The News interviewed Tommy Hafey in October last year.
The interview, entitled “Hafey: I love people” is reprinted below in memory of a great and gracious man.
By Andrew Kelly
In the world of AFL Football, there are not many bigger names in the game than Thomas Stanley Raymond Hafey.
The man dubbed T-shirt Tommy by the great commentator Lou Richards, has coached at four VFL-AFL Clubs, is one of five coaches to have coached more than 500 games in the history of the game, has coached teams to 10 grand finals and four premierships and has had 18 former players go on and coach at the highest level, including Kevin Sheedy and Mick Malthouse.
An inaugural inductee to the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 1996, the 82-year-old Hafey was named coach of Richmond’s team of the century in 1998. In 2003, the Tigers set up the Tom Hafey club (a corporate networking group) in his honour.
Tommy was born and bred in Richmond and lived in six different houses in the first six years of his life during the Depression. His family then moved to Canberra for six years before returning to Melbourne and settling in East Malvern, which happened to be the zone for Richmond Football Club.
Tommy was a printer and bricklayer’s labourer before he met the love of his life, Maureen, at a dance. They were married in 1954.
“Everyone met at the dance. I feel so sorry for those who don’t know about the dances. There was no such thing as alcohol at dances back then. The boys had to be dressed in a suit and tie and the girls looked like actresses out of Hollywood. It was a magic time. And guess what, we actually danced with our partner and held each other and danced with one another. There was none of this jumping around and waving your arms before the boys go and stand at the bar for hours while there are six or eight girls dancing in a huddle,” Hafey said.
The Hafeys bought a milk bar in Bridge Rd, Richmond, in 1956, across the road from the national theatre and their two eldest daughters were both born during this time. The Hafey’s also have a third daughter, as well as six grandchildren.
“Our milk bar was the place to be with slot machines, a jukebox and groceries. We also sponsored three basketball teams, Hafey’s Basketballers. Maureen actually bumped into a man in his mid 60s recently and told her, ‘when I get up there (pointing to the heavens), I hope there is Hafey’s Basketball’. Isn’t that just beautiful,” Hafey said.
Hafey began his football career with East Malvern, starting in the Under 19 team and graduating to the seniors in 1950. He spent three years with the club, winning the best and fairest in 1952.
It was after this season that he was invited to his beloved Richmond Football Club. When he arrived, the Tigers were in some turmoil after the sacking of the legendary Jack Dyer. Although considering himself “not quite at the standard to play at the highest level”, Tommy played 12 of a possible 18 games in his first season and finished the year with 12 goals.
It was tough for Hafey, who, with two young daughters, would open the milk bar in the morning and work all day, then go to football training at 5pm.
“I’d then come home and work until we closed at 11pm. Upon reflection, I don’t think it helped my football or my health a great deal,” Hafey said.
Hafey’s second season at Richmond was less productive, managing just five games due to a bout of hepatitis, before returning to the reserves for the finals. Now a regular in the back pocket, Hafey played in that position when the reserves captured the premiership. He was named as one of the Tigers’ best, and this performance helped to gain him regular senior selection in 1955–1956. In these two years, he managed 28 games without becoming a household name.
After the appointment of Alan McDonald as coach, the Tigers had slipped to the bottom of the ladder and as a regular place in the team looked out of the question, Hafey left VFL football at the end of 1958, aged 27. Hafey spent a year with Richmond Amateurs, where he played in their 1959 premiership team.
Then came the transition. Hafey sold the milk bar and took the job as playing coach of Shepparton in the Goulburn Valley in country Victoria.
“Everyone was going to the bush back then. The great Bobby Rose went to the bush to coach at age 26. I was paid 800 pounds, which was great money back then,” Hafey said.
“It helped pay for the block of land that we bought in Sorrento. We have been enjoying family holidays there for more than 50 years,” Hafey said.
With his tenacious attitude to the game, his fanatical devotion to fitness and his ability to bring men together, Hafey made his team into a power in one of the best quality country leagues in Australia.
Shepparton lost the Grand Final to Tongala in 1961, then completed a hat trick of flags between 1963 and 1965.
It was during this time at Shepparton that Hafey got a real appreciation for the work people do at local football clubs.
“I went back to the Shepparton Football Club for a funeral last year. A young lady I met in my time there, Val Court, was just a teenager. She married and became Val Dominello and was president of the ladies committee. She never had a kick, took a mark or kicked a goal but for more than 50 years she was at the clubrooms at 7am on a Saturday morning and was the last to leave,” Hafey said.
“There are so many people who put their heart and soul into the clubs. Many of them are never rewarded and many unappreciated. To see people crying and the emotion that they carried with them when we won the flags was beautiful – it made me appreciate the fabric of local clubs. Sporting Clubs are the hub of the towns, bringing everyone together on a weekly basis.
Hafey’s performance as coach of Shepparton drew the attention of Tigers secretary Graeme Richmond. When Richmond faced a coaching dilemma in 1965, the club appointed Jack Titus to serve as a stand-in until a replacement could be found. Hafey was encouraged to apply, and the decision came down to two candidates – Hafey, or former club captain Ron Branton, who was coaching at Myrtleford.
Graeme Richmond saw something special in Hafey and he was appointed coach for the 1966 season.
On his return to Punt Road, Hafey opted to coach for what became his trademark style – kick the ball long and quickly into the forward line. He raised the bar for fitness among his players, extending pre-season training, and introducing a third training night during the week. It was unheard of back then. Richmond quickly became known for being the fittest team in the competition, and often finished a game outrunning their opponents.
Richmond hit the top of the ladder in 1966 and seemed certain to play in September. However, two losses relegated the Tigers to fifth place with thirteen wins and a draw, the best performed team to miss out since the inception of the McIntyre finals system in 1931.
