MONGREL IS A GOOD WORD
When the news was announced that the Sydney Swans’ 1994 Best &
Fairest Award had been won by Daryn Cresswell, the football fraternity
might have been excused for asking, "Daryn Who?" And even though ardent
Swans supporters would have agreed that this gritty utility player was
one of the side's most consistent and determined performers, they’d still
be hard-pressed to nominate the highlights of his season.
One of the highlights was in Round 6, when the Swans lost to
Carlton at Princes Park. Cresswell was put onto a rampaging Greg
Williams after half-time, and virtually full-stopped the Blues’ champ’s
momentum. One of his other season highlights was doing the same thing
again at the SCG in Round 21 - only this time shutting Williams out of
the game set the Swans up for a fine win. "l was a bit lucky that day,"
Cresswell chuckles modestly now.
Even though Williams eventually romped the Brownlow in, he
certainly didn't poll any votes in those two games. Cresswell
scraped into the Brownlow count with a scant three votes. Yet he won the
Laurie Nash Medal by a mile - at 493 points, 170 points ahead ahead of
second place-getter Mark Bayes, on 323 points.
Effective if unspectacular, Cresswell’s name was a routine fixture
in the Swans' own Best list during 1994, and it's perhaps a measure of
the new style at Sydney that the club’s brains-trust acknowledges the
value of such a player.
Cresswell is one of a clutch of so-called no-name players the
Swans have - alongside the likes Dean McRae, Gavin Rose, even Andrew
Dunkley - who never said die throughout 1994, and gave the team a lot of drive.
Ron Barassi praised him as one who gives "100%, week after week, on
the playing field and at training."
"l don’t really like to think of myself as a tagger so much as a guy who can pick
up a dangerous opponent, but also get a few possessions himself,” says
Cresswell. And indeed, his stats reflect the claim, as he averaged 28
possessions per game. His disposal sometimes lets him down, but in 47
games, he's kicked 48 goals, which is still handy.
Recruited from North Hobart in the 1992 mid-season draft,
Cresswell arrived at a Sydney club he describes now as "a bit of
shambles." Under coach Gary Buckernara, the Swans hit new lows. But
with the team in the middle of a record losing streak, Cresswell admits
he saw the opportunity to advance his own career. He played only two
games in the Reserves before he was promoted to the Seniors, where he
played out the season’s remaining seven games.
Now 23, 183 cm tall and 83 kilos, Cresswell’s usually been
assigned a tagging role either on the ball or in the mid-field. But his
aggressiveness, pace, growing confidence and good anticipation has seen
this tagger often overtake his quarry.
The manner in which he destroyed Greg Williams in Round 21 goes
some way to explaining hissuccess generally. Cresswell was quite
willing to mix it in close, but at the same time, game enough to exploit
Williiams's weakness in the open, and run off him. Williams was left, as
he can be, standing flat-footed. Cresswell gathered 33 possessions that
dag, to Williams’s paltry (by his standards) 15.
Another highlight of Creswell’s season was the Swans’ last-round
game at home against Melbourne. Cresswell was named as a free-ranging
ruck-rover, and he relished the opportunity. He booted three goals in the
first quarter, which set the Swans up on the way to a win, and finished
the dag with 26 possessions, including five marks arid another goal.
Cresswell pays former Geelong stager Mark Yeates great credit in
his development. As a 17-gear old in 1988, Cresswell played half-
forward flank for Glenorchy; he duly represented Tasmania in the Teal
Cup, and won All-Australian selection. The Cats thus snapped him up. But
Cresswell player only a couple of games for the Geelong Under-19s in ’89
before homesickness got the better of him. Joining North Hobart in 1990,
he played under coach Yeates. When Geelong delisted him in ’92,
Sydriey, prompted by Yeates, immediately came down with an offer. By then,
Cresswell was ready.
After such an auspicious introduction to AFL football in 1992, it
was almost inevitable that the following season, under new coach Ron
Barassi, would test Cresswell. He held his place in the side, but his form
slipped. Repairing to Tasmania for a break at season’s end, he determined
to get much fitter, and give it a real go - and he hasn’t looked back.
Right now, Cresswell's got his feet up. At this stage of the off-
season, like lots of players, he's taken the opportunity to undergo
elective surgery. But a hernia operation caused only a mirror hiccup in an
already-rigorous training schedule. A fitness obsessive, Cresswell is
chuffed with the mountain-bike he was awarded for winning, recently,
the Channel 7 Cycle Classic. lt was only strict doctor's instructions that
kept him from competing, complete with fresh hernia scar, in the final
leg of the 1994 Australian Health Show fitness test. Up until then, he had
been running second in a field of Australia's top athletes.
Cresswell comes over all coy when the subject of his contract
with the Swans - which still has two years to run - is bought up. He says
he wants to concentrate an next season and then consider his options. But
having a house and a business in Sydney (a gardening firm in partnership
with team-mates Mark Bayes and Andrew Dunkley), and also
acknowledging the fact that the Swans must hang on to the young players
the develop, suggests that he'd like to stay. There is perhaps even,
daresay, a bond among the Swans players that have seen the very bottom
- and that bond will only strengthen their resolve to collectively lift.
The feeling at Sydney now is that 1994 was perhaps something of
a false-start. The sort of 'no name' players like Cresswell who soldiered
so valiantly only to so often see all their hard work came to naught will
now, with the addition of real fire-power like Tony Lockett, expect to
see it finished. In turn, this can only spur the rest of the side.
Cresswell himself hopes that one of the Swans’ hungry
youngsters might challenge him for his position in the side. That way, he
can set his own sights on becoming a player mare like the one he was in
that last game of ’94 against the Demons. A damaging, tireless runner.
"Its just got to be work, work, work," he shrugs. He seems at ease
with the challenge.