ONE OF PENNANT HILLS’ FINEST

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.

 

Paul Kelly Cup                       Paul Kelly Cup Team

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.

 

Jack Della Booker

 

 Senior Footy

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

[Penno] were certainly very competitive and have improved heaps since we last played them.” For McPherson “… hard-fought victories [like this one] are far more satisfying than triple-figure massacres …”, as was the case in Round 2.

Damo ended up playing three first grade matches in his debut season in 2004, kicking his first senior goal in the Round 10 match against St George at Ern Holmes Oval. Since that time, with the exception of one reserve grade game in 2005 and two lower grade games this season, Damian has played exclusively in Premier Division in what is now his 14th season with the Senior Club, and today’s game is his 197th first grade appearance … bringing his total to 200 open-age games.

DellAquila Paper article

In 2005, Damian was selected in the AFL NSW/ACT Under 18 State Team which competed in Division 2 of the NAB Under 18 Championships held in Victoria during June/July 2005. Games were played at Optus Oval in Carlton and at Skilled Stadium in Geelong. From three starts, the team won one game and lost the other two. NSW/ACT were good winners over Northern Territory but lost to Queensland and the eventual Division 2 champions, Tasmania. Notable team-mates in the NSW/ACT side included Kieren Jack (Captain – future Sydney Swans), Sam Rowe (Carlton), Dylan Addison (Western Bulldogs & GWS), Trent Goodrem (Delta’s brother), and future Pennant Hills premiership player Alex Fraunfelter. Daniel McPherson (formerly Sydney Swans) was the coach. For Damian “… making the 2005 U/18s RAMS side, after missing out at the final cuts in 2003 (U/16s) and 2004 (U/18s)”, is one of his major career highlights.

Only two players from the Division 2 were selected to the Under 18 All-Australian team … unfortunately, not our Damo! “For the first time, the Under 18 All-Australian side was named in position to give balance and recognition to players that played terrific roles in defence, as well as players who were creative up forward, so it was not just a midfielders’ side.” It was a star-studded side with many future AFL stars including Joel Selwood, Marc Murphy, Andrew Swallow and Grant Birchall.

 

versus UTS 2016 crop (Small)                           versus St George 2016 (Medium)

A natural right footer, but also very proficient with his left, Damo has played mostly as a midfielder, although started out as a backman before shifting into the midfield around 2010. He wears jumper #25 and is quite superstitious about this as, on the one occasion when he did wear another number, in a pre-season practice match in 2008, he ruptured his ACL and missed the whole season, including the 2008 Grand Final, while he rehabilitated. He was, however, able to run water for his team-mates during the 2008 Grand Final and can be seen in the team photo taken that year after the trophy presentation.

Damian’s career highlights obviously include the two Premier Division premiership flags he has played in … the 2 point nail-biter in 2006 and the 4th quarter barn-storming victory in 2015, both over Hills arch-rivals, East Coast Eagles. In arguably the greatest moment of his footy career, Damo was Penno’s best in the 2015 Grand Final and also won the Rod Podbury Medal for Best on Ground. His three last quarter goals were crucial at a time in the match when the result was still up for grabs …

“Then Damo Dell’Aquila, through sheer perseverance and commitment, ‘breaks the shackles’ of the mid-field stalemate that had persisted for most of the game and kicked the first of his three last quarter goals. Damo “as solid as an oak” puts the Demons out by 9 pts.

A minute later, Tim Wales snapped up a loose ball just forward of the centre and chipped it short to Damo, running back with the flight, he reeled the ball in with his right hand outstretched. Within range of goal, “if he slots this one through, the Eagles premiership hopes will be all but dead … it will be a mountain of a job to come back.” Damo slotted the goal from a tricky distance and Penno had “one hand on the Bill Hart Cup.” Penno up by 15 pts.

In the dying minutes of the match, Damo “bags a treble” with a grubber kick from “dead man’s pocket,” 10 metres out.

For the commentators, Della was the pick of the players, Theo was great, Tom Edmonds kicked two great goals and Kizza’s rebounding marks had been sensational. But more importantly it had been a “fantastic team effort.

Achieving Greatness

For Damo, season 2015 was the culmination of many years of distinguished service to the Pennant Hills Football Club. He was a shining star on Grand Final Day, Co-Captain with his great mate Matt Carey, and he capped off the season when awarded Pennant Hills’ Footballer of the Year. A consistent performer throughout his career, Damian has been runner up B&F twice (2009 & 2015) and Most Consistent four times (2010, 2011, 2013 & 2014). As a leader on the field, he started out as vice captain in 2010, before assuming the co-captains role with Matt Carey in 2011; a role which he held for 5 seasons until 2015, when he voluntarily stepped down to permit another team-mate to have a go at leading the Club … current Club Co-captain Tom Angel, as it turned out.

Other achievements include two appearances in the Sydney AFL Development Team in 2007 and 2010 and he was named in the 2016 AFL Sydney Team of the Year as an interchange. For Damian, like so many others at the Club, the best he has played with at Penno is Barnaby Howarth, former Club Captain and a member of the Club’s inaugural premiership side in 2000. He played with Adam Prior in the Under 18 NSW/ACT representative team and says “he was a gun in my opinion – CHF/FF in the mould of a Travis Cloke.” Prior was from the Wagga region, played for the Murray Bushrangers and was “one of the unlucky ones not to have been drafted to an AFL club”. As for opponents, St George’s Peter Dugmore “used to always dominate us at Penno. I remember him kicking 10 one day and every backman had a crack at stopping him and didn’t get close!  I also used to hate playing against people like Brad Abbott (UNSW/ES) and Salem Kassem (Wests). I played against Leigh Adams, Nathan Jones and a few other draftees in the TAC Cup in 2005.

