Flying high from Cardiff Hawks to the Sydney Swans

This article first appeared on the NSW Australian Football History Society’s website. Check out the site for more great stories and facts about our game in NSW.

By Sophie Havilah


Once a budding Hawk playing for Cardiff in the Black Diamond League, now a loyal Sydney Swan, Isaac Heeney has grown his wings as a footballer, even if he was the only kid at school who played footy.

Heeney spent his childhood in the Hunter region town of Cardiff and was an all-round sportsman, involved in one sport or another, including soccer, cricket, and rugby.

But, in a region with a strong alignment to the NRL, Heeney was solitary in his passion for Aussie Rules at school but hopes the community has changed since his days at school.

“I hope that it’s changed. Growing up in primary school I was the only one that played AFL, then throughout high school there was a couple of us, pretty much from year seven through to year 12, there was only a handful at most,” he said.

“I’m sure it has changed now as now there’s AFL teams throughout schools and what not in Newcastle which is exciting to see and allows people to experience different sports but also get people with really good talent from those places that have never had that opportunity.”



He’s the only player from Newcastle to feature among the votes for the Carey-Bunton Medal for the best New South Welshman in the AFL.

Sydney’s round 15 win last week against West Coast was historic, with the Swans’ 171-point thumping the fourth largest winning margin in VFL/AFL history and Heeney matching his career high five goals.

While teammate Errol Gulden polled 10 coaches’ votes to climb to second place in the Carey-Bunton on 29 votes, behind Broken Hill’s veteran Adelaide forward Taylor Walker on 34, Heeney earned six votes and is now in seventh place on 12.

Heeney spent his early junior years at the Cardiff Hawks before being accepted into the Swans academy at 12 years old and appreciates his family’s dedication and time spent on the M1 to help him make his way through the academy.

“Mum and dad did so much travelling. Two and a half hours each way on the freeway, once, twice, sometimes three times a week to get me to training, allowed me to pursue a goal I had in my teenage years,” he said.

The academy has been a key launch pad for young footy players in the Hunter and other non-traditional regional areas.

“The growth throughout the whole of NSW has been absolutely amazing, especially in, I’d say the last five years,” Heeney said.

“It’s amazing to see. I think allowing kids from up Newcastle way that’s dominated by NRL to come through a pathway like that and actually be able to see their dream potentially come true, and just see a pathway to allow them to get into a professional sporting environment.

“It never used to be around, and I was lucky I was one of the first years to come through and be given that opportunity.”

Debuting in 2015, Isaac has seen many more locals join him in the Swans’ seniors, including academy graduates such as Callum Mills, Nick Blakey, Braeden Campbell and Gulden.

His loyalty to NSW has developed a connection to being a Sydney player, “You become one with the club at Sydney Swans, it’s not just the players you play with and the coaches but the whole Sydney Swans, anyone involved in the club in any way shape or form, you really become involved.”


CAREY BUNTON MEDAL Coaches Votes         


34    Taylor Walker (Adelaide/ North Broken Hill)     4

29    Errol Gulden (Sydney Swans / UNSW-Eastern Suburbs)    10

24     Jarrod Witts (Gold Coast Suns/ Sydney University)    2

20    Jeremy Finalyson (Port Adelaide / Culcairn)     

18    Tom Hawkins (Geelong/ Finley) 

17    Nick Blakey (Sydney Swans/ UNSW-Eastern Suburbs)      

12    Isaac Heeney (Sydney Swans/ Cardiff)      6

11    Callum Mills (Sydney Swans / Mosman)      

10    Jacob Hopper (Richmond / Leeton-Whitton)