Tiger tales: the powers behind the glories of Tom Hafey's years at Richmond

One of Tom Hafey’s premiership players pointed out on Friday that in the week of Hafey’s death the Richmond coaching legend has never seemed more alive.

The Punt Road fraternity, particularly those from the Hafey years, love a chat, and mini-reunions and sessions of reminiscing have broken out over telephone lines around the country to recall that golden time at Tigerland.

It is not as well known, however, that Richmond’s formidable sorority was a potent and effective secret weapon. The strength of the friendships among the women from that time has survived sackings, divorces and deaths and remains a vital heartbeat to this day as the football memories fade to black and white.

Perhaps on-field success intensified all of the relationships at Richmond over the 15-year period. It was certainly so from the time in the mid-1960s when Tom Hafey returned to the club with his young wife Maureen to coach the club.

Graeme Richmond, nominally the club secretary, had visited  the former Tiger player Hafey in Shepparton several times and the deal was done when Richmond returned in late 1965 with Jack Dyer and club president Ray Dunn.

Hafey and Richmond had been connected through the East Malvern Football Club years earlier and had played in a colourful side there along with Ray ''Slug'' Jordon and types less memorable now but equally colourful boasting nicknames such as  Teddy Tulip and Bobby Buttons.

As Hafey nurtured and taught while Graeme Richmond recruited and built one of the great teams of the game’s history, the two men would dine together after the football each Saturday night, writing down teams on paper napkins while Maureen and Richmond’s then girlfriend and later wife Jan would talk among themselves.

Richmond the man lived in Barkers Road, Hawthorn, for a portion of that era and in the early years the talk would last long into the night. On some occasions Richmond would go to bed leaving Hafey and his 1967 premiership forward-turned-match committee chairman Paddy Guinane.

Sometimes they were still there talking when Richmond arose the next morning.

But then, towards the end, the conversation ceased. Naturally Hafey’s passing has revived memories of his departure from the club and his famous falling-out with Graeme Richmond.

My father, Ian Wilson, was heavily involved at the club throughout the Hafey era and had become president of the club at the end of 1973.

Although he counted Graeme Richmond among his closest and almost lifelong friends, he did not see coming the pivotal board meeting at the end of the 1976 season.

Coaches did not have contracts back then, but when Dad moved the motion to reappoint Hafey, two board members - Graeme Richmond and Neil Busse - voted against it. The other seven votes went Hafey’s way.

My father called Hafey to tell him he had been reappointed but then someone told Hafey that Richmond had voted against him. History has never related, despite much trying, the identity of the informant but the reason for the two '''no'' votes was the view that the coach and his unique style had run their race at the club. Even though the relationships with those players remained until the end.

According to my father, Hafey resigned to him over the telephone; was then asked to reconsider and 24 hours later visited my father’s Malvern office to confirm he could not continue without Graeme Richmond’s support.

The remarkably successful combination of Tom Hafey and Graeme Richmond had transformed Tigerland but now their friendship was over. It seems a great pity and quite remarkable that the two men never spoke about their respective doubts at the time. Nothing was addressed.

Maureen Hafey and Jan Richmond had not seen it coming either, although they had noticed the two men were not as close as they had been. Either way, the women made a pact not to allow the schism to come in the way of their friendship.

That the man whose zest for life was also legendary has died is a great tragedy for his family and friends but it still seems right that the Tigers have chosen to celebrate him at the MCG before the Melbourne game, before they mourn his passing on Monday.

The four most cherished women in Tom Hafey’s life - Maureen and the couple’s three daughters, Rhonda, Karen and Jo - will hold Hafey’s four premiership cups before placing them upon pedestals on the MCG.

That Richmond now has a woman president demonstrates just how much the club’s culture has changed. Back in Hafey’s day the Tigers were experts in crisis management and - as an aside - there remains an old-fashioned push for Peggy O’Neal to speak up or react in some fashion regarding the team’s current poor form. My view is that having a woman at the helm could explain why the club remains calm and seemingly united during this unpalatable form slump.

Football is punctuated all too constantly with tales of what might have been and the Tom Hafey story - for all of its romance and remarkable success - is no different.
It is possible that he did leave Richmond at the right time and although he remained a Tigers’ man until the end, it is probable his greatest coaching feats took place at Collingwood. On paper, the Magpie teams he oversaw did not seem worthy of five grand final appearances in six years.

The politcal mess at that club saw Hafey sacked midway through 1982 despite the club losing the previous year’s playoff by 20 points. After Geelong, Hafey went to Sydney, which also sacked him in 1988 after three years despite the Swans missing the finals only once in that time.

Still, his on-field numbers suggest Hafey was not only unskilled at and uninterested in playing politics but also boasted an uncanny knack of finding himself at clubs lurching towards political crises - a scenario far more common back then.

Some of the smarter Hafey aficionados believe the perfect fit for him after he left Sydney was the St Kilda Football Club. The Saints replaced Darrel Baldock at the end of 1989 with Ken Sheldon but there is a view that the side consisting of Tony Lockett, Stewart Loewe, Danny Frawley, Nick Winmar and the young Robert Harvey - along with Russell Morris - could have been embraced and driven by Hafey to a premiership.

But Hafey never moved into the newly expanded AFL as a coach and missed it dreadfully for a time. It is a great credit to him and his family, and particularly Maureen, that he found so much happiness over his last quarter-of-a-century. The lessons he took to Richmond and enhanced over the decades, he lived by until the end.

When the Tigers in 2003 launched their business networking group modelled upon Essendon’s Dick Reynolds Club they named it for Hafey and when the club launched its first women’s network it was originally dubbed Hafey’s Ambush.

Decades after her husband had officially departed the club, the much-loved and admired Maureen Hafey remained a regular attendee, as always adding a touch of sparkle to every event through the twinkle in her eye to the glitter in every outfit.

Maureen Hafey and Jan Richmond stuck to their pact and remain dear friends to this day, but it must have been a source of regret to both that their husbands fell out and did not speak for so long.

But Tom Hafey and Graeme Richmond did reconcile in Richmond’s last years. He died far too young, in 1991, at the age of 57, from cancer.

And, just before the end, when only immediate family surrounded his bedside, Hafey, accompanied by Maureen, came to say goodbye. Richmond was unable to speak by then but his old friend and colleague sat by him.

As Graeme Richmond lay dying, Tom Hafey was the last person outside of Richmond’s family to hold his hand.

The story Tiger tales: the powers behind the glories of Tom Hafey's years at Richmond first appeared on The Age.

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