Kevin John Sheedy AO (born 24 December 1947) is a former Australian rules football coach and player in the Australian Football League. He played and coached in a combined total of 929 games over 47 years from 1967 until 2013, which is a VFL/AFL record. Sheedy was inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 2008 and on the 29th of May 2018 was elevated to legend status.
On the field, Sheedy represented Richmond in the Victorian Football League during the 1960s and 1970s, captaining the side in 1978 and winning three premierships. He then coached Essendon in the VFL/AFL for nearly three decades from 1981 until 2007, winning four premierships and earning acclaim for his unusual and creative approaches to promoting the club and the game. Sheedy conceived the first Anzac Day game in 1995 involving Collingwood and the club he coached at the time, Essendon. In 2009, Sheedy joined the newly formed Greater Western Sydney as its inaugural AFL coach, and coached there from 2012 until 2013.
Sheedy was born in Melbourne to devout Catholic parents. He played junior football with the local Try Boys society team whilst attending De La Salle College, Malvern, where future teammate Kevin Bartlett also spent a brief time. In 1963, he joined Prahran in the Victorian Football Association (VFA) and spent a year with the Under 19s. The next year, at the age of 16, he played senior football with the Two Blues and was soon a regular with the team. His home was in Melbourne's zone, so he took up an invitation to try out with the Demons, playing a few practice matches. But he did not feel comfortable there and returned to Prahran, playing in the club's Second Division premiership team in 1966.
By now, Richmond had shown some interest in the young centreman and received permission from Melbourne to speak with him. Sheedy jumped at the chance to join the up-and-coming Tigers, but a problem emerged when he shifted to Punt Road: the VFA refused to endorse his clearance due to a wider disagreement with the VFL relating to transfer fees. The VFA had weeks earlier set a minimum transfer fee of $3,000 for any of its players crossing to the VFL, and Sheedy's transfer fee was set even higher at $5,000; but the VFL considered this price so exorbitant that it responded by terminating its player transfer reciprocity agreement with the VFA, allowing Sheedy to move to Richmond without a clearance and without the transfer fee being paid. For crossing without a transfer, Sheedy was suspended from VFA competition for five years, but he remained free to play in the VFL during this time.
Another hurdle to jump was Billy Barrot. Barrot, a star player loved by the Tiger fans, played in Sheedy's favoured position of centre. However, Barrot was somewhat temperamental and prone to miss some matches. When he was injured in the third game of the year, Sheedy was selected in his place for his debut. But Sheedy struggled and after six games in the seniors found himself back in the reserves for the remainder of the year. His season was ended by a serious knee injury that further put his future into doubt. From the sidelines, he watched Richmond win the premiership against Geelong.
Returned to fitness, Sheedy faced an enormous challenge in 1968. Coach Tom Hafey saw something in Sheedy's willingness to listen, his determination and fierce desire for the ball. Placed in a back pocket, Sheedy consolidated his place in the senior side and then began to emerge as key player in the team's defence. He won a Victorian guernsey in 1969 and was a stand out in the Tigers' three finals games, which culminated in a second flag in three years. He finished runner-up best and fairest to claim a remarkable turn around in just two years.
By now, Sheedy's on-field persona marked him as a "villain" to be watched. He enjoyed niggling his opponents, physically and verbally and seemed to be at the centre of every melee on the ground. Occasionally, his teammates blanched at some of his more theatrical attempts to win free kicks or fifteen-metre penalties and he had the ability to drive opposing supporters into a frenzy. Since his injury, Sheedy had lived on the edge knowing that if he failed at Richmond it would be the end of the line because of the impending five-year suspension. But he seemed to have an innate ability to read how far he could push the envelope and indeed he was never reported during his career, a fact that would surprise most who saw him play.
He was now acknowledged the best in his position in the VFL and a key personality at Punt Road. A turning point came in the 1972 season, when Sheedy played in Richmond's losing Grand Final team. In an earlier final, Sheedy had ruffled Carlton's captain coach John Nicholls, suggesting that he was finished as a player and that Richmond had the wood on the Blues. Nicholls and his men, stung by media criticism and the attitude of the Richmond players, played a whirlwind first half in the Grand Final, booting eighteen goals to lead by 45 points. Sheedy, caught embarrassingly out of position a number of times, was switched to the unfamiliar position of ruck rover for the last half. Although the Tigers lost, Sheedy was a revelation in his new role.
