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Background:

 

Australian Rules football

As a junior, Simon played Australian Rules football for Assumption College, Kilmore, where he kicked 100 goals in his senior year. This led to him being recruited for senior football by the St Kilda Football Club, where his father Kevin had played 49 games on a forward flank in the 1940s.

O'Donnell played 24 games and kicked 18 goals between 1982 and 1983 in what was then the VFL. However, he had continued to play cricket and retired from football to focus on his cricket career.

 

 

Cricket

As a cricketer, Simon O'Donnell played as an all-rounder for Victoria in the Sheffield Shield between 1984 and 1993, scoring a century in his first match. He went on to play 6 Test matches in 1985, 5 on the Ashes tour of England and one at home.

Seen as a limited-overs specialist with clever medium pace bowling and explosive lower order hitting, he played 87 One Day Internationals between 1985 and 1992, scoring 1242 runs and taking 108 wickets in his career. He played in Australia's 1987 World Cup Final victory, but soon after he suffered severe pain that was diagnosed as non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He staged a remarkable recovery to return to the Australian One-Day team in the 1988–89 seasons.

Simon maintained a very good batting strike rate of 80.96 runs per 100 balls in ODIs, almost double his scoring rate in Tests. For six years, O'Donnell held the record for the fastest half-century in One Day Internationals, a record which stood until 1996.

He was captain of Victoria for five seasons from 1988–89 and was part of the Sheffield Shield victory team in 90-91 and returned in 1993.

 

Media

Heavily involved in media, Simon O'Donnell hosted Melbourne radio station Sport 927's morning program with Kevin Bartlett until 2004.

With the Nine Network, O'Donnell has been a commentator of cricket and now presents The Cricket Show. Having owned and managed race horses through his company, O'Donnell Thoroughbreds International, he is also used as an expert on horseracing and hosts Nine's racing coverage.

 

 

Interview:

 

Steve: This is Steve at Calibre Fitness, sitting down with Simon O’Donnell. How are you, Simon?

Simon: Good Steve, good! All is well.

 

Steve: You’ve had a very busy career, in both Sports and Media, was is a hard decision to leave football to follow a cricketing career back in the early days?

Simon: Steve, it was. The main reason was that I was just a kid, only about 20 and I had 2 sides of sports I love, one saying you can’t play cricket while you’re playing footy, and the other saying you can’t play footy while you’re playing cricket and what are you going to do? They wanted an answer and I actually didn’t have one. The only conclusion I could come to was what my belly was telling me. It was a gut feel and nothing else... and that was to go and pursue the summer sport.

 

Steve: Okay, fantastic. Who do you feel is the best player that you’ve played with or against in cricket.

Simon: For many years it was Ian Botham, criteria being that I’d never seen anyone at that level being able to influence the game with bat, ball and fielding abilities... He was on the top of my tree for a long time, and then along came a fella by the name of Shane Keith Warne and he wins it hands down.

 

Steve: Wow, okay. Obviously, you have won a lot of big cricketing accolades, but what has been the highlight of your career?

Simon: Australia winning the world cup in ’87 by far. Victoria winning the shield in 1990-91 was fantastic, but I think where Australian cricket was in the early to mid 80s to what we achieved in ’87, a young group of blokes in an alien land, which India was to all of us in those days, because none of us had been there, that was an achievement as a group that I’ll never forget.

 

Steve: What was the toughest decision you’ve ever had to make in your sporting career

Simon: I think once you get to leadership positions in sport, you’ve got to tell people, often good mates, that their times up or they’re out of teams. I always used to try to always face that head-on and, best mates or not, you’d have to walk up and break the news, so that is probably the toughest thing you experience. But still, I talk about as if it were yesterday, that you need to make a decision to play cricket or footy, now it was wonderful to be able to be involved with those sports at the level that I was in those days, and then for someone to say you can only do one or the other. We were brought up playing footy in winter and cricket in summer. That’s what happened it the country, that’s what happened in the city. That was tough to come to grips with in the end, but one had to be given away for the other.

