Main content

How the Hafey legend began

In October 1965, one of the most significant events in Richmond’s history took place . . . the appointment of former player Tommy Hafey as the Tigers’ coach.

Hafey, described as a tough, nuggety back pocket in his playing days, appeared in 67 senior games for Richmond from 1953-58.

He spent a season in the amateurs after leaving Tigerland, before taking on the role as playing coach of Victorian country club Shepparton.

It was during Hafey’s six-year stint at Shepparton that the foundations for his magnificent coaching career were laid.  He coached Shepparton to a premiership hat-trick from 1963-65.

Following that third successive premiership triumph, Richmond signed Hafey as coach. He replaced Tiger great Jack Titus, who had been a caretaker coach for most of the 1965 season after Len Smith was forced to step down from the position due to illness.

The following story, which appeared in ‘The Sun’ newspaper (written by a young reporter called Scot Palmer), describes Richmond’s pursuit of Hafey as coach in late ’65.

Under the heading, “Hafey may be Tiger coach”, Scot Palmer, in Shepparton, wrote:

“SHEPPARTON coach Tom Hafey could be Richmond’s coach next season.

He appears to have first option on the vacant position.

The odds in his favor shortened considerably on Saturday when top-ranking Richmond officials drove 112 miles to Shepparton to see him.

They watched him lead Shepparton to its third successive premiership in the Goulburn Valley League.

The officials were Richmond’s president, Mr Ray Dunn, secretary Mr Graeme Richmond, and Len Smith, who coached the Tigers before his illness early this year.

They heard Hafey deliver his pre-match and half-time addresses and left immediately after the match.

Mr Richmond left early yesterday to join Richmond in Sydney, where it played a match against Fitzroy.

After the Grand Final, Hafey would not comment on whether he had accepted the position.

Asked if he had played his last game with Shepparton, Hafey, 34, replied: “That is a leading question – I can’t answer it yet.”

Most Shepparton officials believe Hafey is almost certain to accept Richmond’s offer.

Hafey, a former back pocket, played 67 senior League games before he transferred there six years ago.

He would be assured of reappointment next season if he wanted the country position.”

It was just a few days later that Richmond confirmed the appointment of the then 34-year-old Hafey as coach.

At his first official function in charge of the Tigers, Hafey spelt out loud and clear his intentions for the team, as this article, which appeared under the heading: “Hafey home”, indicates . . .

“Newly-appointed Richmond coach Tom Hafey last night advised any player who does not dedicate himself to football to give up playing.

Hafey was speaking at the Tigers’ end-of-season dinner at a city hotel.

Hafey said Richmond would be the fittest side in the League next season, and this would make it a strong contender for the flag.

“If necessary, I shall train players six nights a week,” he said.

Hafey added that he intended to use similar methods to those adopted by Len Smith and Jack Titus, with an emphasis on teamwork and open play.

Richmond president Mr Ray Dunn said Smith and Titus were tough coaches, but the club could expect Hafey to be tougher.

Mr Dunn also said that Richmond was extremely fortunate to have obtained a man as devoted to the game as Hafey.

Richmond captain Neville Crowe formally welcomed Hafey to his new position and said that with all players and officials behind him, a good season could be expected.

In six years as coach of Shepparton in the Goulburn Valley League, Hafey has coached the club to the four each year, and three successive premierships.

Modelling his coaching along the lines set by former Richmond coach Len Smith, Hafey is certain teamwork is the only way to win.

“He is also a physical fitness fanatic, dedicated to the game,” Mr Dunn said.

Another former player John Nix was appointed Reserves coach for next season.”

The ‘gospel according to Tommy’ was further outlined at the Club’s Annual General Meeting in December, 1965.

Under the heading: “Tigers’ year 1966”, The Sun reported that:

“Supporters at Richmond Football Club’s annual meeting overflowed into the corridor from the packed Richmond Town Hall last night.

The meeting was described by the club’s president (Mr Ray Dunn) as the most successful in his 30 years’ association with the club.

New coach Tom Hafey told the meeting next year would be one to remember for the Tigers.

“I can’t ask you supporters to be patient any longer, you have been patient enough waiting for a premiership,” he said.

Captain Neville Crowe said: “I can assure the two new coaches Tom Hafey and John Nix that all the players are 100 per cent behind them.”

Former coach Len Smith warned the meeting against complacency.

“This is the only thing likely to stop Richmond going on and on,” Smith said.

History shows that the Tigers missed the final four by just two points in Hafey’s first season as coach in ’66, with 13 wins, four losses and a draw from the 18 home-and-away rounds.

The following year Richmond broke a 24-year premiership drought, defeating Geelong by nine points in a classic Grand Final encounter.

Hafey went on to guide the Tigers to three further premierships (1969, 1973, 1974) and establish himself as the greatest coach in the Club’s proud history. This was confirmed in August 1999, when he was named coach of Richmond’s Team of the Century.

Then, in 2003, Hafey received the ultimate accolade from his beloved Tigers. He was officially granted ‘Immortal’ status at the Club – a title he shares with just four other men in Tigerland history – Jack Dyer, Kevin Bartlett, Francis Bourke and Royce Hart.