Palmer Feeling Right At Home With Swan Districts

Wednesday, February 7, 2018 - 9:06 AM

THE chance to try to help Swan Districts win a first WAFL premiership since 2010 while also working with an exciting colts group were contributing factors to Rhys Palmer coming to Bassendean following his 123-game AFL career.

After his time in the AFL at Fremantle, Greater Western Sydney and Carlton came to an end following the 2017 season, Palmer always knew that he would be returning home to Perth but the WAFL club he would be joining was far from a given.

The 28-year-old had plenty to weigh up when thinking of where his future lied as he embarked on life after the AFL having been in the system since being drafted by the Dockers as an 18-year-old back in 2007.

He went on to play some tremendous AFL football too across 123 games with the three clubs, including winning the AFL Rising Star in 2008, but things ended after his lone season in Melbourne with the Blues and it was time to return home.

With the combination of wanting to be part of a team on the field looking to build on their finals appearance in 2017 and to work with the colts group alongside new coach Greg Harding, Swan Districts quickly became the destination of choice for Palmer and he signed up for two years.

"Obviously Swan Districts have always had a very good youth development system and in saying that, Phil Smart is someone I have a lot of time for and I expressed my interest to him of working with the younger boys," Palmer said.

"There was an opportunity there to work closely with Greg Harding in helping out with some specialist coaching with the colts so that was very enticing. 

"And obviously with Adam Pickering coming on board, he's a fresh face to the club and I liked the idea of being in the same boat as everyone with having a new coach.

"And they did make the finals last year so they weren’t too far away. Even though a few boys left, I still thought we'd have a pretty good side and be a chance to win a grand final."

Palmer certainly didn’t join Swan Districts without an eye to being part of success on the field. 

He liked what he saw from the team in 2017 as they returned to the finals and now with a strong core group of players combined with a good emerging group, he is looking forward to what they can achieve in 2018.

"We have a really talented list that has been together for a couple of years now. Watching from afar, they seemed to be a team last year who went about their business and got the job done most weekends," he said.

"Hopefully I can add to that group too and we also have a few other players coming back. Hopefully we can all stick together and have a really good season.

"It's been a different approach for me coming into this season because I started my pre-season a bit later so I'm enjoying getting back into training now. But we train to play games and I'm looking forward to them coming around and for us getting a strong 22 together that can take on this season in a big way."

When Palmer initially joined Carlton in 2017 on the back of playing 69 AFL games with the Giants and 53 at the Dockers previous to that, he was looking forward to a longer stint than what ended up eventuating.

However, it wasn’t to be and once he knew his AFL career was behind him, he took the opportunity to take the first extended break of his adult life while also weighing up where his future lied.

He now couldn’t be more excited than to be rejoining the WAFL and to be doing it with Swan Districts even if getting back into training over the past month has had its challenges.

"I did still have another year on my contract but we came to a mutual agreement in the end with Carlton and I was probably always going to come home, but I did enjoy my time in Sydney when I was there for five years," Palmer said.

"But once I decided that I still had the passion to compete and play the game, I was always intending to play senior footy and I wanted to do that at WAFL level. Then it was just a matter of getting the team right.

"I took the full four months off after playing my last game in the last week of August and I can't say I did too much, but it was more of a mental getaway. It was too good to not have to follow a structure for a few months because everything in your AFL life is totally planned out.

"It was good to get away and think about what I wanted to do, and if I wanted to keep playing footy. I still have the passion there to train and play the game, and it's refreshing to come back to the WAFL environment.

"The first couple of weeks of training were a bit of a struggle I'm not going to lie, and it was a bit of a shock to the body, but I'm in my fourth week now and starting to feel good. I'm starting to get a bit fitter and getting used to a few of the boys at the club. It's been really refreshing and I'm enjoying my time."

Having grown up in Perth and beginning his AFL career close to home with the Dockers, it was a big move for Palmer to move to Sydney to join GWS back in 2012. 

But he loved that five years with the Giants so much that he did even briefly consider returning there when weighing up his future for 2018, but the chance to get back home won out in the end.

What it now means is that for the first time he's not a full-time footballer so that is going to take some adjusting and it certainly means he appreciates even more what long-term WAFL footballers have to go through and the dedication it takes.

"Obviously I've been away for six years now and when you are out of the system you realise how much energy you put into the training sessions and everything else," he said.

"It's a 24/7 job being in the AFL and it is very full on and it's a young man's game, but I am content and proud of what I achieved. Coming back, I feel happy with myself and glad to be back home around my family and friends who I've been away from for six years.

"You definitely have more appreciation for WAFL players and the time that they sacrifice to play and train, but they are also missing out on family time. I'm sure the girlfriends and wives are always hounding them about the amount of time they spend on footy with the three or four nights of training after work. 

"But I'm involved in property and am involved with renovating a property in Perth. I was quite fortunate to set myself up quite well so hopefully I can continue being involved in property and stay involved in that as well as footy."

Another significant factor in Palmer joining Swan Districts for 2018 and beyond was to help out developing and coaching with the colts.

He already couldn’t be more impressed with what he's seeing from that group for this upcoming season.

"I just remember in my time when I was a 16, 17 and 18-year-old and doing everything possible to make my dream a reality to play AFL footy, and it was such an exciting time. It's such an unknown period too because you never know if you will make it," Palmer said.

"Your family and friends are all pretty excited to see you doing well and they want to see your succeed, but nothing is guaranteed. But if I can get around the kids in that age bracket at the club and that starts with the colts, then I can try and help them out. 

"I'm already enjoying my time with them and these boys are so talented and enthusiastic. It reminds me of time at that age and I remember how exciting it is. The boys are so talented in the Swan Districts area and I wouldn’t be surprised if this colts team goes on to win the flag even though I've only seen them train the last three weeks. They are a group of super kids."

Chris Pike.