Hafey's 20-minute tonic brightens club week
IT was a tough week for the club. We went to the funeral of Ryan Tandy, one of our 2009 grand final winning players, on Wednesday. His death has affected many people, especially his family and friends.
And then on Thursday we had one of our favourite sons at this club, Ryan Hoffman, who was also in that 2009 grand final team, agree to a three-year deal at the Warriors. He will leave us at the end of the year.
It’s heart-breaking to know Hoffy won’t be finishing his career here after all that he’s done for the club. He’s been a real pillar of consistency and a player I have thoroughly enjoyed coaching.
All that adds up to a pretty ordinary week.
And then out of the blue, came a really feel-good moment.
My football manager Frank Ponissi and I decided we’d go and visit Tom Hafey in hospital here in Melbourne.
It’s a bit foreign for everyone to think Tom has been unwell, as he’s one of the fittest men going around even at 82-years of age. He runs and swims every morning, followed by push-ups and sits-ups.
He’s an amazing man and very particular about his health. He told me hadn’t had a biscuit in 35 years or a lolly in 45 years.
Tom is such a likeable guy, and for what he’s done in the world of AFL there’s no air of arrogance about him at all. He’s down-to-earth and couldn’t be more caring. He visits high schools and prison inmates to tell them about healthy choices and healthy lifestyles.
He has spoken to my players here at Melbourne Storm a couple of times, and the amount of energy and passion he’s got for life is infectious. He’s a unique human being in the best possible way.
I’m still staggered at what he achieved as a coach – handled four of the biggest AFL clubs in Richmond, Collingwood, Geelong and Sydney and four premierships with the Tigers.
So Frank and I went to visit and met his lovely wife Maureen and niece Suzi. We were having a pleasant chat and then two other AFL legends walked in: Peter `Crackers’ Keenan and Kevin Bartlett, accompanied by his daughter Cara.
The conversation was always going to turn to football and so it did. Kevin, Peter and Tommy told story after story of their days in the AFL. I looked around and noticed, the girls were in one corner of the room and the boys in the other.
It was an amazing 20 minutes. `Crackers’ told of his days as a player with Melbourne, North Melbourne and Essendon. He made us laugh with tales both on the field and off, especially in pubs when one-on-one stoushes were acceptable and happened quite often.
Kevin has the second-highest number of VFL-AFL games in history with 403. He also won five premierships with Richmond and was their best and fairest player five times. Kevin’s record at the MCG speaks for itself: 200 games, 379 goals, and 18 finals (including those five titles).
It’s incredible stuff, here I was with the cream of AFL history. It got me thinking that people would pay good money to have Tom Hafey, Crackers Keenan and Kevin Bartlett in the one room at the same time telling yarns.
And some of the stories I could draws parallels with some of the things I’ve seen in rugby league. Kevin spoke about guys he knew who had 'white line fever’.
One was Roger Dean, Richmond’s premiership captain in 1969. Kevin said he was one of the nicest, most docile guy in the world, away from footy. He recalled one match when Roger walked the umpires around the dressing room and introduced them all to his teammates before kick-off.
But later in the game a decision didn’t go his way and Roger went up to one of the umpires he had cordially shown around the Tigers sheds and was screaming at him six inches from his face.
So Roger had 'the fever’. As soon he crossed the white line onto the field of play, he’d kill anyone who got in the way of a win.
It made me think of one of my former Storm players Dallas Johnson. You could not meet a nicer bloke. He was shy, very polite but once he ran over the sideline onto the field, watch out.
So many of the AFL stories they were telling, you could link them with rugby league. Frank and I did a lot of listening and not much talking.
But after the week we’d had, it was such a refreshing time – one of the most enjoyable 20 minutes I’d had in a long time - with one of the greatest coaches in Tommy; greatest players in Kevin, and `Crackers’ who sounded like he was great at just about anything.
It was the perfect tonic. I only hope Tommy has as speedy a recovery as he provided for Frank and I.