Monday, May 12, 2014

Vale Tommy Hafey

Yesterday at the age of 82, Tommy Hafey passed away after a short battle with cancer.

I never met Tommy Hafey, but he had a profound effect on my life. As I've explained elsewhere I was born into a family that passionately supported the Richmond Tigers Australian Rules football club. Tommy's first year as coach of Richmond was the year I was born. Tommy led the team to a Premiership the year after. While Richmond had been coming for a couple of years before that flag, but for a lot of the previous decade they were cellar dwellers and not considered much good.

I have a lot of memories of Tommy as coach. He was about the same age as my parents. He left the club at the end of the 1976 season and went on to coach first Collingwood, he took them from the bottom of the ladder the year before to within a whisker of winning the Grand Final. They drew the first one against North Melbourne and lost the replay a week later.

After Collingwood he coached Geelong and Sydney. He didn't enjoy a great deal of success at the Cattery, but did get the Swans into the finals for the first time since they left South Melbourne and moved to the harbour city.

I have indelible football memories that are attached to Tommy Hafey, not one person has ever said a bad word about him and he was just a wonderful positive example. Even when he left Richmond I still wanted him to personally succeed, even though I bore Collingwood no good will at all.

After he finished at the Swans, Tommy didn't coach again. Although he coached elsewhere and had enduring friendships with the non Richmond players he coached, Tommy's heart never left Punt Road. The picture above is relatively recent, and while a man in his late 70's or early 80's has no business filling out a football guernsey so well, Tommy Hafey did it. He was a regular fixture at Tigerland and gave the young players coming through a lot of inspiration and heart.

Tommy Hafey was a fitness fanatic. When he came to Tigerland as a coach (he played 67 games for the club in the 50's) he made his team the fittest in the league, that and his uncomplicated game plan of kicking the ball long to his dominant forward line, had a lot to do with those 4 flags and it was also something that got Collingwood into Grand Finals in his time there, even though they weren't able to win one.

His commitment to physical fitness didn't become apparent to all and sundry until he was at Collingwood. Prior to that, like most coaches of the time, he wore a suit to the games. At Collingwood he started to appear in the media and at the games in a t-shirt, which showed off his hard won physique. Former Collingwood player and commentator Lou Richards took to calling him 'T-shirt Tommy' and the name stuck for many years.

Hafey's daily fitness regime included an 8 kilometre run, 250 pushups and a swim in the bay no matter the weather. This was something he maintained for most of his life and even into his 80's. He was quite remarkable in that respect.

A lot of Richmond supporters over the years have met Tommy or had a story to tell about him. I'm no exception. I never met him personally. My mother did. Back then he was coaching Richmond and also working as a sales rep (very few people could make a living coaching or playing football then). Mum asked him for his autograph for me and Tommy asked if I had an autograph book, she said that I did. He told her to bring it in, he'd take it to the club and get the entire team to sign it. He was true to his word too, you couldn't do that now. As a kid I also wrote him a letter. He took the time to reply personally with a handwritten letter back. I can't imagine that happening now either.

When I heard the news yesterday I felt like a member of my family had just passed away, he touched me that much and my memories of him and what he did for my club and the game in general mean that much to me.

RIP Tommy Hafey. You will be missed.

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