Sam Jacobs met him when they were young players at Adelaide. “He was very confident and knowledgeable when I first met himHe was pretty much like he is now. He has some witty humour and he just makes an effort, tries to find common ground with everyone. We had the one year together at the Crows and even then, he was really curious and had a really good handle on what the AFL industry was like and how clubs were run. He had a strong interest in that, which is something we had in common. For a young guy he was smart and had a real interest in how the world worked. The biggest difference now is that he lives in Bondi and has grown up from the boy who lived in North Adelaide. The same traits are there but he’s even more clear, he has a really strong hold on who he is and what his views on the world are. He was a real learner, back then, and now I think he’s built the knowledge and the experience to go with that.” 

Leon Cameron has been his senior coach for eight years. “He’s always had very high standards. That hasn’t changed. He’s driven by, if not perfection, then close to it. He has high standards in footy and in life and he expects that from everyone at this footy club. He was fairly serious as a young kid, but he liked people and finding out about people and I think he learnt how to build great relationships with all sorts of different people and players. I think deep down he really enjoys getting to know people who are different to him. In your first few years as a young captain that can be hard to do, because we all gravitate to our own mix, to people who are similar to you. The challenge for Phil was to gravitate to a broader range of people. he’s done that and he likes that.” 

Ward became a co-captain of the GIANTS with him when they were both just 21. “It’s hard because when I think of Phil the person, I also think of Phil the leader. I remember talking to him on the phone and then meeting him for the first time, and my initial impressions were that he was a good bloke, easy to talk to.  And working with him closely in a leadership capacityI started to see how selfless he was, how he put others ahead of himself and how professional he was not just with his football but when it came to his whole life. He was just in control of things, even back then. He was organised. When you spent time with him, you just felt like he was able to find everything out and get good advice and be on top of things. As a 20-year-old he was really mature and these days, he just gets it, if that makes sense. He is stubborn in the way he goes about things, which is good, and he just knows what’s going on. He came from a culture in Adelaide that was very structured and strict, and I feel like when you’re living your football life like that, it flows on into your personal life as well. So, he came from that, but as time has gone by I think he’s learnt to go with the flow a bit more and understand that everyone is different.”  

Phil Davis


Jacobs met a young player who wanted responsibility. “He was mature beyond his years as a young kid. I think he was 20 when I got to the club and he was already playing on Buddy Franklin and some of the other big names then. The coaching group really trusted him and so he got exposed to playing on good forwards right from the start. He’s still doing that now, obviously, but I reckon back then it was all about trying to do his job. Now it’s that plushow can I organise the defence, and how can I help the team? The one thing he’s always been is courageous. There’s footage of him getting knocked out by Aaron Sandilands in his second year at the Crows, and there’s heaps of stories from the GIANTS as well. That’s the word I think of when I think of him: courageous.” 

Cameron sees his mental strength every day and in every game. “He prepares himself for battle. He practices for the big stage, that’s what he does. He gets everything out of himself. He knows that athletically he’s not the most gifted player. He knows he has to mentally prepare for battle – for training and for games – and to work out ways to beat his opponent. He hasn’t changed in that way from when I first met him, and he leads in that way. When Aidan Corr or Sam Taylor or Connor Idun look across at him and can see him preparing mentally for what’s coming in the next two hours, whether it’s on the track or on game day, they know what it will take from them as well.  

Ward watches him tough it out every week. “He’s always been really tough, and I think it’s underestimated, just how tough he is. The way he goes at the ball and the man is tough, but it’s more his attitude and the way he can carry an injury through a game or tough things out. That’s probably the main thing, and if you ask the defenders, they’ll tell you how selfless he is and how much he helps them out. He’ll put them into the right position, he’ll come off his man to make a spoil if he has to. He’s always been tough and as he’s got older and more experienced, he’s become that teacher down back as well.” 

Phil Davis


Jacobs saw leadership in him from the start. “He’s had leadership traits as long as I’ve known him. I’m two years older than him but when I got to Adelaide you could already tell he had influence over the group, especially the young guys, mainly because of his actions and ability to be able to relate to everyone. He wasn’t intimidated by the older guys, he was very respectful of them, but he was on a mission to play AFL footy and have an influence. He enjoyed the expectation that came with being a high draft pick, I think. And I think the boys warmed to how he handled that pressure and took it on. Now, I can see how people enjoy his experience and his knowledge. His day-to-day role has changed; I wasn’t here when he was captain obviously, but I can see him trying to find his niche again. He doesn’t have the total control a captain does, but he’s finding other ways, spending more time with the defenders, talking to the coaches, influencing the young blokes. It seems like he’s been able to take a much broader look at things.” 

Cameron has seen his leadership stay strong since he handed over the captaincy. “There’s no doubt that deep down he will always be a leader. He can’t not be. But what he has done well is he’s taken that backwards step because he wants to give the new captain and the new leadership group their own space and their own chance to put their stamp on the group. You’ll still hear him talking in meetings and he’ll still add lots of value, but he gets in behind the leadership group and supports them and reinforces their message. That’s been really good. He and Cal Ward are doing that really well because they had a long time together as captains and they’re not going to drop that just for the sake of a title. What’s probably changed from his early days to now is that he’s found balance. Once, it was all black and white. You either did it or you didn’t; you were either training hard or not training hard. He’s come to understand that some people can still be giving everything they’ve got, but in a different way. He’s learnt to adapt and to deal with one player’s personality to the next, still having those high standards but working out how to adjust and challenge and read the play.”  

Ward has also watched him grow. “Early on he had to get his head around the idea that not everything is black and white and that you have to treat people differently. And it probably took him a while to do that, but ever since then he’s just been amazing at it. His strength as a leader in the early days was that he had a hard edge and was ruthless, but sometimes he found he was too hard on his mates and that they didn’t react the way they wanted him to. He’s learnt from that and that’s the way he’s evolved; he’s worked out how to get to know people, work out how different people respond to things. His strength is still having that hard edge and those high standards, but the way he goes about things has evolved in a really positive way. He’s always been motivated to develop as a leader and learn more about people and adapt the way he goes about things. He goes through the whole list every fortnight and texts every player to see how they’re going, just to keep the relationship ticking over. Building relationships is a real strength of his, and maintaining them is as well.” 

Phil Davis


Jacobs sees him in a suit. “He’ll be CEO of something, somewhere. I always get into him because I think he’s tailor made for that. He thinks he could run the AFLwhich is always a good laugh. He’s very smart, he’s doing his MBA and he’s very switched on when it comes to business. If you couple that with his sports knowledge, I think he has good things waiting down the track.” 

Cameron thinks he’ll be well prepared, wherever he ends up. “Phil will be a leader in whatever he does. He has an appetite to win, to be the best. He’s been very dedicated to his studies. He’s well grounded, well rounded and well prepared to do whatever he feels like doing. I could see him being involved in the business world; I could see him running a footy club. He’s the ideal footballer in that he loves the game, but he knows it will be there for at best 13-15 years and so he’s also preparing for life after it. He’s done both those things for a long time now and I’m sure it’s been taxing for him, but he’s preparing for life and he’s the ultimate footballer in that sense because he’s not wasting one minute of his time.” 

Ward sees him in a suit too “He’ll do whatever he wants to do. He’s very intelligent, very articulate and he has a business mind. He loves learning about businesses, listening to podcasts, reading the Financial Review every day. He just loves to learn and develop his brain. I can see him being a CEO, but whatever he does it will be something that’s really high up in the hierarchy of a company. He’ll be wearing a nice suit to work every day and strutting around.” 

Phil Davis