Sport AFL Tom Hafey admired for more than flags

Tom Hafey admired for more than flags

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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.

Richmond's four-time premiership coach Tom Hafey has died.
Richmond’s four-time premiership coach Tom Hafey has died.

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.

Hafey and wife Maureen in 2013.
Hafey and wife Maureen in 2013.

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.


More to come

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