At just 16-years of age, John Longmire left spectators at Myrtleford’s R.C McNamara Oval in 1987, with little doubt the then teenager had a big future in football.
Playing for his home club of Corowa/Rutherglen, the football prodigy went about systematically dismantling the opposition, finishing with a club record 12 goals in what was only his second appearance at Oven & Murray senior level.
The headline in The Herald Sun later that year read: ‘Get Longmire’, as some 10 – then VFL – clubs, vied for the signature of the young gun.
Fast-forward almost a quarter of a century, and the former North Melbourne premiership player and Coleman medalist, this year added a premiership as coach of the Sydney Swans to what was already a long list of career highlights.
Nevertheless, the now 41-year-old Corowa export surprisingly revealed how in the “early days [he] never had any ambition to coach”. A sentiment shared last month, by former North Melbourne teammate Wayne Carey who in The Age admitted he never expected Longmire to “go on to coach an AFL side”.
However it was through misfortune – in the form of a season ending knee injury in North Melbourne’s 1996 premiership year – which gave Longmire his first taste of coaching; ultimately proving to be a silver lining, in what was an otherwise miserable year personally for Longmire.
“In 1996 when I missed a whole year through injury, North Melbourne won the flag. I spend that year in the coaches box with Denis Pagan, and that was probably my first experience of coaching,” he says.
Although Longmire acknowledges the coaching role was quite diminutive, in comparison to the one performs on a daily basis today, as senior coach of the Sydney Swans, he tells me of how he thoroughly “enjoyed it”.
It was after this initial experience under Denis Pagan, that the idea of coaching began to grow proverbial legs, with the man affectionately known as ‘horse’ – due to his powerful physic and size – completing his Level 2 coaching course, while still playing for North Melbourne.
The latter half of Longmire’s career was plagued with injuries, and he played his 200th and last game of AFL, as part of the 1999 North Melbourne premiership.
Though after his retirement, it would be some time until Longmire pursued the concept of a coaching career further.
Only when he was contacted by then Sydney Swans coach Rodney Eade and offered an assistant coaching position, did Longmire ‘decide to have a crack at it [coaching]’.
A decision that a decade on, has seen him climb through the ranks to become senior coach of the Sydney Swans in 2011, and lead his troops to the 2012 AFL Premiership in only his second year at the helm.
When broached on subject of where it all began – growing up in the country town of Corowa – the NSW boarder product is only too happy to oblige. A connection we both have; I find it profoundly unfortunate we share only a hometown rather than a blessing with natural football ability, though I digress.
I ask him what methods he used to combat the dreaded first world issue of boredom, living in what is still today a relatively quiet and placid town.
A problem he tells me with a laugh, that he negotiated with a diet of sport and plenty of it: “I played football in the wintertime… cricket and swimming in the summertime and when I got a bit older waterskiing as well… as most country kids do,” he says.
Growing up on a farm halfway between Corowa and the even smaller country town of Balldale, locals still somewhat debate his origin, with each town claiming him for their own.
However between his father, John, chairing the Corowa Shire Council as Mayor and brother Murray (better known as Beau), playing an instrumental part in the 2000 & 2003 Corowa/Rutherglen premiership sides. We like to think of him as one of us.
Premierships seemingly run deep in Longmire blood, and when I ask ‘horse’ how he would compare the thrill of winning a premiership as a player in contrast to coaching one, he explains the two are poles apart.
“It’s very different. Playing in a Premiership in what was my last game of football was an incredible feeling. But coaching in one, you’re probably a lot more aware of everyone else around you and the enjoyment they get out of it,” he says.
Delving into the coaching experience specifically, he says: “You get to witness the joy the 22-players, all the staff and supporters get from it… and you realise the extent of how good it really is.”
Going on to say: “You rely very much upon your players, the senior players especially and also the strengths of your younger blokes… there was nothing we could really do in the coaches box.”
“We were four points up, with three minutes to go and it could’ve gone either way, it was just a couple of incredible efforts that helped us get over the line,” he explains.
Flying off for much deserved holiday, after what has been one of his most stressful, yet successful seasons in the football industry. I asked Longmire if he had had a chance to reflect on what he and his team had accomplished this season.
“I haven’t really thought about it to be honest, when you’re involved in coaching you just keep plowing away and try to keep getting better,” he exclaims.
Going on to say: “We [the Sydney Swans] have got to try to get back into the finals next year to give ourselves a chance… we know it’s going to be hard, but we’ll be trying our best to do it again.”
A feat not beyond the Sydney Swans, with the aid of John Longmire’s expert guidance.
Callum Godde is a first-year La Trobe Journalism (Sport) student. Follow him @Calgodde