How Murdoch helped put Irish deal in the driver's seat

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OF THE many astonishing stories about the late Jim Stynes recounted in recent days, one has been entirely overlooked.

It remains almost entirely unknown - the key role played by media magnate Rupert Murdoch in enabling the Demons to recruit Stynes and fellow Irishman Sean Wight.

The man who oversaw the Irish experiment, former Melbourne chief executive and a foundation member of the VFL (later AFL) commission, Dick Seddon, says Stynes would never have come to Melbourne without the financial assistance of Murdoch, who provided much of the money for the club's Irish experiment.

''This whole thing wouldn't have happened if Rupert didn't finance it,'' Seddon told The Age yesterday.

Murdoch, who was installed as Melbourne's No. 1 ticket holder in 1981 when the club first embarked on its Irish adventure, did not write cheques, but rather donated new cars.

Seddon said the Demons then sold them for about $100,000 over four seasons. Murdoch's donation was specific to the Irish program, which the club decided had to be funded from outside sources, not from club coffers, to be justified.


Seddon had decided to pursue Irish players in 1981, after the VFL's then second in command, Alan Schwab (father of Melbourne's current chief executive, Cameron Schwab), suggested that some Irish kids were ''worth a look''.

Seddon took the idea to Ron Barassi, whose return to his old club had generated fervour and funds. Barassi, a great adventurer, was immediately keen. But there was a hitch. The Demons had to find a way of funding what was considered a crazy idea. ''It was such a high-risk strategy, I couldn't justify spending Melbourne funds on it,'' said Seddon.

He sought help from the top end of town. ''I reckon I must have made 20 presentations around the city to various groups to try and get some financial support for this Irish project,'' said Seddon, who has written a chronology of the Irish program and recruitment of Stynes, which he is giving to the Demons for their archives.

''Right at the end, I got on to Rupert. And Rupert said he was quite interested and he'd be prepared to help.''

Seddon had contacted the media baron by phone and was told he would be given a Channel 10 Ford Falcon. Murdoch's News Ltd then owned Channel 10.

Murdoch suggested he send a proposal. ''And then over the phone, he said, 'yeah, do it'.''

In all, the Demons would receive four Falcons from Murdoch. Seddon estimated that these netted the club about $100,000, which went to the Irish program.

''When I wanted another one, I'd ring Rupert. Hertz gave us 15 grand at the start, which was to finance that exploratory [1981] trip, which Barassi, myself, Ray Jordon and [Barassi's offsider, former North Melbourne official] David Robb made. Pan Am gave us four round-the-world tickets when we went to Ireland and America.''

Murdoch's contribution to Melbourne recruiting Stynes and Wight, sadly also dead, has seldom been acknowledged.

It is mentioned in the Melbourne annual reports of 1981 and 1982, but has largely been forgotten, though Barassi made a short reference to Murdoch's patronage in a 1991 Herald Sun column the day after Stynes had won the Brownlow Medal.

Murdoch's involvement otherwise was confined to him attending one match - believed to be in 1982, when he listened to a pre-game address by Barassi and later met the coach and his lieutenants, Barry Richardson and Adrian ''Gags'' Gallagher, in the rooms.

Richardson, the former Tigers coach and president who went to Ireland and, with the assistance of a priest, Tom McDonnell, identified Wight and Stynes, recalled Murdoch coming into the rooms after a game and speaking to Barassi, as the coaches drank their rum and cokes.

''The magnate had been introduced as Mr Murdoch,'' Richardson said, adding that by the time he left, they were ''calling him Rupert''.