A crippled Swan on top of a world of pain
Sweet relief: Only days before his grand final game, Ted Richards was barely able to stand. Photo: Joe Armao
IN THE high emotion of a premiership aftermath, the truth so often pours out. Particularly when it has been concealed, or even denied, in the days before.
After Sydney's preliminary final win against Collingwood eight days earlier, the Swans' leading defender, Ted Richards, was physically unable to drive home from the game. With the left ankle he injured early against the Pies blown up and expanding - ligaments were completely torn - the ensuing days for a man who should have been on top of the world after an All-Australian award were not only painful but angst-ridden.
In daylight hours, and throughout the night, Richards was ordered to ice. He had fluid drained from a lower leg that was black and blue, and eight rounds of pain-killing injections, but no one outside the inner sanctum was to know. With scan results tucked under his arm that showed the severe ligament damage that, under normal circumstances, might have ruled him out for six weeks, Richards told a TV journalist he was 100 per cent. But having survived an epic fight for a premiership on Saturday, Richards was liberated at last to come clean.
''My ankle is pretty much being held together with tape,'' the 29-year-old confessed, standing in the victorious Swans rooms with a medallion that compensated for all discomfort.
''After the preliminary final, my brother drove me home because I couldn't drive. I was incredibly, incredibly nervous about what was going to happen. It had completely blown up. The ankle was stuffed.
''I've been telling lies all week, saying that it was fine. I couldn't believe it the day after we won against Collingwood and I walked into the club with the scans under my arm and there was a journalist out the front. I was telling him, 'I'm fine', while thinking, thank god he couldn't see the scans.''
Sydney's doctor, Nathan Gibbs, who in 15 seasons working at the Swans has helped prepare and patch up the AFL's most admired warriors, told The Age he administered 12 pain-killing injections to Richards in total. Four were during Saturday's game. Gibbs rated Richards' effort to endure pain for a grand final as highly as any case he'd seen.
Despite his condition, there was never any doubt in Richards' mind he would play - so long as he was upright, he was going to carry out the task of minding Hawthorn star Lance Franklin. The only question was how much it would hurt.
Post-match, Richards could not say whether his injury, or thoughts of his impending opponent, was more consuming: ''They were two areas of concern,'' he laughed with his big feet at last freed from footy boots.
While Franklin was one of the best players in the grand final with three goals, Richards won some crucial final-term contests and, in a telling fourth-quarter moment, watched his uncertain opponent pass the ball to teammate Jack Gunston rather than line up himself for a set shot.
''I tried my best,'' Richards said of his duel with Franklin. ''I think I would have been beaten, but I'm just excited we won.''
Once an Essendon player who relocated to Sydney for the 2006 season, Richards is yet another Swans success story. Only two years ago, when he was battling in the reserves for what felt like endless stints, Richards believed his football career was over. He had done everything but book an airfare to Sweden, where he planned to live with his brother and continue his university studies.
''There were probably times in 2010 if you told me I was going to be playing in 2011, let alone be part of a premiership in 2012 I just wouldn't have believed it,'' he said.
Though he was denied - for the best of reasons - the opportunity to celebrate the Brownlow Medal victory of his close mate Jobe Watson at the start of grand final week, the pair caught up for coffee in South Melbourne on grand final eve.
''He told me they were going to have a beer for every goal I kicked, which was ridiculous,'' Richards said.
''On Monday night, I watched the Brownlow at home by myself. But I was that excited when Jobe won because back in 2004, 2005 we used to drive into training together and were both battling away in the twos.''
That Richards and Watson are now preparing, with a couple of other usual Essendon suspects, for an annual jaunt overseas shows that some things haven't changed. But a couple of major things that have - in one remarkable week - will be the inspiration for many a toast.