Richmond great Neil Balme has won the 2020 Neale Daniher AFL Coaches Association Lifetime Achievement Award.
Balme was rewarded for the outstanding contribution he has made to the game throughout the past five decades.
AFL coaches Damien Hardwick, Nathan Buckley and Chris Scott paid tribute to Balme for the major influence he has had on their coaching careers and lives.
Balme’s premiership teammate at Richmond and long-time, close friend Barry Richardson spoke about the significant impact he’s had as a player, coach and administrator.
Neil Balme’s illustrious AFL/VFL career started 50 years ago, when he kicked four goals in his senior debut with Richmond late in the 1970 season.
Balme had been recruited by the Tigers from WAFL club Subiaco, where he’d played senior football at just 16 years of age, performing admirably against ruck legend Polly Farmer in one match.
The big forward/ruckman went on to play 17 games and kick 28 goals in the 1971 season, with Richmond finishing third.
He won the Tigers’ leading goalkicker award the following season with 55 goals, when the team was runner-up.
In 1973, Richmond went one better to win the premiership, and Balme again was its leading goalkicker for the season with 34 goals.
And Balme played a prominent role for the Tigers when they made it back-to-back flags in 1974.
He was Richmond’s vice-captain in 1976, and in 1977 he finished runner-up in the Club’s Best and Fairest award, having played predominantly as a ruckman that year.
At the end of the 1979 season, Balme retired from league football. He had played 159 games and kicked 229 goals in an excellent, decade-long career with the Tigers.
Balme subsequently took over as coach of SANFL club Norwood, and he enjoyed considerable success in that role from 1980-90, guiding the Redlegs to premierships in 1982 and 1984.
He then became the inaugural coach of merged SANFL club Woodville-West Torrens and led the Eagles to fourth and third in two years at the helm, before returning to Victoria after being appointed Melbourne’s senior coach.
Balme had five seasons coaching the Demons (1993-97), lifting them to a preliminary final berth in 1994 and being named coach of the All Australian team that year.
In 1998, Balme’s football journey diverted down a different path, when he was appointed Football Operations Manager at Collingwood.
It was a role he held until the end of the 2006 season, with the Magpies making two Grand Finals during that time, in 2002 and 2003.
Balme then became Geelong’s Football Operations Manager, and his eight-year term there included three premierships – in 2007, 2009 and 2011.
A two-year stint back at Collingwood as Director of Coaching followed for Balme, and then, at the end of the 2016 season, he made a very welcome return to where it had all began for him at AFL/VFL level, Richmond.
As General Manager of Football, Balme played an important role in the Tigers’ drought-breaking 2017 premiership, and then the 2019 flag triumph, through his vast football experience and calm, rational demeanour.
These days, Balme is a senior advisor with Richmond, and he continues to make a valuable contribution at the Club.
Balme is a Richmond life member and a Tigers’ Hall of Fame inductee. He’s also a life member at Norwood.