Harry Cunningham celebrates after Sydney's round 11 win over Carlton at the SCG on May 26, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

HE'S THE quietest of achievers at Sydney, but 12 months ago, Harry Cunningham was fast becoming its forgotten man.

Despite having played 10 seasons and 150 games in red and white, Cunningham was frozen out of a team that went on a rampage all the way to the Grand Final.

It was a tough pill to swallow.

A year on, Cunningham has played every game in the Swans' 2023 campaign, reprising his role as the club's lockdown small defender.

"It was difficult, but at the end of the day the team was playing well and I couldn't crack back into the side. That was just the reality of it," Cunningham told AFL.com.au.

"I had a pretty good perspective, it was frustrating, but I just tried to continue to enjoy my footy and having that mindset has helped me to try and get better every week.

"I'm very privileged to be able to play the game I love, and have loved since I was four years old. Even though I wasn't playing last year, I felt like I was able to help in whatever way I could.

"Helping the younger guys with their progression to take the next step. I think that was the approach I took last year when I was out of the team."


That positive mentality catapulted Cunningham back into John Longmire's plans from the start of the season, initially as a defensive forward and then when injuries hit, into his half-back role that has seen him spend 12 seasons on the Swans' list.

Last week he kept Giants danger man and one of the best small forwards in the competition, Brent Daniels, goalless and without a goal assist either.

Preparing for the tricky task of extinguishing a livewire forward's influence is an assignment Cunningham relishes.

"I'm a bit old school. I love footy, so I still watch a fair bit over the weekends. I'm always pretty aware of what's going on, and how players are playing and how teams are going," Cunningham said.

"When I am given my likely matchup, I'll do homework and see how that player has been tracking, and what sort of trends their team or that player like to do. I like to prepare well, to give myself confidence to go out and perform, a simple and clear mindset has been something that's worked for me."

Harry Cunningham in action during the match between Sydney and Geelong at the SCG in round 16, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

That meticulous approach is in line with Cunningham's life off the field as well.

He's currently studying for a Physical Education degree that he hopes will form the backbone of a move into coaching.

"I think it's important to have a pretty good work-life balance, to have something outside of footy. Because, footy can end pretty quickly," he said.

"I've always had an interest in teaching and particularly P.E teaching. I've done some coaching courses as well and they're pretty well linked together.

"I enjoy helping others and caring for others, and particularly developing others. So, I think I'd ideally head down that path. I'd love to be some sort of development coach someday. It's something I'll continue to do, but hopefully I've got a fair bit of footy left in me first."

Jake Lloyd (left) and Harry Cunningham during Sydney's official team photo day at the SCG on February 16, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

As a self-confessed footy nut with more than a decade spent at the elite level, Cunnigham has a pretty good eye for talent.

In what has been an up and down season for the Swans, one constant has been the emergence of Errol Gulden as a genuine superstar of the game, in just his third season.

"He's an absolute star and I don't say that lightly. I don't say that just because of what happens on game day. I'm lucky enough to see him prepare and how hard he works. We talk about studying the game, he's a bloke who loves to get his homework done to improve every single day. He's been able to do that since the day he stepped into the footy club," Cunningham said.

"He's got such a high footy IQ. He's helping others get up to speed with it all. He's held in such high regard, particularly because of his work rate."


While Gulden has set the tone at the Swans all season long, the rest are starting to follow suit.

A victory over Gold Coast on Saturday would make it five on the bounce for a Swans team that has finals in its sights again and after a consistent campaign, there's little chance Cunningham will miss out on September action this time around.

"We've still got enormous confidence and belief that our style stands up, and we've just got to do it for longer. That's what we're focusing on at the moment, and everyone seems to be enjoying that challenge," he said.