Demons create footy heaven in Pennant Hills
“One of the things that Penno prides itself on is a strong club culture,” says Pennant Hills President, Phil Hare. “We’re a club that celebrates the division three women’s win as much as the Premier men’s win. That’s one of the core parts of our club.”
Pennant Hills is a known force in AFL Sydney. Some of the famous names to come out of Pennant Hills include Lenny Hayes, Kieren Jack and his brother Brandon, Jarrad McVeigh and his brother Mark.
There are currently five Demons alumni on AFL lists: Braeden Campbell (Sydney), Marc Sheather (Sydney), Kieren Briggs (GIANTS), James Peatling (GIANTS), Ely Smith (Brisbane).
Despite being one of the most prodigious talent factories in Australia, Pennant Hills’ 11 senior teams (including five men’s and four women’s teams) are focussed more on maintaining its culture, where all the 200-strong playing group are supportive and encouraging of one another, than improving its win-loss ratio.
“First of all, you’re a member of Penno, and then you’re selected in your appropriate team,” says Hare when speaking about the training habits of the players, who warm up as one during training. “We tend to find lots of friendship groups stay at the club, so we have a really good stickability factor.”
More than a footy club
Pennant Hills footy club has long been a third space for its players and volunteers. Not home, not work, somewhere to relax, socialise and play sport.
In early 2021, that third space was supercharged, with new club rooms and facilities opening up “at about five o’clock on the Friday before Round 1 this year,” says Hare.
The club is making the most out of this new facility, which sits between Mike Kenny Oval’s two footy ovals. It has a verandah for onlookers to watch games and training, a kitchen and a bar.
Thursdays are when the new club facilities come into their own. “Our 11 teams all train on Thursday night. There’s a bit of staggered time, but when we finish training, we go into the club rooms and we can serve 200 meals as part of Club Thursday when team announcements are made,” Hare said.
In 2021, the club arranged guest speakers to attend Club Thursday and address the players, but Hare sees it going to the next level shortly, with plans for financial advisers, nutritionists and mental health experts all addressing and offering services to players.
When COVID settles, Pennant Hills will surely be one of, if not the only footy club in the country where you can have a hard training session then a schooner and a parma while learning about strategies to buy a first home.
The pull of Penno
The new facility at Pennant Hills is not quite complete. Among some added storage and outdoor seating, there are plans to add in a gym for all the players to ensure the club can guide their athletic journey as far as they wish to go.
It’s enough to attract and keep players for their entire careers, although the pull of the club has already seen players travel vast distances to play with their mates at the Demons. “Often kids who grow up in the Hills move into the city, but they come back out to the Hills to play their footy,” said Hare.
It’s former Premier men’s captain, Tom Angel, who lives in Bondi, took the 37-kilometre trip twice a week for training at Mike Kenny Oval (Greenway Park), passing multiple rival clubs’ training along the way. Ditto its current captain, Tom Edmonds, who lives in Surrey Hills.
No Pennant Hills player is paid to play for the club, but the community brings people from far and wide to pull on the red and blue jumper.
As AFL Sydney goes from strength to strength on the field, clubs are improving what they mean to their community off it. Pennant Hills is leading the way in creating a club where everyone is valued equally and their growth as people is as important as their growth as athletes.
What a journey this Digital Road Trip has been. Just a couple more stops in Sydney until we’ll park the caravan and put our feet up for a while.