Stung by the near miss, Richmond cleared a number of players off their list and recruited two young players to the club: Royce Hart and Francis Bourke. Both would become club and league stars.
The result was premiership success in 1967, beating Geelong in the Grand Final.
In two years, the team lost only seven games and Hafey had gone from an unknown coach in the bush to the toast of the football world.
The premiership marked a turning point for the game. The Tigers were fitter than any team that had gone before and were the highest scoring team since 1950. Australian football, after two decades of defensive-based play, was about to enter an era of high scoring, aided by rule changes, new tactics and betters standards of fitness.
However, Hafey was powerless to prevent a premiership hangover the following year, and was denied a berth in the finals. The Tigers were lethargic in 1969 and accusations of under-achievement began to creep in. There was talk of a Hafey sacking. However, the players rallied behind him and finished the season brilliantly, snatching fourth place before winning all three finals to take a second premiership.
Basing the team’s strategy around all-out attack had drawbacks, most famously during the 1972 finals, when his team conceded the highest score to Carlton in a shock upset. Hafey later admitted that the defeat left him down, to the point of depression, but it later became the motivation for his greatest success, the back-to-back premierships of 1973–1974.
Just two years later, the most successful coach in Richmond’s history had left the club. He resigned after the club’s powerbroker Graeme Richmond voted against his reappointment.
Consumed by coaching, Hafey’s initial thought was to head interstate to coach. However, there proved to be no need after a chance meeting with the new Collingwood president, John Hickey. The Magpies had just endured their worst–ever season, finishing on the bottom of the ladder for the first time. Hafey was appointed as the first non-Collingwood man to coach the club for the 1977 season.
In a Cinderella-like performance, Hafey took essentially the same list of players from the bottom to the top of the ladder in one season, the first time this had been achieved in the VFL. The Magpies played North Melbourne in the first televised Grand Final in 1977, drawing the first match before losing by more than four goals in the replay.
Another loss to North Melbourne in the 1978 Preliminary Final caused Hafey to clean out a number of the Collingwood veterans, and later the following season the team emerged as the only challenger to the hot favourite, Carlton. In another dramatic Grand Final, Collingwood held a good lead in the second quarter, but were overtaken by half time. The game ultimately hinged on a freakish piece of play by Wayne Harmes, who somehow chased down his own kick and knocked the ball on for a goal, which had added significance when Collingwood lost by five points.
More irony surfaced in the 1980 Grand Final when Hafey took on his old team Richmond. Kevin Bartlett won the Norm Smith medal as the Tigers won by a record margin.
Somehow, Hafey got the Magpies up for another tilt at the premiership in 1981, and they led by 21 points late in the third term of the Grand Final against Carlton. Two late goals by the Blues caused a number of arguments in the Collingwood three quarter time huddle, and Carlton, spurred on by the disharmony, ran all over Collingwood in the last term to win handsomely.
The continual disappointment around Victoria Park now focussed attention on Hafey’s methods. Hafey survived into the next season, but a record losing streak of nine games sealed his fate and he was sacked mid-season of 1982.
Hafey was still in demand and he was given a three-year contract to coach Geelong in 1983.
Although he had charge of some excellent talent at the club, Hafey was unable to engender the type of team spirit he created at Collingwood and Richmond.
During the 1985 season, the VFL had sold the Sydney Swans to medical entrepreneur Geoffrey Edelsten, in an attempt to create the first privately owned club. Edelsten was now frantically signing up star players from Melbourne clubs, offering massive contracts to move to the harbour city. The signature he coveted most was Kevin Sheedy, who had just coached Essendon to successive premierships and was the hottest commodity in the game. Sheedy turned Edelsten down, but urged the Swans’ owner to sign his old mentor, Tom Hafey. Hafey duly signed on for three years, was given the highest paid list of players in the game, and he relocated to Sydney with his family.
Hafey took the Swans from 2nd bottom to 2nd top, 2 years running during his 3 years with the Sydney Swans, and achieved a 70-75% win record during this time.
When he finished, his coaching career was done. He was now considered as an ‘old school’ coach, although his name was always mentioned whenever a club was looking for a new coach.
Hafey returned to Melbourne in 1989 and worked on radio as a football commentator. He also fashioned a career as a self-styled “ambassador” for the game and a strident advocate for physical fitness in the wider society.
Hafey speaks regularly to many types of groups on football or fitness, and never fails to emphasise the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
It’s this lifestyle that drives Hafey every day of his life now.
His alarm is still set for 5.30am every weekday morning and his fitness ritual of a six kilometre run, between 300-400 push-ups and 800 sit-ups is unwavering.
“Even if I’ve had a late night after coming back from the bush doing a talk, I’ll be up at 5.30am,” Hafey said.
Hafey continues to go to the local football every weekend.
“I really enjoy the folk at the footy clubs but I really enjoy going to the schools and talking to the children there.
“Most of my work these days is speaking to the children about leadership and loving their parents.
“I tell them not to worry about not being the best in their school. I just want them to do their very best. I share with them that in the Swans premiership year in 2012, seven of their players were sacked from their former clubs. They worked hard and got the best out of themselves.
“To the older ones, I tell them to make themselves and their parents proud. Don’t embarrass yourself I tell them. Don’t think you have to do something just because your mates are doing it.
“I talk strongly against drinking and smoking. It just looks so stupid to me. When my mates started drinking when they were 15 and 16, I was wondering what they were trying to prove. I don’t make a big deal of it but it has never interested me. My three brothers have never touched alcohol or cigarettes either, which is pretty good considering our Grandfather worked in the brewery in Richmond.”
Tommy Hafey loves people.
“I love talking about experiences. I want people to enjoy their life, enjoy one another and strive to be the very best that they can be.”