Now permanently playing on the ball, he set up Richmond's Grand Final win in 1973 with three goals in the first quarter. In 1974, he was best afield in the Grand Final with 30 disposals highlighted by an uncanny piece of play in the second quarter. Sheedy marked next to the goalpost, went back to apparently take his kick from the impossible angle surrounded by opposition players, then casually ran in and handballed over the head of the man on the mark to lone teammate in the goalsquare who booted the easiest goal of his life. It was this mixture of flamboyance and cunning that attracted the media to him, and Sheedy was voted player of the year by journalists.
Sheedy made good copy; during the season Richmond had appointed him as full-time promotions officer, effectively making him the first professional footballer in the VFL. In time, all of the clubs would copy this appointment and by the 1980s, most clubs had a half dozen or so players employed as promotions officers. It was a bridge between the casual Saturday afternoon era and the age of true professionalism in the 1990s.
After finishing third in 1975, Richmond began a slide down the ladder. Sheedy's standard remained high – in 1976 he won the best and fairest for the only time and received life membership of the club. But he was shocked when his mentor and idol Tom Hafey left the club due to a lack of support at committee level.
In 1978, he was made captain but his game was now struggling and he resigned after just one year. After just four games the following season, Sheedy read the writing on the wall when he was started all of the matches on the bench. He announced his retirement and immediately became an assistant to coach Tony Jewell. Throughout the 1980 season, it was clear he was preparing for a senior coaching role. He examined every facet of the club as the team went on to take the premiership.
Late in his football career, Sheedy also played a handful of district cricket games. A leg spinner, he played for Richmond's minor grades in 1976/77, and played five first XI games in 1977/78 – but having been appointed captain of the football club, the football club's committee barred him from participating in the final. Sheedy has described his reluctance to fight the committee's decision as one of his greatest regrets.
Sheedy's greatest impact on the game has been during his time as coach of the Essendon Bombers. Sheedy held down the role continuously between 1981 and 2007, during which time some other sides have had over a dozen different coaches. Essendon won four premierships during Sheedy's time as coach in 1984, 1985, 1993 and 2000, as well as finishing runner-up three more times in 1983, 1990 and 2001 and losing a further two Preliminary Finals by only 1 point in 1996 and 1999.
Until round 16, 2007, Sheedy had coached the club in 629 games, a record for Essendon, and the second most by any coach in the history of the game. Coupled with the 251 games as a player, it is the most combined games as a player and coach in the history of the AFL, as some of Jock McHale's games were as a captain-coach.
He has never been a passive coach, and is well known for trying what commentators have often described as bizarre tactics. Sheedy has always believed in trying his players in as many different positions as possible, and also in giving discarded players from other clubs a second chance. These moves haven't always paid off, but sometimes they have been crucial. Sheedy made several moves in the last quarter of the 1984 grand final, when Essendon looked out of the game, and the side scored a come-from-behind victory. On the recruiting front, prior to the 2000 season, Sheedy lured ruckman John Barnes back to Essendon (a side that had traded him many years earlier) after he was let go by Geelong. Barnes proved to be a valuable player in the premiership side that year.
In Round 9 of the 2006 AFL season, Sheedy coached his 600th VFL/AFL game. However, the milestone was not one to be remembered, as Essendon went down by 60 points to Port Adelaide (a fate that also befell Jock McHale, who lost his 600th game as coach of Collingwood). The loss marked a low point in Sheedy's career, with the Bombers missing the finals in 2006 and finishing 15th, their lowest finish under Sheedy and the club's lowest finish in over 70 years, despite defeating defending premiers Sydney in the first round of the season.
Following the mid-year departures of other AFL senior coaches Neale Daniher, Chris Connolly and Denis Pagan, speculation mounted that Essendon would move to remove Sheedy in order to hire one of these experienced coaches or alternatively compete with the other coachless clubs for the leading candidates. On 25 July 2007, six weeks out from the finals, Essendon was on the brink of making the finals yet again when surprisingly it was announced that Sheedy's contract, due to expire at the end of the season, would not be renewed. After the club sacked Sheedy the Bombers lost 4 of the remaining 6 matches and collapsed as a finals contender. Sheedy agreed to stay for the rest of the season Sheedy's last home game as coach was against his old playing side Richmond in Round 21 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Nearly 90,000 spectators turned out to farewell him and the retiring James Hird. Although Essendon were defeated by a few goals, Sheedy received a standing ovation as he left the field for the last time. and had a farewell overall match against West Coast in Round 22 2007 at the Subiaco Oval where Essendon lost by eight points. Sheedy was replaced by former Richmond captain Matthew Knights.
