Injury has hindered Sam Naismith’s promising career at the Sydney Swans, although he had a breakthrough year in 2016 that included a grand final appearance.
To numerous New England kids, the Gunnedah high achiever is a role model – a classic example of a country kid reaching his lofty goals.
That is why it is appropriate that the AFL has named its new North West NSW secondary schools competition The Sam Naismith Cup. It features teams from Tamworth, Manilla, Inverell, Moree and Gunnedah. The divisions are open boys (all ages), under-15 boys and open youth girls.
Round one was in Gunnedah on Wednesday, with round two in Inverell on Friday. The final between the top two teams from each division is in Inverell on May 26.
Naismith said it was a privilege to have the competition named after him.
“It’s great to see AFL really kicking off in North West New South Wales, and to see the sport growing – especially at a grass roots level throughout schools,” he said.
“AFL was growing when I was back there but over the four to five years that I’ve been here in Sydney, it’s just blossomed even more, and it’s just great to see everyone embracing it.”
Standing 206 centimetres and playing in the ruck for the Swans, the former league junior originally got into footy after a friend invited him to a training session. He went along for a kick and loved it.
“I was 16 and because there were no juniors there at the time, I went straight into the senior comp,” he said. “Hopefully now with this new competition it promotes some more interest in the sport within the region, and more junior clubs can grow from that.”
The Swans will take on Hawthorn at the SCG when the final of The Sam Naismith Cup is held. So he will be cheering on the teams from Sydney.
‘”I get back home about once or twice a year and I also head back with the club doing a few school clinics and appearances.” he said. “It’s always good to get back to see the family and some familiar faces.”
Naismith has built on his momentum from last year. He played in the opening three round, before a knee injury sustained at training sidelined him for three weeks.
During that time, last season’s defeated grand finalist had their season losing streak extended to six.
Naismith returned in the round seven win over Brisbane, with Sydney making it back-to-back victories by defeating North Melbourne last round.