Lismore Swans – A Footy Team On The Frontier

The 2014 season hangs in the balance for the Lismore Swans. With 3 wins, 3 losses and a draw, the Swans sit 3rd of 6 teams on the QAFA B (South) ladder. The pace is being set by the unbeaten Bond University Bullsharks and last season’s runners up, the Tweed Coast Tigers. In the remaining 10 games, reigning premiers the Byron-Bangalow Magpies and the Robina Roos have some ground to make up with only 1 win apiece. Possessing an identical ledger to the Swans, the Ballina Bombers’ season is also evenly poised. Time will tell if these two teams improve to be legitimate premiership contenders or fade into also-rans.

The season began on the right note for the Swans when they defeated the Roos on the Gold Coast by 23 points. But a difficult month ensued. Ballina spoiled the Swans’ first home game at Gloria Mortimer Oval to the tune of 36 points. A tough trip to Pottsville to take on Tweed Coast was made tougher when Tiger full-forward Ash Gemmill slotted 8 majors. After that 40-point defeat, Lismore again hit the road to the Gold Coast to take on the rampant Bond Uni. An improved defensive effort limited the loss to 23 points, but the Swans were staring down the barrel of a 1-3 win-loss record.

Back in Lismore, the Swans welcomed the Magpies in a must-win affair. With the warm May sun beating down, the Swans beat the Magpies by a comfortable 7 goals. A highlight of the win was veteran Simon Howard kicking a sealing goal in his 200th game for the Swans. Again to the Gold Coast for their second away game against Robina, the Swans returned victorious. Despite the 9:45am start, a 35-point margin gave the team cause for cheer on the bus ride home.

Coach Joe Mitchell welcomed the team’s improvement. Although the loss against Bond was hard to take, he was pleased by the efforts of his under-manned team. Mitchell believes that the strong defensive effort that day set the standard led to the ensuing victories.

With both teams on 3 wins and 3 losses, the match between Ballina and the Swans was expected to be tight. Lismore’s players drove the short journey to the seaside town on another warm, sunny Saturday. The game was close but the Bombers were the more efficient team at scoring. To 3/4 time they had kicked 7 goals from fewer possessions, while the Swans were held to 4. But an inspired final term saw the Swans come back hard. Swingman Angus Legoe snuck forward to kick a brace and equal the scores. Although they possessed superior fitness, time ran out for the Swans and the siren sounded signalling a draw.

The challenges facing the Swans are legion. In the Northern Rivers region of NSW, footy comes a distant 4th in the football codes. Soccer reigns supreme in the former rugby league stronghold, while a few union stalwarts remain. This battle of the footballs leaves the Swans with a home ground and facilities that make them envious of the other codes. President and centre half forward Wes Seewald is in the process of negotiating for improvements. His dealings with different bureaucracies have seen some success and new changerooms are planned for Gloria Mortimer Oval. A long-term move to Oakes Oval is also in the works.

Despite the state of the clubrooms, the Lismore Swans retain a vibrant club atmosphere. Many players spent their formative years playing footy at rural Victorian and South Australian clubs and have looked to replicate their experiences after moving north. Mitchell hails from Kyneton in central Victoria, while Legoe grew up near Naracoorte in eastern South Australia. Half-back flanker Jesha Bone escaped the cold of Ballarat for the warmth of northern NSW with his partner and kids. Captain Scott Brown is another South Australian and moved up with his partner to manage a macadamia farm near Eureka.

A glorious feature of country football clubs is that they include those from all walks of life. The Swans are no exception. Macadamia-farming Brown roves balls from his orthopaedic surgeon ruckman Luke Henschke. Seewald is completing his law studies while he clerks at the Aboriginal Legal Service. Dairy co-operative Norco employ Legoe as an agronomist. Full-forward Dean Webb spends his days installing insulation as utility Will Alexander hones his physique at the Southern Cross Uni gym.

