What came before …
Damian’s first footy foray was into rugby league. His father, Sam, had been a very accomplished league player back in the day. Playing mostly in the reserves, Sam once sat on the bench for the North Sydney Bears first grade side. It was natural then for Damian to follow in his dad’s footsteps, playing rugby league for the local Penno Stags Junior Rugby League Football Club. Starting out as a 5 year old, Damian played three seasons in the Under 7s and played through to the Under 12s before switching codes. When still in the Under 10s, Damo played up in the Under 13 Grand Final, filling in for the injured David Smith (yes, Penno’s Dave Smith) who had suffered an injury while skateboarding, just days before the big game. Remarkably, the Stags won that day, beating the Hills Hawks who had been undefeated for three seasons.
In 1999, Damian played his last season of league, as well as occasionally filling-in at Westbrook Juniors AFL in the Under 12s. Kieren Jack was a team-mate in both these sides. In the same year, Damo also played in the victorious West Pennant Hills Public School Paul Kelly Cup squad, coached by another Penno personality, Greg Barnes.
Damian’s first regular season of footy was at the Pennant Hills Junior Club in the year 2000. Having previously been coached by Greg Barnes in footy at school, Damo followed his trusted coach across to Penno Juniors where he went on to play 57 games over 3 seasons, 2000 to 2002. During his time at Penno Juniors he was the Club’s Best & Fairest in 2000 as well as team Best & Fairest in 2000 (Under 13) and 2002 (Under 15), respectively. Remarkably, on both occasions, he prevailed over his famous team-mate, future Swans star Kieren Jack, who was runner-up to Damo in 2000 and 2002, although Kieren was top-dog in the 2001 Under 14s, and Damo was runner-up. Given the level of footy achieved by Kieren Jack, this speaks volumes about the ability of Damian as a junior footballer. His coach at the time, Greg Barnes, predicted that Damian would be “one of Pennant Hills’ finest players” and indeed history has proven this to be spot on.
Such was Damo’s talent, that in 2003 he was selected to play for the Sydney Redbacks side which was an Under 16 representative side playing in the Under 18 competition. Unsurprisingly, Kieren Jack was also a team-mate at the Redbacks that year. Kieren won the Kealey Medal for best in the Under 18 competition, while Damo settled for the Redback’s runner-up B&F, behind another future Penno player, Hayden Benger. At a Swan’s training session in May 2010, Kieren Jack trained in a Sydney Redbacks jumper, claiming “playing footy with mates” as his best memory.
Damian joined the Pennant Hills Senior Club in 2004, playing his first season in the Under 18s, coached by Daniel Kenny. The team was Minor Premiers that season but lost the second semi-final to St George by 2 points and then tragically lost the Grand Final to the Dragons, this time by 1 measly point. Damo was runner-up B&F that year and ran second place to his great mate, Matthew “King” Carey. These two boys have had very similar careers at the Senior Club and we look forward to the King also registering 200 games later this season or early next. King played his junior footy with Westbrook and joined the senior club the year before Damo. Little did they know at the time, that they would become great mates and share the absolute highs of footy at the great Pennant Hills Club. Their careers have taken similar, parallel paths which have culminated in premiership glory on more than one occasion. There is nothing that these two absolute champions of the Club have not achieved in their football careers. More on King in a later edition!
At age 16, Damian made his first grade debut in Round 2, 2004 in a difficult match against North Shore at home ground Ern Holmes Oval. North Shore won that day by 104 points and were the dominant side in 2004, winning the minor premiership four games clear of 2nd place and deservedly went on to win the flag. Penno finished fourth, but were beaten by St George in the first semi-final. St George made it to the Grand Final but were eventual runner-ups.
In the return match against North Shore, in Round 9 at Gore Hill, Penno made a better fist of things but still went down by 21 points. Damian featured in an action shot that appeared in the North Shore Times Sport section. According to North’s midfield linchpin and former Swans veteran, Daniel McPherson, “they