No prizes for guessing that 11-year-old Ryan O'Keefe and his nine-year-old brother Jude are fanatical about the Sydney Swans. But listen to Ryan chew the fat over the Swans' prospects for the 2018 season, which kicks off on March 22, and you could be forgiven for thinking you're listening to a TV pundit. Here's Ryan on Swans midfielders Josh Kennedy, Luke Parker and Isaac Heeney: "Kennedy distributes the ball really well – he's great at exerting pressure, with his tackling, spoiling … Parker has good defensive efforts, first and second efforts."
Not that Ryan is averse to the personal touch, too: "Grandma really loves Heeney – he's the man of her dreams. She says if she was 20 years younger … but I reckon she'd have to be a lot more than 20 years younger."
What are the brothers' most prized pieces of sports merchandise? "The signed guernseys," says Ryan, who was named after former Sydney Swans player Ryan O'Keefe. "Why would we give up any of them?" demands Jude, named after former Swans captain Jude Bolton. "Especially this hat I'm wearing."
The boys' dad, Todd, followed South Melbourne before the club became the Sydney Swans in 1982. He's been a member since he was 14 (a promising training contract was brought to a premature end after injury). Mum Michelle switched to AFL in 1990 after meeting Todd.
In football, fans are everything. While fan merchandise is still a small part of the code's revenue – after TV rights, sponsorships and ticket sales – it's on the rise. The Swans saw a 15 per cent jump in online merchandise sales last year, and its no surprise that interest in Richmond merchandise also soared during its premiership season. AFL is still the biggest money spinner of the football codes, about three times that of rugby league and six times that of rugby union.
And the Swans' chances for 2018? "At least the semifinal," predicts Jude. "The grand final," insists Ryan, who was recently accepted into the Swans Academy.