HE’S THE man who’s done it all in footy – and then some. Now he is being hailed as the game’s greatest servant – ever – and chief writer RON REED agrees:
THE WEEK THAT WAS: His lifelong mate Kevin Bartlett introduced Kevin Sheedy as the AFL Hall of Fame’s 28th official Legend during the week by asserting that no-one, but no-one, had made a greater contribution to footy than his old Tigers team-mate. Given the massive input of all the other names on the list, and taking into account that the game is more than 120 years old, that’s a massive call. But you know what? Bartlett is on the money.
Sheedy, 70, has been involved for nearly half that amount of time, which is not quite a record among the other Legends, of whom 16 are still alive. Polly Farmer, 83, Ron Barassi, 82, Bob Skilton, 79, and John Nicholls, 78, have Sheeds well-covered for longevity – at this stage. But none of them are still actively involved. Sheedy remains employed by the Essendon club doing one of the things that he does best, namely talking up the game and inventing ways to help it prosper into the future. Nobody doubts he will continue to do that until his dying day. His work will never be done.
There have been plenty of better players and a handful of superior coaching records – for the record, Sheedy played 251 games, helped win three premierships, captained the club, won a best and fairest and played for Victoria, then coached 635 games for four more premierships and coached Victoria. It is a massive body of work and yet it might not, ultimately, be what he is best remembered for. Which is astonishing, when you think about it. His best legacy is, in this column’s opinion, the work he put into promoting indigenous footballers, which makes it entirely fitting that his new status was celebrated in the week of the indigenous round that he did so much to create and which will feature him being driven in a lap of honour around the MCG before the Dreamtime match between his two old clubs. Not far behind is his creation of the Anzac Day match and he continues to lobby for more to be done to recognise servicemen who go to war for their country. And then there is his part in creating, through the AFL, traineeships to provide career opportunities for footballers. Plus his latest brainchild, the country round of matches designed to focus on rural communities.
Phew! Is there anything left for him to do? You wouldn’t think so, but nothing is more certain than that he will find something.
If all that doesn’t make him, as Bartlett suggests, worthy of the title of Mr Football, then who would it be? The other Legends are, in alphabetical order, Darrel Baldock, Barassi, Bartlett, Malcolm Blight, Haydn Bunton snr, Barry Cable, Roy Cazaly, John Coleman, Gordon Coventry, Jack Dyer, Farmer, Royce Hart, Peter Hudson, Bill Hutchison, Alex Jesaulenko, Tony Lockett, Leigh Matthews, Jock McHale, Kevin Murray, Nicholls, Bob Pratt, Dick Reynolds, Barrie Robran, Skilton, Norm Smith, Ian Stewart and Ted Whitten snr. Champion players each and every one, and all but Coventry, Hudson, Hutchison, Pratt and Robran had a crack at VFL/AFL level, with varying results. Arguably, none had the off-field influence of Sheedy. His nearest competitors for the title would be, I suggest, Barassi (a pioneer and visionary in many ways), Matthews (still one of the game’s most prominent and wisest voices) and Bartlett (still a prominent commentator and ideas man). Former VFL president Allen Aylett, a champion player who was the main architect of the national competition as it is today, would have some claims, too. Back in the day, they used to call Whitten Mr Football, but while he was an all-time great player that was mostly in recognition of his larger-than-life personality and infectious enthusiasm for the game, especially the old Big V when interstate football was a thing. You wouldn’t put him in the same league as Sheedy now for overall influence.
The other great thing about Sheedy is that he is such a people person. I have known him professionally for, oh, about 40 years and every conversation with him has been an education. Once he knows who you are – and who you barrack for! – it is impossible to walk past him without pausing for a handshake and a verbal engagement. Given how many thousands of acquaintances he must have by now, that’s no small measure of the man. True, he’s had a few blues with a few people along the way but the respect he commands is universal and his record of achievement speaks for itself. Or it would have done until KB put it into a context that doesn’t seem to have attracted any dissenters in the past few days. Nor should it.
AFTER THE tumultuous events of the Australian tour of South Africa earlier this year, few would dispute that there is scope for cricket to clean up its act in terms of on-field manners, if that’s not to genteel a term for over-the-top sledging, sharp practices such as ball tampering and general poor sportsmanship. And with another highly dubious match-fixing allegation clouding the waters, it’s been a busy week for the various guardians of the noble old game’s conscience. The ICC Cricket Committee, a high-profile group of former players chaired by India’s Anil Kumble, has recommended the promulgation of a new offence of “personal, insulting, offensive or orchestrated abuse”. The committee has also recommended the creation of a “code of respect” for players and another new offence of “attempting to gain an unfair advantage”. As well, it supported giving match officials – umpires and referees – the power to upgrade or downgrade the level of an offence or sanction, which sounds like permission to wield a bigger stick when necessary. It is difficult to argue with the good intentions inherent in all this but in making the necessary changes to the laws of the game, care needs to be taken not to overshoot the mark and strip the game of the volatile tension that is part and parcel of this and most other sports. It doesn’t need to be played in church, just toned down a bit. One change that doesn’t need to be made – as urged in this space a week ago – is scrapping the toss at the start of Test matches. That silly idea was quickly hit out of the park, and rightly so.
BERNARD TOMIC did at least one thing right in his disastrous return to top-flight tennis at the French Open – he kept his trap shut. But even then, he copped flak for it. Tomic, the lost soul of Australian sport, looked to be retrieving some ground, and some pride, by cruising through qualifying for the French Open, only to immediately crash out at the hands of a “lucky loser” qualifier, Argentina’s Marco Trungelliti, who had to drive for 10 hours from Barcelona to accept the last-minute offer of a place in the draw when Nick Kyrgios pulled out, robbing the tournament of one of the most interesting first-round match-ups possible, at least from an Australian perspective. At his compulsory press conference afterwards, Tomic looked and sounded miserable and made no attempt to engage with reporters. Given that what has come out of his mouth in the not-so-distant past has been a large part of his problem, having nothing to say for a change was hardly going to hurt. So when will we hear from him – or see him — again? That’s anybody’s guess. The real question is: Does anybody care? At least, Tomic returned to the top of the rankings in one respect as the week proceeded. That was when Russian Marat Safin, a notorious playboy in his time, described Tomic as the holder of all the world records for partying, suggesting that tennis came a distant second. Given that young Bernie once spent $50,000 on a single night out in Melbourne with a few mates (and mate-esses, no doubt) there is no reason to suspect Safin is not on the money, so to speak.
SPORTSMAN OF THE WEEK: No need to say any more: KEVIN SHEEDY, by the length of the field.
WINNER OF THE WEEK: Make that a double – racing drivers DANIEL RICCIARDO and the appropriately-named WILL POWER served up the best day in Australian motor racing history when they claimed the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix and America’s greatest car race, the Indy 500, within hours of each other. One drank champagne out of his boot and the other milk out of a bottle – cheers!
LOSER OF THE WEEK: Not for the first time, that would be tennis tragic BERNARD TOMIC who looked to be getting his shattered career back on track by qualifying for the French Open only to crash out to an anonymous “lucky loser” in the first round.
VALE: Dual Olympian RAY WEINBERG, who has died at 91, was far from Australia’s greatest track and field athlete – he had top 10 finishes in the 110m hurdles at London in 1948 and Helsinki four years later, while also running relays – but his vast knowledge of the sport, his willingness to work to promote it throughout his life (he was also a commentator, coach and team manager at Olympic level) and his friendly, helpful manner gave him legendary status in many eyes. RIP.
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.