Holding the Bill Aloft (Small)

 

Acknowledged variously as ‘Damo’, ‘Della’ or ‘Brick’, it was Damian’s Northside Rep coach in juniors, Chris Ford, who first christened him ‘Running Brick’ … inspired, one imagines, by Damian’s stocky physique which could conjure images of a brick on legs!! The shortened moniker ‘Brick’ has carried through to his senior years and it’s definitely a term of endearment these days. In spite of his stature, more that of a rugby league player perhaps, Damo has proven to be an agile and versatile player well equipped for a footy team’s ‘engine room’. He has achieved great things in his footy career and arguably could have reached the pinnacle of achievement in the AFL, had circumstances worked more in his favour. Although, Damo modestly pleads not to have had the same drive that say, a contemporary like Kieren Jack had, at that crucial period in a young footballer’s life. Suffice to say, Damian’s achievements in community football have been significant and, whenever he decides to hang up the boots, he will leave behind a legacy of renown and will have earned a prominent place in the Club’s history.

Asking around, here’s what some of his club-mates think about Damo:

Understated, selfless and class personified. These are a few words that come to mind when describing Della, whether it be on the footy field or off it. He is an absolute legend and I wish him all the best in his 200th!” – Ranga Ediriwickrama

One of the, if not THE, best kicks in the club and I am yet to meet a person who has a bad word to say about him” – Seb Parker

A dual premiership player and premiership Co-captain. Congrats on the 200 game milestone … an awesome achievement! A truly genuine and loyal guy who has been one of the most consistent performers the club has seen in a long time.  A lethal kick, ‘get the ball in his hands’” – Chris Yard, Senior Coach

Della is probably the most consistent player I’ve played with at Penno with arguably the best kick at the club. Off the field he is just an all-round top bloke and is held in the highest regard by many at the club.” – Tim Wales

What to say about Della? Well, it’s like comparing him to ordering a Hawaiian pizza at a pizza shop … it’s always the same reliable quality product … just like Della on the footy field!” – Kieran Wright

The Club’s current Head of Coaching and former Senior Coach, Michael Cousens, has this to say about Damo:

  • At the risk of repeating some of the comments about his kicking capabilities, when I first became senior coach in 2006 I evaluated all players relative their ability to kick the ball consistently in terms of drop punt, hitting targets, etc. I classified him as the most reliable kick in the club in terms of ball drop and desired effect, regardless of distance. He possessed a kicking action like no other. An action that could stand up under pressure better than anyone else in the club;
  • He was a critical member of the 2006 team playing back pocket/half back flank (would you believe?). Always accountable, never lost a one-on-one and his ball-use ensured that we could clear the defensive area whilst maintaining possession in the process. From memory, he broke a finger part way through the year however he only missed about 4-5 weeks (thankfully). On his return from injury, his spot in the side was never in doubt thanks to his capabilities and performance prior to the injury and his 2006 GF medallion was thoroughly deserved; 
  • Tried him on the ball in the early stages of 2007 however ended up returning him to the back half mid-way through the season. We weren’t surviving without him down there. He was a part of the 2007 finals teams that went out in straight sets which was disappointing. What was worse though was the fact he did his ACL in a 2008 practice match in Albury against East Ringwood which saw him miss all of the 2008 season inclusive of the 2008 flag. That said, Damo managed his disappointment in his typically quiet and humble fashion by simply rolling up his sleeves and getting on with supporting the group however he could. Once he could move again he became a permanent water carrier for the side (which proved a critical role on grand final day given it was 38 degrees) highlighting the fact that for Damo, the focus has to always be on the team’s success and not that of his own; 
  • In 2015 when he co-captained the side to the flag alongside King, was named BOG on the day (on the back of his instrumental last quarter in front of goal) and then went onto win the club’s footballer of the year award, I couldn’t have been more pleased for Brick. It was karma on the back of missing out in 2008, coming runner up in 2013 and 2014, being a part of other failed finals campaigns in between times, but despite it all, remaining committed and diligent to reversing the score. It was justice. My sense is that he enjoyed it more than any game he’s ever played….and didn’t he deserve that opportunity. Here’s hoping he can have a 3rd medal around this neck by the end of 2017; and 
  • As a person, some key words come to mind for Brick … always respectful, reliable, gracious and quietly determined. In no way a grand stander by words, but by action he’s ten times ‘louder’ than most. Most of all, he’s a really good bloke who’s always been a pleasure to coach but more importantly, a pleasure to know both on and off the field. I wish him every success.

Since the euphoria of season 2015, and in spite of stepping down from the captaincy in 2016, Damo continues to lead by word and by action, on-field and off. He is the quintessential role-model for any aspiring young player and also sets a high standard in attitude, application and behaviour. He is a fantastic ambassador for the great Club that is Pennant Hills. He combines his footy talent, with a strong will to succeed and an unrivalled work ethic which, together with his loyalty to his team-mates and the Club, makes him a genuine club champion and places him amongst the best performers to have donned the Demon’s ‘Red & the Blue’. We invite his team-mates, club-mates, family and friends to share with Damo in celebrating his 200th game for the mighty Demons.

Go Penno!

 

Written & compiled by John Acheson for PHAFC, 27 May 2017

By |2017-12-06T06:47:28+00:00May 25th, 2017|News|