Sitting in a valley between Lismore and Goonellabah, Southern Cross Uni is an important part of many Lismore Swans’ lives. On-baller Shaun King moved up from Kiama on NSW’s south coast to study Sport & Exercise Science, in which he is now completing a Masters. The New England trio of Andrew James, Nathan Keam and Brodie Calvert study the same course as King and all took up footy at the Swans after playing rugby and basketball as juniors. Rad Schofield is another learning the game as he also learns about Environmental Science at SCU.

A challenge of Mitchell’s is to take a disparate group of people with differing experience of footy and mould them into a team capable of winning games. For all of their different life experiences, these young men voluntarily come together for training, games and socialising at the club’s sponsor The Richmond Hotel. It is not always easy, especially with regular games on the Gold Coast, an hour and a half drive away. But the positive feeling surrounding the club demonstrates that Mitchell is performing his task well, as is President Seewald.

Although the Lismore Swans play footy in territory usually reserved for other codes, they retain the unmistakable feel of an Australian football club. The players and people involved voluntarily give their time for a cause that creates a community where they reside. This gives a richness to their lives as they work and study in the Lismore region. With 10 games still to play, the on-field prospects hang in the balance. But, to a large extent, the prospect of winning the premiership is secondary. The real measure of the Swans’ success is that there exists a footy club in Lismore that gives people a community and a place to have a kick.


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    We’ll done and good luck , Liam your last paragraph is so true clubs just don’t get it and have to raise ridiculous amounts of money to in general pay football mercenaries if only clubs used a brain and worked out club community and culture is the most important thing and that winning the flag is not that is a added bonus thanks , Liam

  2. Dr Rocket says

    What’s happened to the Summerland Australian Football League!???

    There were once 7 clubs:

    Byron Bay
    Goonellabah Swans
    Lismore Roos
    Tweed Heads

    Even Coolangatta and Grafton were in the comp at one stage.

  3. Malcom – thanks for the comment. It was heartening to find a club like the Swans. You mention the culture of money in football clubs and I think you have hit the nail on the head. Of course the Swans don’t pay players, they probably can’t afford to. And I think it is similar with other clubs in the league. So it is more traditional in that it is one community team against another. All doing it for each other and the jumper! The way footy should be!

    Dr Rocket – I’m not an expert on the history of Northern Rivers footy, I’m only passing through. But Lismore definitely did play in the Summerland comp, won the flag in 2011. Nimbin certainly had a team (the Demons I think). Obviously Tweed, Byron, and Ballina still exist. Lismore and Goonellabah merged over a decade ago. I’m not sure about the others.
    Grafton Tigers still exist but they play in the North Coast league based around Coffs Harbour. There are only 4 or 5 teams in that comp.
    From chatting to a few lads, the league and the teams in it have changed regularly. But I think they see their future based with AFL Queensland. The Gold Coast has a strong competition with different tiers. There was a push this year for all teams to field a reserves team and hopefully this improves as it will give stability to the clubs in the league. But we will see!
    There is a good summary of the Summerland comp on Wikipedia –

  4. Good article Liam, except for one oversight. The 2014 Premiership Flag was actually claimed by Tweed Coast Tigers over Byron Magpies in a thriller at Fripp Oval Ballina.

  5. *Apologies Liam, please excuse the typo, “the 2013 Premiership Flag was claimed by Tweed Coast Tigers”. The 2014 Flag is still in contention with Bond, Tweed, Lismore and Ballina to fight it out over the coming weeks.

  6. Thanks Ben!

    A guy at the Swans told me I had made that mistake but obviously it isn’t changed in the article. I think I got the circumstances right but the teams the wrong way round! I didn’t see the game but apparently it was a ripper.

    I have been pretty pleased to see the Swans doing well in the second half of the year. Although their win-loss record doesn’t appear as good as Bond’s or Tweed’s, I think they might be able to give those two favourites a shake in the fight for the 2014 flag.

    Go Swans!

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