Tom Hafey’s VFL coaching career netted four premierships and 522 matches, but such numbers don’t do justice to his lust for life.
Long before the age of sports science, Tom Hafey’s fanatical focus on fitness helped deliver Richmond’s golden era.
Hafey was many things to many people, but will long be remembered as an all-time AFL coaching great and fitness freak.
Many octogenarians are men of gentle routine, but T-shirt Tommy was a little different to most.
He would wake when it was still dark, run for 8kms, perform 250 push-ups, swim in Port Phillip Bay then do 700 crunches/sit-ups.
It was this sort of mindset that extracted the most out of the Tigers’ list following his appointment as coach in 1966.
Hafey had only a modest playing career in the yellow and black, 67 VFL games between 1953-1958 in the back pocket.
But having helped Shepparton win three consecutive flags in 1963-65 it was clear he could coach.
And so it proved at Punt Rd Oval.
In his second season in charge, the Tigers topped the ladder and won their first premiership in almost 25 years.
It was the first of four VFL flags in eight consecutive seasons, an amazing record that was recognised in 1998 when he was named coach of Richmond’s team of the century.
He was effectively shown the door two years after winning the 1974 grand final, having fallen out with club powerbroker Graeme Richmond.
It is a decision that still causes discontent and rancour among those Richmond fans that can rightfully claim to be long suffering.
Kevin Sheedy, who blossomed in the back pocket while playing under Hafey, is one of many to believe Richmond never recovered once Hafey left.
In typical style, Hafey got on with things.
He was snapped up by Collingwood, holders of the wooden spooner after the 1976 season.
In 1977 the Magpies topped the ladder, drew with North Melbourne in the grand final then lost the replay by 27 points.
Grand finals followed for the Magpies in 1979-81, but not even Hafey could conquer the Colliwobbles.
He was sacked by the club in the 1982 season.
Stints at Geelong and Sydney followed, but he will be revered most at Richmond.
By the time he finished up with the Swans in 1988, Hafey had coached a total of 522 VFL/AFL matches and 42 finals including 10 grand finals.
Only Jock McHale, Sheedy and Mick Malthouse boast a better set of those numbers.
Many accolades followed.
He was among the inaugural inductees to the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 1996.
But perhaps Hafey’s most impressive football legacy comes in the form of his many proteges to go on and coach at VFL/AFL level.
Sheedy is the most decorated, having become a four-time premiership coach in his own right at Essendon.
The list includes other modern-day luminaries like Malthouse and Mark Williams.
They are all respected in the league, but none will ever be as universally loved as Hafey.
Hafey’s lust for life crossed codes and knew no boundaries.
Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy invited him to address his NRL players on a handful of occasions.
On visits to schools and prisons he convinced strangers to lead better and healthier lives.
The advent of the internet helped carry tales of his fitness regime beyond Australia, inspiring many who had never kicked a Sherrin in anger to make something of themselves.
He was an outstanding football coach, but much more than that.
— Gerard Whateley (@GerardWhateley) May 12, 2014
Tom Hafey filled the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds of distance run. #RIPTomHafey
— Dave Hughes (@DHughesy) May 12, 2014
Tom Hafey spoke to 1000s of kids about the importance of hard work & clean living. Have never forgotten the day he came to my school. #rip
— Seb Costello (@SebCostello9) May 12, 2014
— Dave Williams (@DangerousDaveW) May 12, 2014
— AFL (@AFL) May 12, 2014
Richmond is mourning the death of Tiger Immortal Tommy Hafey, who died today aged 82. RIP Tommy. http://t.co/hJEFcfHqL1
— Richmond (@Richmond_FC) May 12, 2014
What’s your favourite memory of coaching great Tommy Hafey? pic.twitter.com/Q0BTxSx8Fy
— AFL (@AFL) May 12, 2014
So sad to hear the passing of Tommy Hafey absolute gentlemen. Loved doing sportmans nights with him, he loved to tell a great story. #RIP
— Brendan Fevola (@BrendanFevola25) May 12, 2014
— Paige Cardona (@paigecardona) May 12, 2014
Tommy Hafey was one of the most inspirational people you will ever meet. Not just for Richmond FC but the many people he crossed paths with.
— Kevin Sheedy (@Kevin_Sheedy) May 12, 2014
Farewell, Mister Hafey… Will miss seeing your legendary self on the beach in the mornings. #unforgettable
— kate langbroek (@katelangbroek) May 12, 2014
There was only ever one “push-up king” at Richmond. Tom Hafey at 80. Yes, EIGHTY! pic.twitter.com/NptuLyUaTe
— Alistair Hogg (@alistairjhogg) May 12, 2014
RIP Tommy Hafey. You were my mentor friend and coach. i will miss our chats and good laughs. so sad. WizZ. pic.twitter.com/hAIc6YThtc
— Warwick Capper (@WarwickCapper39) May 12, 2014
More to come