Des Tuddenham on the Magpie mistakes – then and now

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SO WHAT’S WRONG with Collingwood – this time? Chief writer RON REED goes to lunch with one of the famous club’s greatest legends, DES TUDDENHAM, and discovers the answer is … just about everything:

DES TUDDENHAM was never known for pulling his punches, physically or verbally. Not much has changed, not in the latter respect anyway. Ask him why his old club Collingwood has endured yet another dismal season and he says bluntly that Nathan Buckley is not a good coach and the team is carrying a lot of poor players, maybe 10 or 11. The recruiting has been terrible. Nor is he much of a fan of the administration, noting that high-profile president Eddie McGuire’s long reign has produced only one premiership and made a bad mistake by moving previous coach Mick Malthouse along to allow Buckley to take over. And then there is the absence of any former player on the board – he rolls his eyes at that too.

You could cobble together a decent headline out of this, of course: club legend turns up heat on Buckley and McGuire. Tuddy’s opinions on the game demand great respect – over a very long period he has played, coached and watched more footy than most and is an AFL Hall of Famer – so if you want to interpret such comments as an exercise in rocking the boat, not that the boat needs much more rocking, feel free. The reality, though, is that he is still a Magpie through and through – it’s “we” not “them” in every reference – and like the rest of the multitude who bleed black and white he has the club’s best interests at heart. But if you ask him what he thinks you get an honest answer.

Ron Reed (r) with Collingwood legend Des Tuddenham

He has a mixed reputation in some ways. It’s fair to suggest he hasn’t been anyone’s idea of an angel on or off the field but he remains what he has always been, one of the game’s most colourful characters with the gift of the gab and a charm that makes him impossible to dislike – even if you’re a Collingwood hater. The good bloke syndrome, in other words. He is also incredibly fit for his age, 73, testimony to a lifelong passion for running, which he says is what transformed him from a player of limited ability into one good enough to become captain of Victoria and to win the Magpies’ best and fairest in his first season after being recruited from Ballarat.

His assessments of where his old club is at were delivered at the latest of the fortnightly Friday lunches hosted by Carlton legend Percy Jones at the North Fitzroy Arms pub. These popular gigs have been going for the best part of two years now, with a host of big names from various sports appearing, and there hasn’t been a more entertaining one than Tuddy, who even proved to be a damn good singer with renditions of the old Four ‘n’ Twenty pie song and several verses of Click Go The Shears. Jones somehow manages to persuade his talent to perform pro bono but Tuddy could command plenty with his natural aptitude for entertainment.

He had two stints at Collingwood for a total of 182 games, interrupted by four years as captain-coach of Essendon for another 69, and also coached South Melbourne for one year. His son Paul also played for the Magpies. Des played in three Grand Finals against Melbourne, St Kilda and Carlton, losing by four points, one point and 10 points after famously leading by 44 at half-time. He was always going to play for the Magpies because he grew up barracking for them – but when the time came to try his luck, he would have gone to Carlton if only the Blues had paid a paltry price.

Carlton legend Ken Hands tried to recruit him and, for show, produced five new footballs from the boot of his car. “To me, that was like winning Tatts,” Tuddy said. “But when I asked for them, Hands said no, they were needed for training.” That was the end of that. Tuddy signed for Collingwood for a set of jumpers for his YCW club in Ballarat and petrol money to get to and from Melbourne, from which he earned more than his playing wage for a while.

Two great full-forwards were at the lunch, former team-mate Peter McKenna and the old Bulldog Simon Beasley. Tuddy said the Magpies blew the ‘66 decider against St Kilda by not playing McKenna, a second-year rookie, opting instead for the more experienced but less talented Ian Graham, who contributed just one goal. Not only did the selectors get it wrong, he said, but the team simply wasn’t fit enough, a not uncommon problem for Collingwood in those days.

He “can’t pinpoint what happened” in ‘70, but says that Carlton bench player Ted Hopkins should never have been allowed to kick four match-winning goals in the second half. “If I’d played on him, I’d have had him carried off in front of the members’ stand, he would never have got those goals.” Instead, the job was left to Colin Tully who was playing in the back-pocket for the first time – another brains trust cock-up.

When the coach of those teams, Bob Rose, moved on, ex-ruckman Neil Mann got the job for three years. Tuddy still believes it should have been him. “At least I’d have got them fit,” he says. “Neil knew nothing about footy. He used to say at training, ‘Will the three of you go and pair up.’’”

After a famous argument over money he went to Essendon where he won more than half his 90 games in charge and had “a wonderful time” developing young players, eventually returning to the black and white fold for two years, which yielded a wooden spoon under Murray Weideman and another Grand Final loss under Tom Hafey, in which he did not play.

He acquired a reputation for ruthless physicality in a rough and tough era when there was almost no chance of being sprung by TV cameras for illegal acts. But he claims it “wasn’t on” in his day to hit anyone when they weren’t looking. You did it looking them in the eye. He agrees with the AFL’s current campaign to eliminate the sort of violence that has been in the news lately. “Hitting behind the play is coward’s stuff – it’s not for our game or for any game,” he said.

Asked who was the best player he played with, he pointed at McKenna, sitting nearby, ahead of Ted Potter, Len Thompson and Phil Carman, “who was a sensational player but mad, nobody could coach him”.

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Author: Ron Reed

RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.

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