Peerless Pebbles: A Tribute to Ryan O’Keefe

It feels odd to be writing about one of my all-time favourite footballers, as if they have retired. Ryan O’Keefe has not retired. I hope above anything else, that he finds his way back into the Swannies 22 soon. But, as the business end of the season draws closer, the chances of seeing the champion in the Swans’ number five guernsey again, are diminishing. There is no greater example of the toll that modern-day football takes on a player, than O’Keefe’s 2014 season. As coaches increasingly strive for speed and precision, the ‘old-school’ type footballer who sticks his head over the footy and crashes into packs, is in steep decline. Sure, there is still a place in our game for tough, inside midfielders, but watch out if you hit 30 and have lost some of your leg speed that you may have possessed in your younger days. As I feel that the story of this true Blood, has tumbled out of play like an Andrew Dunkley drop-punt, I would like to pay homage to this absolute champion of the Sydney Swans Football Club, whilst we are still lucky enough to have him.

I started to seriously follow the Swans around the time that the new millennium dawned. The relative success of the 1996 season had sparked my interest, and as I grew a little older (and obviously smarter), my attention turned to the Indigenous code and of course, as a New South Welshman at the time, the Swans. The timing of all of this means that I am beginning to see my first generation of Bloods play their entire career, and then unfortunately, as they all do, retire. Whether Ryan O’Keefe retires or plays on for another club next year, I will be saddened. An absolute success story of the Ricky Barham recruiting era, the man they call ‘Pebbles’ was recruited with Pick No. 56 of the 1999 National Draft. What a steal!

Some players really grab your attention as a supporter. Starting his career in defence, it was his laser-like left boot that stood out. However, it became imminently noticeable that this guy O’Keefe could run. Playing as a half-forward flanker, Pebbles changed the way that all players would perform in that role. An absolute gut-busting running machine, O’Keefe was a key contributor to the improving Swans of the early-mid 2000’s. As well as his running prowess, O’Keefe was an incredibly strong mark overhead. A combination that made him one of the most feared forwards in the country. He formed a lethal combination with O’Loughlin, Hall and Davis, in a forward line that would combine to win the club’s first flag in seventy-two years.

In early 2002, the Swans left for Coffs Harbour on a pre-season training camp that would transform the club and the way the football world would view them. This was the birth or re-birth, if you like, of the Bloods Culture. A team-first ethos, which was built upon three pillars: Hard, Disciplined, Relentless. No three words could better describe the way that Ryan O’Keefe played his footy. These traits earned Pebbles a special place in my heart as a Swans man. The devastating manner in which he attacked the footy, the meticulous preparation and training, the no-nonsense approach and the intense determination made this warrior stand out from the crowd.

Always a man for the big occasion, O’Keefe played the best two of his 286 matches on the big stage. The 2005 Preliminary Final saw the Swans go in as underdogs against Premiership fancies, St Kilda. O’Keefe was simply outstanding as he amassed twenty-four disposals, ten marks and two goals from a half-forward flank. Of course, as we all know the Swans went on to win and the rest is history.

In 2012, The Swans entered the Grand Final in a similar situation, although this time against Hawthorn. I will never forget being at the Young & Jackson Hotel before strolling across to the ‘G, and making conversation with another Bloods supporter, whom I’d never met. He was adamant… O’Keefe will win the Norm Smith! When I quizzed him as to why, his response was ‘He never lets us down’. What happened later that afternoon? He tackled his arse off , we won the flag and he won the coveted medal for the Best Player in the Grand Final. That sums up our gallant number five.

A much-loved member of the Swans family, an all-time favourite of my nephews who still nominate ‘Ryano’ as their number one man. Playing the role of mentor to the young Cygnets in the reserves this year, is not the most flattering of ways to possibly end your career, but from all reports, the man has been a true guiding light for the future Bloods of our club. I hope I am wrong, and I do get to see Pebbles run out for the Bloods again. Whatever the outcome next season, I will miss him. All Australian, Norm Smith Medallist, Bob Skilton Medallist and Dual Premiership Player. On behalf of Bloods supporters everywhere, thank you Pebbles. You just don’t get many come along in the mould of R. O’Keefe.

About Joe Moore

Learned the art of the drop-punt from Derek Kickett as Jamie Lawson watched on. And thus, a Swan for life. @joedmoore1979


  1. Keiran Croker says

    Well summed up Joe.

    Peebles is one of our modern day greats for all the reasons you outlined.

    It’s a shame that he has found himself in the twos, though everything you hear suggests he has still gone about his game the same way and is teaching the kids coming up.

    I suspect he will not get a farewell game, so like you just want to say well done Rhino! You are a legend!

  2. Thanks Keiran. It certainly sounds like he’s been the ultimate professional again this year, under very trying circumstances I’m sure. Unfortunately, I agree that he won’t get a farewell game, but leaves us with many great memories.

  3. Keiran Croker says

    Joey out for a few weeks, may open up an opportunity for Pebbles, though still suspect they will stick with the kids. The pace of Rohan and Towers, added to Jets, Harry, etc.. was significant today. Biggs also excellent.

  4. Would be great to see Pebbles get a game while Joey is injured, but I agree that his spot will probably go to a younger Swan. I’m thinking probably Mitchell, maybe Jones. The speed in this team at the moment is impressive and a great sign for the future. Biggs to be Mal’s replacement if he goes?

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