Greater Western Sydney
On 9 November 2009, Sheedy signed to a three-year deal and was named as the inaugural coach of the Greater Western Sydney Giants, which joined the AFL in 2012. This was after there had been intense speculation he would return to Richmond as senior coach, however this did not eventuate. Sheedy also missed out on the Melbourne coaching job at the end of 2007. His contract with GWS was subsequently extended for the 2013 season.
Greater Western Sydney lost both their games in the 2011 NAB Cup, one to the Sydney Swans 4 points to 79. They fared better in the second game against the Gold Coast Suns, which they lost 27 points to 52.
Sheedy coached the Giants in their first season in the AFL. Their inaugural AFL victory was on 12 May 2012 against the Gold Coast Suns.
In Round 19 of the 2012 season, Sheedy coached in his 1000th game, a total including pre-season, night, international and representative matches.
On 1 September 2013, Sheedy coached his 679th and final game as a senior coach in the VFL-AFL, an 83-point loss against Gold Coast on the Gold Coast, Queensland. At the end of the match, both teams formed a guard of honour for Sheedy as he left the field for the final time.
In his two seasons as the head coach of the Giants, Sheedy coached 44 games. The team during his tenure had 3 wins and 41 losses, a winning percentage of 6.82%.
Sheedy was appointed to the board of the GWS Giants in December 2013.
|Season||Team||No.||Games||Totals||Averages (per game)|
|W||Wins||L||Losses||D||Draws||W%||Winning percentage||LP||Ladder position||LT||League teams|
|2012||Greater Western Sydney||22||2||20||0||9.1%||18||18|
|2013||Greater Western Sydney||22||1||21||0||4.5%||18||18|
Sheedy is also noted for his quirky antics, outspoken nature and wry sense of humour. For example, before a game against West Coast Eagles at Essendon's former home ground, Windy Hill in 1991, he tied the windsock down on the School End outer terrace so the opposition would not know which way the wind was blowing. He is also fond of talking about how Martians cost his side the game in post-match press conferences, an oblique reference to the umpires, as AFL rules forbid coaches from criticising umpiring decisions. Such stories perpetuate the eccentric Sheedy myth and enigma to trial anything for success.
Another of his most memorable stunts came in 1993. In his excitement at winning a close match, with ruckman and forward Paul Salmon kicking a goal 30 seconds before the final siren against the West Coast Eagles, he waved his jacket in the air as he came rushing from the coaches box. To this day, the supporters of the winning club wave their jackets in the air after the game when the two teams play. The moment is captured in Jamie Cooper's painting the Game That Made Australia, commissioned by the AFL in 2008 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the sport, with Sheedy shown waving a red, black and yellow jacket rather than a red and black jacket, to reflect Sheedy's support of indigenous footballers.
Another example of his ability to build up and promote matches was in 1998 when he labelled North Melbourne executives Greg Miller and Mark Dawson "marshmallows", referring to how soft they were. This caused a tension between the two camps and came back to bite Sheedy, with North Melbourne defeating the Essendon Football Club in a finals match that season. After the match, Kangaroos supporters were provided with marshmallows, which they threw at Sheedy. Unfazed by this, Sheedy then promoted the rematch in 1999 as the "marshmallow" game.
Sheedy has long been an ambassador for the game throughout Australia, taking it upon himself to promote both the game in general and the Essendon club in particular. He has also done a great deal of work with Aboriginal communities in the northern parts of Australia, encouraging young Aboriginal people to take up the game, and being a vocal supporter of anti-racial vilification laws in the game. He has also encouraged foreign players to train with his side such as a former American footballer, a skillfully athletic Ethiopian immigrant and more recently two Japanese try-outs.
In the buildup to the 2005 International Rules Series, as coach of the Australian side, Sheedy promoted the game by light-heartedly mentioning that supporters could attend the International rules game and be in for a high-scoring clash, or watch the Melbourne Victory game which was on at the same time, and see a scoreline of "0–0, or 1–0, or 1–1".
Honours and appointments
In 1998, Sheedy was made a Member of the Order of Australia. In 2019, he was advanced to an Officer of the Order of Australia. He received an Australian Sports Medal in 2000 and a Centenary Medal in 2001. He was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 2009.
Kevin is also a current Australian Apprenticeships Ambassador for the Australian Government.
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