Nine ways Kevin Sheedy changed the game
THE NEWEST Legend inducted to the Australian Football Hall of Fame, Kevin Sheedy, has always been one of the game’s most creative thinkers.
Here are just a few of his ‘left-field’ ideas over many years that have variously inspired, infuriated or simply just got everyone talking about good, old ‘Sheeds’.
1. The handball over the top
Kevin Sheedy (l) won three flags as a player and four as a coach. All pictures: AFL Photos
It is the 1974 Grand Final. The tough, tenacious Richmond versus the upstart North Melbourne. Seemingly, the entire football world was riding home the Kangaroos who by then were the only League side not to have won a premiership.
The Tigers took this personally. So when Sheedy rode high – by his standards – to take a mark over North’s Bradley Smith in the forward pocket at the Punt Road end, it was time to think outside the box.
There would be no drop punt from a tight angle as was the convention at the time. Steve Johnson was not yet born, so the reverse checkside kick around the body was not even a consideration.
Instead, Sheedy ran in towards Smith who was standing the mark. But instead of kicking he dinked a cheeky handball over Smith’s head to teammate Michael Green, who was standing unattended in the goal square and dribbled the goal through.
“Oh, look at that,” marveled Mike Williamson on the Channel Seven TV commentary. “It was too easy.”
Williamson wasn’t often wrong, but he was then. If it was so easy, then everyone would have been doing it.
2. Dressed to coach
Essendon had been in Kevin Sheedy’s ears to become their coach for many years. He knew he wanted to coach one day and that Essendon, the team he supported as a child, was atop his wish list.
Still, he knocked the club back at the end of 1977 when they were looking for a replacement for Bill Stephen. “I didn’t believe in playing coaches,” he said last week in an interview with AFL.com.au.
But a season and a half after retiring as a player with the Tigers in 1979, he was ready to step in and after a brief flirtation with, of all clubs, Hawthorn, he took the job at the Bombers in 1981.
He came in at a million miles an hour and was one of the first full-time coaches. But while he had no interest in playing (although he briefly contemplated coming out of retirement when the Bombers lost five of their first six games), he dressed as though he did.
Indeed for the first few games he coached the club, his match-day attire consisted not of the standard shirt and pants, but a black and red Essendon tracksuit, with footy boots. Sheedy had created a look and feel during the week as he set about transforming the Bombers and he initially carried that over into games as well.
It was only after he Bombers lost a few games that he was tapped on the shoulder by some board members who told him to forget about playing and to start dressing like a coach. He did and coincidence or not, the Bombers would not lose again until round 22.
3. The speech that turned the tables
It is the night after the 1983 Grand Final. The mood in the ballroom of the Southern Cross Hotel ballroom is quite bubbly. After all, Grand Finals are hard to make and the Bombers had just played in their first for 15 years.
Ok, they were smashed by Hawthorn by 83 points, but hey, the reserves won the flag earlier that afternoon, so why not hit the dance floor and have a boogie as the band made like the Bee Gees?
Soon however, it was Sheedy’s turn to talk and he was having none of that.
“I don’t want you to enjoy tonight,” he said as the room turned deathly silent. “If it never hurts tonight, then Essendon will never win another premiership. The way we have been beaten today, to put it mildly, was one of, if not the most disappointing days of my life.”
This was Sheedy at his cutting best, with words straight out of the Tom Hafey playbook. Within 12 months, Essendon turned the tables on the Hawks, coming from four goals down at three-quarter time to win their first flag in 19 years. Sheedy made some masterful moves that day, but the seeds for the flag were sown with his words 12 months prior.
4. State of Origin subterfuge
State of Origin footy was its at its peak in the mid 1980s. Sheedy, as the defending VFL premiership coach, was given the job of coaching Victoria and he did so with gusto and subterfuge.
