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Clarke doesn't want to miss what's building at Swans

Friday, November 10, 2023 - 3:40 PM

Aidan Clarke owed it to himself to consider his football future but ultimately the Swan Districts hard man and damaging midfielder feels something special is on the horizon at the black-and-whites and wants to be part of it.

Clarke is now 65 games into his WAFL career with Swan Districts having made his debut in 2016 and he has turned himself into one of the most effective, damaging, and consistent midfielders in the competition.

The 25-year-old is fresh off an outstanding 2023 season despite missing a month with a hamstring injury that saw him end up finishing runner-up in Swan Medal voting behind Jesse Turner and being named to the WAFL Team of the Year.

On the back of that, Clarke had a big decision to make about where his footballing future lied in 2024 and beyond, and he wouldn’t have done himself justice if he didn’t explore his opportunities.

There's no question that Clarke has a skill set that wouldn’t be out of place in the AFL so trying to help get himself noticed at the next level had to come into his thinking, and if he was to continue playing at state league level, he wanted it to be where he'd not only thrive, but most enjoy himself.

In the end, with the faith he has in what's building at Swan Districts, the midfield he will be a key part of in 2024, and just not wanting to miss out on things at Steel Blue Oval, Clarke couldn’t have imagined going anywhere.

"It was an easy decision in the end, but you do always have to take into account all options," Clarke said.

"I've always wanted to get the most I can out of footy in terms of life experiences and things I want to achieve, but just with Swans are at right now compared to where they've been all the years since I've been there, and the way the club's run now, it's completely different to when I first came here.

"I just feel like it could be a bad time to leave because I think there's a lot of good days ahead for Swans."

While Clarke did listen to other opportunities that might have been presented both within the competition and interstate, in the end it was a bit of a no-brainer of a decision for him to stay with Swan Districts.

"You do have to weigh a lot of things up especially coming into this most important period of my career, but coming off last season I had my best year so far," he said.

"So I want to be able to build on that and with the players we've got coming in I think they can really complement my footy as well so I think I'd be a bit silly to leave right now."

The Swan Districts midfield was already a growing strength of the team in 2023 with Clarke leading the way alongside Swan Medallist Jesse Turner, gun recruit Jackson McLachlan and the ever-reliable Josh Cipro.

There's an impressive group of emerging young on-ballers at Swans too and then topped off with new recruits Jye Chalcraft and Nik Rokahr, and that midfield unit is a big reason why Clarke wanted to stay at Swan Districts.

"I'm super excited about the midfield we're building. I know normally for us we're good everywhere else around the ground and we don’t quite have the midfield depth of some of the top teams, but it might be a bit different now," Clarke said.

"Our midfield will be one of our strengths I think which is going to be really nice to be part of and hopefully we can all bring the best out of our team."

Clarke made a blistering start to the 2023 season with 38 possessions and a goal in Round 1 before tearing a hamstring the next week and being sidelined over the next month.

However, once he returned, he picked right back where he left off and ended up averaging 28.3 disposals a game while kicking 12 goals.

Not only did he continue to win the hard ball, but his left boot was mighty damaging, and in the end, he was named to the Team of the Week nine times from the 13 full games he played to book in a place in the Team of the Year for the first time.

Clarke enjoyed the chance to be more damaging forward while doing his work on the ball and will look to continue to show his versatility moving forward.

"It's good to have more facets to your game so you can't just rely on one strength that you might have so that was good to show the different things I could do last year," he said.

"I just need to keep building on that and hopefully might spend a bit more time in the forward-line next season now that we have a bit more depth through our midfield. It's always fun to kick some goals."

Looking back on the 2023 as a team for Swan Districts and it was just one where luck never seemed to go their way. There was a string of single figure losses to start the season and then injuries continued to mount and nothing close to a full-strength side ever got out on the park.

However, with the knowledge that they were still so competitive despite all that, and Clarke is nothing but positive about what he thinks is possible in 2024.

"The hardest part about footy is hoping the luck goes your way because it's just out of your control, but looking back on all those close losses and knowing we were right there last year, it does let us know that we're not far away and it could have been different if we won a couple of them," Clarke said.

"Then having the reserves win the flag too, they're not an old group so there's a lot of young guys coming through from that team so they will be looking for opportunities to make us better in 2024 as well."

In a personal sense, Clarke is using this time to get his body as ready as possible to hit the ground running for the start of pre-season training, and then the ultimate goal will be to in the best possible shape to be out there for every game in 2024.

"Coming off my hamstring, I was pretty banged up most of last season so this off-season I'll just work on getting my body right and to be ready for pre-season," he said.

"But at the same time, the focus will be on making sure you're ready to peak in July or August, you don't need to be peaking in April. So I want to do everything I can to make sure I can play every game and am working on the little things to get my body right."

It might only be November, but Clarke is already excited thinking about what will be possible for Swan Districts in 2024 and there's a number of fronts behind his optimism.

"Excited would be the best way to describe how I feel about next year," Clarke said.

"Having a first year coach come in, there's always a little bit of a period of getting to know the group, and it doesn’t always just happen straight away. But now that Pruey has had a year under his belt we can really launch into next year and I know all the boys feel the same way."