JARRAD McVEIGH leans forward on the couch, offering his phone for shared viewing. As he flicks through the photos of his daughter, Luella, you can hear the pride in his voice - punctuated by a gulp of emotion - and see the love painted across his face as his fingertip scrolls from one picture to the next.
Every father's photos are special, but these, and the accompanying memories - many so very painful - are all the Sydney Swans AFL co-captain and his wife, Clementine, have of their baby girl.
Last August, after a brave, month-long battle with a heart condition, Luella died.
McVeigh admits his emotions travel to both ends of the spectrum looking at pictures of his daughter's month-long life. It was a similar story as he spoke for the first time about Luella, and also revealed that Clementine is pregnant again. Their baby, a girl, is due in July.
''Sometimes I just find myself just looking at them and maybe cry, or I'm happy,'' he says of the photos. ''I think after every game I played at the end of the year, I'd go and sit in the toilet and just look at my phone. Yeah, it can be both happy and sad.
''It does make me feel better talking about it, because I'm proud of her. She's touched a lot of people here at the club, a lot of people who never met her, even though she was here for a short time, which made us proud. It's hard, but it does help.
''There was a little spirit in her that I think everyone who saw her could feel. She was a very strong little girl. She went through a lot of trauma with four operations, and to keep fighting back …''
The first most people knew of McVeigh and Clementine's tragedy came on Saturday, August 27, last year, three days after Luella's death.
Wearing black armbands, the Swans stunned Geelong in the upset of the season, ending the Cats' 29-game winning streak at their home ground, Skilled Stadium.
The emotion of the moment was lost on no one and personified by the sight of McVeigh's close friend and co-captain Adam Goodes in tears after the game.
''Yeah, we watched that game,'' McVeigh says. ''We sat down and watched it.
''I think that's the first game Clementine has watched fully. That [win] put a smile on our faces.''
The club allowed McVeigh to decide when he would return to football, and he chose to get back on to the park the following week. He was among the Swans' best in their remaining games of the 2011 season.
When McVeigh and Clementine went for the three-month scan in January last year, their excitement was swallowed by anxiety when it was discovered their first baby had fluid around her heart. It meant a trip to Westmead every fortnight for scans and, while doctors knew the baby would require an operation, they wouldn't know exactly what it would entail until after the birth.
''From January to July, that was the hardest part - not knowing what the actual issue was; can it be fixed; what's going to happen; going out to Westmead every other week; stressing the whole way out there; not sure what today is going to bring,'' McVeigh says.
''The whole pregnancy went really well. We didn't have any complications with anything else, which we thought was weird. We stayed positive the whole time, although sometimes you would break down. But Clementine had a natural birth and they had said she mightn't be able to, she [Luella] was a good size, they said she would have to be on a number of drugs straight after to keep her alive, but they didn't need to do that, so we were quite positive.
''One of the hardest parts for Clementine was as soon as Luella was born, she only got to hold her - every mother wants to hold their baby - for about two minutes before they took her away to put her into an ICU.''
The McVeighs moved into a flat across the road from the hospital, and would spend every moment they could with their daughter. McVeigh would drive to the city for the main training session each week but admits now it was ''just a blur''.
''I'd still be thinking about her, I was fairly useless at training, but I just tried to do something,'' McVeigh says. ''There was only so many hours you can sit beside a bed before you go crazy. You want to spend 24 hours a day there but we knew it was going to be a long process, so we had to stay strong for each other and sometimes did different shifts.
''I spoke to Horse [Swans coach John Longmire] throughout the year. The team [apart from close friends such as Goodes and Jude Bolton] didn't know anything really. Horse was great and gave me a lot of time off and I could always speak to him openly and there were a few tears, but he understood, he's got children and everything comes second.''
Countless heart and brain scans were carried out in the first few days of Luella's life. Doctors found the left side of her heart was half the size of the right and scheduled an operation.
''We walked her to the surgery area, and at this point it was quite hard for her to open her eyes a lot of the time because she was on a lot of drugs and newborn and, just before she went in, she opened her eyes to us, just to say 'I'll be all right.' The operation was meant to be from 8am, four to five hours, and they gave us a pager to let us know when to come back.
''The hours passed and we didn't get a call on our pager. It was the worst day ever. Every thought goes through your head: 'Is no news good news, is it bad news?' We walked over there and waited, and the surgeons came out at 6pm. The first operation was a great success but, as they were closing her up, they found her circulation was all back to front and they had to perform a second operation and they said she was a minute by minute thing to dying. Slowly that got to hour by hour, then they moved her into the ICU, where we could go and see her, but they had six or seven doctors beside her 24 hours a day. Her chest was still open at this point and, the first time I saw her, from how she was beforehand, I actually couldn't look. Seeing her chest open and the heart beating, just with a bandage over it, it was just too hard for me at first.
''She had so much fluid through her body from the operation, that's why they couldn't close her chest because that would mean too much pressure on the heart, and she wouldn't survive. They gave her drugs and it was up to her to get rid of the fluid, and we ended up massaging her for up to 10 hours a day trying to get it out - myself, Clementine, her mum, my mum, Clementine's sister, all rubbing her, and she seemed to respond well to that, and this went on for a whole month.''
Doctors would try twice more to close her chest but couldn't, and Luella's condition deteriorated.
''We didn't know at that point [that the end was near] but I think they did. We were trying to stay positive and they closed it a bit and then we found out her right lung was half the size of the left, and that was why she couldn't get the fluid out.''
