.
And I guess the other point is you’ve got to keep improving – doing the same things over and over again. Guys, it’s not rocket science. You will dictate where you are going to finish, whether you play AFL football, play local football, raise a family, go out and get a job, all those kind of things. You dictate that.
Now, you can point the blame on a lot of other people but ultimately only you guys have a say in where your life ends up.
Michael O’Loughlin’s speech was an inspiration to all of the players present at the championships. But his messages go far beyond that group of young men. His observations are a valuable lesson for anyone trying to chase their dreams and have an eye open on the pitfalls of the journey and how to face and defeat them.