King of the kids: Nick Davis with the Swans’ youth academy team. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
Sydney v Geelong
SOME weeks ago Nick Davis stood on the SCG and recreated again and again several versions of the left-foot snap that, in 2005, cruelled Geelong in a second semi-final. If heroic actions punctuate premiership journeys, only Leo Barry's mark - also in the dying seconds - two weeks later provided a bigger exclamation mark in Sydney's premiership.
The 2012 Davis had been lured back to the scene by his father Craig, who was hosting a hall-of-fame function for NSW University and who offered $1000 to any guest who could beat or replicate one of his son's famous four last-quarter goals. ''I kept my money in my pocket,'' boasted the old man yesterday.
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Young Davis, now 32, agreed that few in football would have been surprised had his AFL involvement these days been limited to such sideshow acts.
A dislocated knee in 2008 finished his career and his departure from the Swans was a little sad, with Davis looking elsewhere and no one wanting an inconsistent 28-year-old perceived as an outsider.
Certainly, Davis or his old club never would have foreseen he would be back at the SCG tonight, four seasons after retirement, delivering instructions to the players in another Friday night game against Geelong. ''I just hope they don't need me to come on in the last quarter,'' he quipped yesterday.
Davis and his young family left Sydney at the end of 2008 for Mornington where Davis, whose wife Anna is a track rider, worked in the stables of trainer Rodney Douglas. Some at the Swans wondered if the life of a traveller beckoned for the young man whom Mick Malthouse once described as being a victim of not growing up. Later, back in Sydney, he worked at Nathan Tinkler's Patinack Farm stables.
Now Davis is back at the Swans, with his job description seemingly expanding by the month. Club chief executive Andrew Ireland contacted Davis at the end of 2010, along with outgoing coach Paul Roos, who wanted him to take a coaching position at the new Swans AFL Academy.
Not only did the two men harbour some faith in Davis' football instincts, they believed he would be the perfect match for the academy's Sydney-based southern zone. They were not disappointed with Davis also being placed in charge of the under-18 academy side.
''Perception becomes reality and I had a perception that I was ill-disciplined,'' Davis told The Age. ''But I thought I had a fair knowledge of footy and that's why I probably lasted 10 years in the game - longer than people thought I should.''
Davis ran into his old forward coach from 2005, John Longmire, earlier this season in Launceston. His teenaged side was playing before the Swans' clash with Hawthorn and Longmire asked Davis if he would act as his runner that day. Sydney wanted to use Stuart Maxfield elsewhere and skills acquisitions coach Ben Moore had been doing the job but now Davis has taken over the role.
The former Swan said he had always enjoyed a great working relationship with Longmire.
Davis recently joked to Ireland that he was fitter now than when he was playing and, after the club's recent soggy thrashing of the Western Bulldogs, he told former teammate Ted Richards that he had never run so far in such heavy boots on a waterlogged ground.
''They're happy to have me back and cop the messages, I think,'' Davis said. ''Hopefully I can be a relaxing influence and calm the boys down a bit although I had to do a bit more work than I expected in the last quarter against Essendon the other week.
''There was bits of my footy career I didn't enjoy but being there on game day with the boys - I loved that.''
Davis, who works part-time at his father's kicking academy, is also working with the senior Swans as a kicking coach. He was assigned young key forward Sam Reid this season and arrives each week at the club when goal-kicking practice begins. The Swans say Davis' laid-back style suits Reid while Davis himself describes his young pupil as a ''great kid who's only played 30 games and has got a hell of a lot of pressure on him, which is unfair''.
And he relishes his time working with horses, now at the stables of Pat and Wayne Webster at Randwick. Davis works as a strapper and claims his special touch has to do with his sympathetic handling of the animals. ''I know what it's like to have to train when you don't feel like it,'' he said, ''and so I'm probably kinder with things like gallops and swimming.''
Davis ended his playing career with Collingwood and Sydney on 168 games - his father played at four clubs (Carlton, Collingwood, North Melbourne and the Swans) - and his place in Swans history was sealed with that miraculous quarter almost seven years ago. Geelong began the final term ahead by 23 points and everything pointed to a disastrous night for Davis.
He had arrived at the SCG 25 minutes late - ''It was a Friday night and I hadn't counted on the traffic'' - and he re-corked Paul Williams' injured thigh in the rooms before the game. Davis' opponent, David Johnson, goaled early in the last quarter and Brett Kirk told his teammate: ''You owe us a goal.''
Kirk now credits Davis' final term as one of his two greatest SCG highlights, while Roos, after the game, said of his forward's performance: ''It's a big statement, but it's as good a final quarter of footy that you're probably going to see.''
Davis recalled this week that he was playing to Roos' three-quarter-time instructions to sit outside the stoppages and respond if the ball came his way. ''One could so easily have been touched or hit the post,'' he said. ''Someone was looking after me that night.''
He is working to find out if he could make coaching a career. ''Right now my personality and knowledge is more suited to kids and we're talking about first- or second-generation footballers in Sydney who usually don't have any great tradition with the game.''
And of himself: ''I don't know whether I've grown up. It is what it is and you just do [your] best with it.''