Swans meet legend ahead of tough stretch

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Ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky is shown how to handball by Gary Rohan.

JOHN Longmire hopes a meeting with ice hockey’s The Great One will inspire the Sydney Swans to have a big month in what’s shaping up as a daunting post-bye schedule.

The Swans begin a season-defining stretch against the Western Bulldogs at the SCG on Saturday, before taking on Geelong at Simonds Stadium and Hawthorn back in Sydney.

Ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s visit to Swans training on Friday was a welcome boost for the second-placed Bloods.

“He has enormous presence and certainly made an impression,” Swans coach Longmire told The Daily Telegraph.

“A couple of players came up to me and said how much they enjoyed his talk. One was young and the other old and they both got different messages out of it.

“Wayne has an aura about him and all the players could sense that.”

Gretzky set more than 60 records during a brilliant career in the NHL in North America.

“The only one who really knew just how big he was Mike Pyke, and I’ve never seen him so nervous as when he introduced Wayne to the players,” Longmire said.

“He told them how he and his family cried when Gretzky was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the LA Kings in 1988.”

Wayne Gretzky speaks to Jarrod McVeigh at the SCG.Source:News Corp Australia

The 55-year-old Canadian enjoyed a career spanning 21 years in the NHL before his retirement in 1999.

While most of the Swans weren’t too familiar with Gretzky’s exploits, Longmire said one message really resonated with the team.

“He told us how the older he got the harder he trained,” Longmire said.

“(Swans assistant coach) John Blakey said that is why Brent ‘Boomer’ Harvey continues to play as well as he does at 38 years old. You can see why he (Gretzky) was able to play for 20 years in the NHL.

“Another line I loved was to ‘go where the ball is going to be, not where it is’. He also told me the hardest thing about sport is coaching and I know what he means.”

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The Swans moved temporarily to the top of the ladder after Geelong’s shock loss to St Kilda but could easily fall out of the top four in the coming weeks with games against the Bulldogs, Cats and Hawks. The Bulldogs shocked the Swans in their round five clash at the SCG last year.

“After the break we need to reset and go,” Longmire said.

“The Bulldogs are far and away the best contested possession team in the AFL. They outnumber teams at the contest and play a physical brand of hard inside football. They then have plenty of class and speed on the outside.”

Full-back Ted Richards played a full game in the Swans’ reserves at the weekend and will come into consideration for Saturday’s match.

“We will look at the match ups and see how Ted feels this week,” Longmire said.

Richards hasn’t played senior football since suffering a concussion in the Round 9 win over Hawthorn at the MCG.

Tom Papley also played his first football since round eight after suffering shin soreness but is expected to spend more time in the reserves before he will come into contention for senior selection.

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