A fierce competitor, a coaching mastermind and an eccentric figure known for his talk of Martians and marshmallows — there is no one like Kevin Sheedy and, according to fellow luminary Kevin Bartlett, no one more deserving of AFL Legend status.
The former Essendon and GWS coach was named the AFL’s 28th official Legend at the annual Hall of Fame function in Melbourne on Tuesday night.
Sheedy excelled as a player with Richmond but made his biggest impact on the game as a four-time premiership coach during an astonishing 27-year reign at the Bombers.
“Only two people in the world did 27 years: Nelson Mandela and myself,” a deadpan Sheedy said in his acceptance speech.
Sheedy’s longevity was due in part to his tactical nous, shaped by an unconventional mind most famously manifested when he criticised umpires with obscure references to “Martians” or labelled two rival executives “marshmallows”.
“Kevin was never conventional,” Bartlett said.
“He was innovative, he was a risk-taker and he moved players about like chess pieces.”
Derisively labelled a “bloody back-pocket plumber” by then-Richmond coach Tom Hafey, Sheedy played 251 games for the Tigers between 1967-79, winning three premierships, and was named in the club’s team of the century.
But it was as a coach that Sheedy found the greatest fulfilment.
Sheedy went on to lead Greater Western Sydney during their inaugural season, famously imploring his young charges during a pre-game speech to never let themselves be dominated.
“I don’t believe anyone has made a greater contribution to the game of Australian rules football than Kevin Sheedy,” Bartlett said, noting that Sheedy had been motivated to coach the Giants by his desire to grow the game.
The timing of Sheedy’s elevation, just days before the annual Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round gets underway, is fitting given his strong promotion of Aboriginal players.
Sheedy championed the establishment of the annual Dreamtime at the ‘G clash between Essendon and Richmond, as well as the Bombers’ Anzac Day match against Collingwood and the burgeoning Country Game against Geelong.
More than 85,000 fans are expected to flock to the MCG on Saturday night for this year’s Dreamtime match, which includes celebrations of indigenous culture and The Long Walk for reconciliation led by Bombers great Michael Long.
The honouring of Sheedy with the AFL’s highest status capped off a night in which six former greats of the game, including Geelong premiership hero Matthew Scarlett, were inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Former Western Bulldogs coach and Hawthorn premiership player Terry Wallace, ex-Melbourne power forward David Neitz, former Carlton skipper Wayne Johnston and West Australian greats Bernie Naylor and Mel Whinnen were the other inductees.