Hafey driven by will to win and positivity

Tom Hafey, who died on Monday.
Tom Hafey, who died on Monday.

FORGET about all he achieved as one of the finest coaches in VFL/AFL history, Tom Hafey should be remembered more for being a wonderful person more than being a wonderful coach.

That's the opinion of one of his former players, Paul Sproule, the Tasmanian who played under Hafey at Richmond for four years between 1972 and 1975, including the 73 and 74 flags.

"He was a wonderful person who always thought best of everyone and encouraged them to do their best," Sproule told The Examiner.

"He gave a good individual example about how to life live and his religion about keeping fit, being active and enjoying life, which is something a lot of us still need to pick up on through society."

Hafey, 82, died on Monday after succumbing to cancer.

After a 67-game playing career with the Tigers between 1953-58, T-shirt Tommy, as he was affectionately known, coached the club 248 times between 1966-76, which included four premierships, a feat which would later see him named as Richmond's coach of the century and as a club "immortal".

He also coached Collingwood 138 times between 77-82, which included five grand final appearances, and also coached Geelong (83-85, 66 games) and Sydney (86-88, 70 games).

His 522 games place him fifth on the all-time list of games coached, and is also fifth for most wins as a coach (336).

"He encouraged everyone to give their best, but of course he was stern when he had to be.

"As an example, every Friday night he'd ring every player in the team and just talk to you.

"He'd talk to you about the game, how you are going and he would spend an inordinate amount of time with people.

"He was one of those people that didn't think of himself, he was always thinking about the team and how you could contribute to the team, and that's why in the end we had such a good team.

"Everyone loved him, of course they did, because he supported them, and a couple of times I reckon he supported us too much in games and we ended up losing a couple of vital games by not moving people as sooner, as he always believed they could do the job."

Sproule came to Richmond after five years and 60 games at Essendon, under the coaching of John Coleman, Jack Clarke and John Birt.

Without being derogatory to that trio, there was something different about Hafey.

"The difference I noticed between Essendon and Richmond in that era, at Richmond they just really wanted to win every game.

"You never got that feeling at Essendon as they were a superior club with a lot more premierships, so you didn't get that same urgency or intensity.

"Tommy's delivery was with good simple directions, got the team to play in the way we had to and got the ultimate result.

"We wanted to do it all to win, obviously, and for Tommy because of the way he treated us."

Away from football, the life lesson Sproule got from Hafey was to always be positive.

"I can remember the time I was just standing there at training once and someone was having a moan about something and Tommy turned around and just said `try missing a day mate'.

"In other words `would you prefer to be dead rather than enjoying life?'.

"That's the way he approached life and encouraged everyone to give the best of what you've got."

Sproule, 69, kept in contact with Hafey over the years, and spoke with him one final time last week in the days leading up to his death.

"He knew it was all coming to an end.

"He was always encouraging everyone wherever he was, and I asked him whether he'd been encouraging the nurses and the people in the hospital and he said `No, Paul, not this time, it's got me this time.'

"He just didn't have the energy to do what he really wanted to do."

Sproule, originally recruited from Hobart, coached Richmond himself for one season in 1985.

Before that he had won premierships as coach of Sandy Bay 1976, 1977 and 78, and one for Hobart in 1980.

"You take things from all your coaches, but Tommy's style was quite a simple style.

"When I started at Sandy Bay I learnt, even though it was a good team, you still have to keep it simple, because you have a whole range of players and styles of players and players that haven't played much football.

"But because you keep the style simple, everyone can follow it."

Unfortunately, Sproule can't be in Melbourne today when Hafey is honoured by members of his premiership teams before the modern day Tigers take on Melbourne at the MCG.

But he hopes to able to attend Hafey's funeral service at the MCG on Monday.

"I hope it is a celebration of his life, not only his football career, even though football is a big part of it.

"We're all sad now, but it will be good to hear the stories of Tommy."We can all be sad, but you've got to be able to smile and say what a great person he was, what a great life he had and how good he was to everyone that knew him."