The Vics flew to Adelaide the day before a game against South Australia in 1985, but unbeknownst to the rest of the team, noted Essendon tagger Shane Heard arrived in Adelaide only hours before the opening bounce. He wasn’t there to watch, but to play and his teammates only knew of his inclusion when he came aboard the team bus on the way to the ground.
The visitors ended up playing with four on the interchange bench rather than the permitted three. They won the game by 57 points, but the result was rightly overturned on protest shortly afterwards. Sheedy was a despised figure in South Australia for years afterwards.
5. Tie the windsock down
It is round eight, 1991 and the Victorian-centric AFL is losing its mind over the prospect of a West Coast premiership. The unbeaten Eagles headed to Windy Hill to face Sheedy’s Bombers – also unbeaten – and as they warmed up before the game and went to check out the always tricky local conditions, they discovered the windsock was tied down.
It actually didn’t matter because the Bombers would run out of fit players that day and West Coast would win by seven points.
The blame post-match was laid at Sheedy and he was happy to lap it up. However it did emerge years later that it may have been a snafu about a new club sponsor that led to the windsock being tied down and that the Windy Hill ground staff were actually to blame.
Sheedy might only have been a bit-part player in this one, but he didn’t care. It might also have been the first time Sheedy the coach blamed something controversial on the “Martians”.
It is round 16, 1993 at the MCG and the Bombers needed a win. In their way was West Coast, and after a tight, see-sawing game, Essendon ruckman Paul Salmon marked and kicked straight for the match-winner after having previously sprayed them everywhere all afternoon.
The Bombers were jubilant and the 44,000 fans in attendance made it sound twice that many. Sheedy was thrilled too and as he made his way through the crowd and on to the ground, he ripped off his jacket, glared ever so briefly at Eagles coach (and former teammate Mick Malthouse) and waved it triumphantly over his head.
It started a new ritual and it continues to this day of either Essendon or West Coast fans twirling their jackets, scarves or whatever after a win against the other team.
“It was nothing personal,” he said years later. “We won the game and Salmon had kicked finally straight. It was ‘Let’s get excited, people,’.”
7. The marshmallow game
It is late 1998. North Melbourne doesn’t like Essendon very much. The Kangas have always felt like they’ve lived in the shadow of the bigger club a few miles up the road in Melbourne’s northwest.
They were both chasing the flag that year and Sheedy expertly stoked the flames by referring to North Melbourne officials Greg Miller and Mark Dawson as “marshmallows”, suggesting they might have lacked some fortitude.
“He’d be a pink marshmallow, Dawson,” he said. “Miller would be a white marshmallow. That’s about where I see those two softies.”
Sheedy would say later he did it only to help North attract a crowd. Indeed, 72,000 were at the MCG that September evening as the Kangaroos knocked the Bombers out of the finals and as he left the ground, delirious North fans pelted Sheedy with, you guessed it, marshmallows. Both pink and white.
It could have been any year, really.
Sheedy’s long-held explanation for anything untoward or mysterious, was to blame it on the ‘Martians’. Later on, it became his code word for criticising umpires.
As he explained last week, “You could never, ever be fined when you’re talking about Martians. Everybody knows that things happen in footy that are unearthly and not fair. Only a Martian could pay some of those decisions.”
9. Sheeds’ garden of ideas
At least once a week, if not more, Sheedy can be found strolling through Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens. If not for footy, he might have become a full-time horticulturalist, but the place inspires him (his huge garden at home is his pride and joy) and it is where he does his best thinking.
“I can never understand why people walk around it instead of in it,” he says.
It was at the Botanic Gardens one day in 1994 he conceived the idea of making the Anzac Day clash a footy spectacular. Phone calls to Collingwood football manager Graeme Allan and then Victorian RSL president Bruce Ruxton and the game came into being over a cup of coffee at the nearby Hilton (now the Pullman) Hotel.
For the last 40 years, Sheedy’s grandest ideas have come into his mind while strolling through Melbourne’s best garden. And they are then executed at a landmark hotel overlooking his favourite place in the world, the MCG.