Of the many tales told about Tom Hafey at a remembrance of his life on Monday, the most revealing was really no more than a diary note. Logically, Hafey would have been buried last Friday. But – his daughter Jo told MC Eddie McGuire – he had four booked functions that day, had organised proxy speakers for them all as illness overtook him, and did not want either the functions cancelled or the speakers to miss the ceremony. ‘‘Do it on a Monday,’’ he said.
So Monday it was, at – where else? – the MCG. To set the solemnities in their place, it is tempting to invoke the motif of MCG as cathedral. But Hafey would have said that was too much finessin’. The MCG was sacred to him, but as a football ground, scene of his greatest triumphs, also some of his deepest disapointments – not that he ever wallowed or brooded.
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The legacy of Tommy Hafey
Chief sports columnist Greg Baum reflects on the amazing life of Tom Hafey, a man who "loved football, and football loved him back."
Together, the eulogists sketched a portrait of a man of incurable optimism, boundless energy and unwavering dedication to two families, his own and football’s. The Hafey family’s winter weekends followed a timeless pattern: football Saturday afternoon, Graeme Richmond’s pub for the replay, training Sunday morning, GR’s again for a cuppa, World of Sport, lunch – perhaps at the Botanic Gardens – then Port Melbourne for more footy.
The summer rhythm centred on a fibro-cement shack at Sorrento. ‘‘Why would you want to be anywhere else?’’ he would ask, echoing Dale Kerrigan’s ‘‘how’s the serenity?’’ in The Castle. Tom and Maureeen Hafey would host up to 35 at a time, and he would greet them all in the mornings with tea and toast. ‘‘He was a whizz at the toaster,’’ said Rhonda, another of his three daughters.
Grandson Jackson remembered his pa watching Test cricket for hours at a time – in his Speedos – but how he was up for every beach expedition, even near the end when he was under orders to rest. Once, he tore a calf muscle trying to ride Jackson’s tandem scooter.
One granddaugher, Samantha, sang Dream A Little Dream, by way of tribute, Another, Kate, remembered that her pa always had great wrinkles. Jamie remembered his teetotaller grandfather was bemused when stopped by a booze bus. ‘‘Why pull me up?’’ Tom remembered that Hafey would drive 10kilometres from home to give him a one-kilometre lift to school, even when he was in year 12. Reguarly, he was bare-chested!
There was a recurring theme: protege Kevin Bartlett said Hafey arrived at his daughter’s engagement party without shirt or shoes.
‘‘I didn’t know it was formal.’’
Peter, Hafey’s brother and sometime runner, said his protective streak was inherited from his mother, the ‘‘feisty’’ Vera. ‘‘She’d give you a clip over the ears or a kick up the backside, but no one else could touch you,’’ he said. ‘‘Tommy was the same with his ‘boys’.’’
He worked as a telegraph boy, printer and brickie’s labourer, ‘‘to toughen himself up’’. He was ahead of his time. He drank only tea, worked out in a city gym with Graeme Richmond and future AFL supremo Jack Hamilton and when running a milk bar in Bridge Road frequented by footballers, runners, cyclists and boxers would ask when they came in: ‘‘Have you cleaned your teeth this morning?’’ Upstairs, there were 15 toothbrushes.
Bartlett remembered how Hafey, on his first day as Richmond coach, took the team on two laps of the tan, beat them all and lapped some. It instantly energised a listless club; four premierships ensued. When he and Richmond – man and club – fell out, Hafey took up with Collingwood. ‘‘Why?’’ Peter asked at the time, re-enacting his incredulity on Monday. ‘‘Because I love football,’’ Hafey replied.
‘‘Their fitness levels were a disgrace for league footballers,’’ Peter remembered. But Hafey beat them into shape, leading them to five grand finals in five years. The day he was sacked by the Magpies, Bartlett thought to cancel their then tri-weekly lunch at the Commonwealth cafeteria in Spring Street. ‘‘Are you crazy?’’ Hafey replied. ‘‘It’s the lamb roast today.’’ It was not in him to sulk.
Stints at Geelong and Sydney followed, and as it turned out, that was only half his life’s work. Hafey spent the balance talking in football clubs, schools, gaols and boardrooms; all were one to him. To prisoners, he’d ask: ‘‘What are you doing to yourself?’’ To schoolkids: ‘‘What goals have you set?’’
He never stopped setting goals for himself. One this year, said Bartlett, was to read 20 books.
Toasts done, around 150 footballers who had played under Hafey, also Richmond’s current list, formed a guard of honour that ran from point post to point post. Strains of Tigerland played, and even Ron Barassi hummed along.
About 2000 watched on, and Maureen had a message for them, delivered by her daughters: ‘‘He really did love you all.’’
The hearse completed its poignant lap, but you could almost read Hafey’s mind, imploring the driver to go long down the middle to where Royce used to be.