As one of just two foundation players remaining on the Gold Coast SUNS AFL list, David Swallow has ridden more highs and lows than most since the club’s inaugural AFL season in 2011.

The 31-year-old will go down as one of the club’s greatest ever players having previously held the mantle as club captain to go with two Club Champions and the honour as Gold Coast’s inaugural 200-gamer.

His dedication to the club while many were seeking alternative paths has been saluted across the AFL industry with many of the current cohort now following the father-of-two’s path in committing themselves to what’s being built on the Gold Coast.

Speaking with teammate and close friend Rory Atkins on the second episode of Chats with Rat, the SUNS’ first ever AFL Draft selection says the journey has come with its fair share of mental and physical battles.

After being thrust into the limelight as the #1 pick in the 2010 AFL Draft, the young West Australian was a constant in the SUNS Best 22, albeit for a stint on the sidelines with a PCL injury in 2012.

That all came to a halt when he went under the knife to mend both knees in 2015 before complications with his rehab saw him also miss the entire 2016 season.

“I feel like I navigated the first few seasons and all the pressures that come with being a top draft pick. I finally felt like I was getting to the top of my game and then that all came to a halt,” Swallow said.

“Those were some pretty trying times.

“In those times, you learn a lot about yourself. I was only 23, I felt like 2014 was probably my best season so far. 

“Having all those pressures for being the number one pick, it was probably a good time for me to talk to people. I went down a bit of a rabbit hole to try make sense of how I was feeling.

“That coincided with a bit more of an awareness around mental health and that space. It gave me good perspective, it was a bit like ‘yeah, I am still playing AFL, I am still living my dream’ and it gave me motivation to get back and try make an impact in the footy club.

“You fast forward time a bit to now having stayed on, things like having kids… a lot of my learnings have come from stuffing up… injuries were probably my biggest teacher.”

Now on the verge of his 14th season on the SUNS list, Swallow’s legacy will forever be aligned to the loyalty shown to the SUNS while many sought greener pastures.

With a growing list of the club’s young talents moving on, underlined by the departure of co-captains Tom Lynch and Steven May at the end of 2018, Swallow admits his now seemingly unflappable persona was tested.

“Most people look at me and think nothing really phases me but there were a few years where I had really to try figure out who I was and make sense of all my experiences so I can come out better at the other end,” Swallow continued.

“I’d had my one or two seasons back from injury. In 2017 I was still on one leg, 2018 just starting to feel a bit better about footy… I felt like I hadn’t given the club my best yet. At the time, I was like ‘nah I want to stick this out.

‘Let’s be the first to try make something of the club.’ Once you make that decision, you’re all in.”

Swallow says he found inspiration in others in similar positions, who’d had their fair share of lows.

“Guys I looked up to were guys like Nathan Jones from Melbourne. He was an absolute trooper for Melbourne who maybe never saw the success he deserved.

“He was someone who was there in the dark days and was able to bring that club through a difficult period. I learnt from other people, maybe not knowing them too well, but they were mentoring me through these situations.

“Someone like him would have been my inspiration to stay around.”

Fast forward six years and Swallow says the SUNS ‘feels like a footy club, more than ever.’

Plenty of that has come from seeing a growing number of teammates bring their next generations into the SUNS family.

“Early days, I looked up to guys like Jarrod Harbrow or Michael Rischitelli, even Karmichael Hunt who had kids too. There weren’t too many older heads who had kids,” Swallow said.

“We haven’t had the success on field, but I think now it feels more like a footy club than it ever has. There are so many guys who have been here for a while, they’ve committed themselves, they’re growing families.

“That was always one of my visions for the club… to make it a family where there were lots of little ones running around.”