The trauma of multiple operations had left Luella with severe brain damage and, after almost a month, despite trying numerous drugs, no fluid was coming out. The doctors told the McVeighs Luella would tell them when she couldn't take any more, ''and it came to a point where there was nothing anyone could do''. The hospital gave them one last night together as a family.
''They put us in a room with her on the Tuesday night and gave us a double bed. They took as many of the wires and stuff off her as they could, for us to be able to hold her and cuddle her, and that was the first time we bathed her that night. She really liked the water. She opened her eyes, she was really receptive to us and our voices, which they said doesn't happen a lot, but she would open her eyes and stare at us. We got to spend a night with her, then the next day that was it … then the whole world changes.
''It was us as a little family holding her, before she passed away. She opened her eyes to us, and then looked at us, before she went away, which is something we can hold with us for a long time,'' McVeigh says, surrendering to his emotions as his voice breaks and eyes well with tears.
Adam Goodes was among a small group of the couple's friends who visited Luella that day.
''We went out and saw Luella - it may have been 12 hours before she passed - and we all said our goodbyes,'' Goodes says. ''It was quite a sombre drive back from Westmead to the eastern suburbs, and then the next couple of days you are just shaking your head saying how the hell does this happen to two fantastic people and you just ask so many questions.''
That was August 24, and McVeigh needed to get through a few more weeks of football before the season was over. Once it was, the couple needed to get away, and planned a two-month trip to Europe and America. For McVeigh, football had provided a brief respite in that trying time, but Clementine didn't have ''that bit of a release''.
''Both our families and our friends were always there to support us. We were never really alone at any point for two months after, which was good for us. But when we were, it kind of hit you again and you would go up to bed, and your mind goes crazy. To get away from everything, to spend time together and heal together, was very important for us.''
The couple asked themselves a range of questions, but sat down and decided there was nothing to be gained by such thoughts.
''There was nothing more we could have tried or done to make the outcome better, and we can sleep at night knowing we tried everything. We went through a stage saying things happen for a reason, but I thought I don't really like saying that because why? What's the reason why she has been taken away?''
About a month after Luella died, Clementine said to McVeigh that as soon as she was ready, she would like to try again. ''You can either sit back and be depressed and not want to move forward, but we're the type of people who didn't want to do that. We went overseas and to fall pregnant while we were in Italy, was a really special moment for us.''
He admits it's been good to get back into the routine of football again, although he is ''very very nervous'' when they go for scans. Each has been positive. ''It's good to try and get back into normal life, and prepare for another baby, and we can put all our effort into that and give her a good life.''
''But it doesn't stop. Everything we do, we still think about Luella every day. We won't forget her. She will still be a part of us and part of our family.
''Because it was always there in the back of your mind what if this doesn't turn out good [that] we treasured every moment, and spent as much time as we could with her, and did whatever we could to help her.
''Among the sadness, we do have some good memories. Just when she looked at us. They kept telling us she hasn't woken up much, but as soon as we would go in there she would somehow wake up … Just that look, and how she would squeeze our hands all the time, that was the best.''A new life begins amid flood chaos
ASK Jarrad McVeigh about the day he and Clementine discovered they were having another baby, and his eyes roll, the head shakes, and he simply says: ''What a day!''
It was always going to be emotional, coming just two months after their daughter Luella had died, but neither expected what they got in Italy last October.
''We were in Cinque Terre. We woke up, it was pouring rain and, after taking four or five pregnancy tests, we found out,'' Jarrad recalls. ''It was a bit sad as well. We were upset but happy, and asked ourselves if we were doing the right thing. 'We're not forgetting her [Luella]. Are we forgetting her?' But we realised it wasn't about that.''
The couple thought they would go for a walk along some of the cliff-side trails for which the area is so famous but the torrential rain cruelled the plan.
''It turned out to be the Monterosso floods, where whole villages got washed away and around 10 people died, and we were in the eye of the storm, and would end up stuck there with no food and water for four days,'' McVeigh says.
Soon their hotel, on the top of a cliff, was taking on water and the footy star says he thought, ''Geez we're in a bit of trouble here with landslides and those things''. The couple's hosts were not so worried. ''The Italians were like, 'It will be right …'''
McVeigh says he and a fellow Australian tourist spent six or seven hours brushing water out of their hotel. He started to worry about how he and Clementine would escape.
''It's one way in, one way out, and there were cars washed out into the ocean. We had parked a kilometre up the road so we didn't know if our car was still there. Three days later we got to our car and it was under mud … it was gone.''
Some locals told the tourists that a train would leave soon, so they set out for the station.
''There were about 20 Aussie ladies, over 50, on a tour and [to get to the train] we had to go through the water and mud and they all had their big bags, so myself and another Aussie guy had to go back and forth, carrying their bags and we only had half an hour to get to the train. We all got there safely, only to be told there was no train for three days, and no food anywhere.''
They waited for four hours trying to work out what could be done, before news spread that a nearby boat was leaving for safety at 3.30pm. About 100 people fled for the boat, only to arrive and find out it had left at 3pm.
''A couple of the Aussies were yelling, 'Get us a boat, we want to get out of here'', and two hours later a boat came and we all got on, and went to a place called La Spezia, an hour away, got a hotel, then caught a train to Venice and then to Rome. It was an adventurous four or five days, but it's a good story to tell the new baby one day.''