 

Steve: Were there any particularly bad injuries you endured in your career?

Simon: never broke a bone playing footy because I always tried to stay out as wide as I could, haha. I had some health issues in the middle that were major, with a cancer diagnosis, but again I wouldn’t term that as a sporting injury, that was something that popped up and had to be dealt with and hopefully we’ve dealt with it in the correct manner. If you’re going to play any sport, at any level you have to have a pain resistance to some extent, otherwise there are probably better things for you to do than play a physically active sport.

 

Steve: Absolutely. What advice would you give to a young cricketer, just starting out?

Simon: Enjoy. I suppose getting older, fatter and greyer each day, I look at the way kids progress through their sport now and I feel for them. People, and many of them unqualified, are taking the fun out of the game before they should. People need to enjoy what they do, and in particular kids, need have got to live and the best way they can improve their sport is by experience out on the ground, not some joker telling them that they have to do this and that, as a 13 or 14 year old. I really do object to that, because a lot of the people telling the 13 and 14 year-olds what to do didn’t know themselves what they should have done, and because they’ve read it in a book, now they believe they can. I think kids need to have a period in their life where they learn for themselves without human interference and without so-called ‘experienced’ interference. It’s a bit of a hobbyhorse of mine, just let kids be kids and learn their craft… and then the other stuff can come a little later on.

 

Steve: Next question, what do you do to keep fit these days?

Simon: Not much, haha. My body can’t stand too much these days, there’s definitely no running. Running shoes aren’t high on my agenda, not because I don’t want to, but just because I struggle to now. A bit of bike riding and a bit of cross training. Things that there’s a limited pain barrier, I’m quite happy with these days.

 

Steve: What’s been your most enjoyable horse racing win to date?

Simon: Manighar winning the BMW this year was fantastic, still the most excited I’ve been at a race meeting was Bauer running second in the Melbourne cup 3 years ago, even though we got beaten, I’ve never had an emotional experience in sport like that. I’d like to have it again and hopefully I do it before I stop breathing air. That was something that on one hand was a sad experience and a difficult experience to cope with and on the other hand, the exhilaration of being nearly there said ‘imagine what it’s like if some day you do get there’.

 

Steve: Well... My next question is, your horse Bauer ran second in the Melbourne Cup in 2008, I’m sure you’d love to better that result. Do you have a horse running in this year’s cup?

Well, I hope so. We’ve got a number of overseas horses set for the race at this stage, but so many elements of preparing horses is out of human control, so a lot of water has to pass under the bridge and I know that’s an old chestnut… But in horse racing you just have to hang on, and we’ve probably got 6-7 horses pointed towards the Melbourne cup at this stage, if we get one there it’s probably a pretty good effort, if we get two it’s a fantastic effort… If we got all of them, it’d be freakish. So, we just need to see how it all rolls out closer to the race, what weight you get, if the horses are injury free, if there form’s okay… A lot needs to happen between here and the first Tuesday.

 

Steve: What up and comer are you most excited about?

Simon: We’ve got a horse that won the Queensland Derby this year in Brambles; he’s a very exciting prospect. Even though Manighar’s been around for ages, he raced most of his career in Europe, and he’s come here and just blossomed, even though he’s an older statesman these days, he’s still something that’s very exciting to us, because he’s taken us on a journey in the last 6 months. He’s second to none in our point of view.

 

Steve: Outside of your own horse interests, who do you think is the horse to watch this spring carnival?

Simon: I hope it’s one of ours. There’s going to be a massive international contingent coming for the Melbourne cup. We may have a race that has no Australian participants in it from a breeding point of view, that’s how strong I think the form and numbers are going to be coming from Europe. Hopefully that isn’t the case, as I think it’s be sad for the race if we didn’t have Australian born and bred horses being competitive in it… But I must admit, that’s probably the way it’s shaping for 2012 and possibly 2013 unless we get our breeding right here, to get some stayers into the system in Australia.

 

Steve: Just back to Cricket once again, if you were heading Cricket Australia, what would you do to minimise the interference of 20-20 Cricket, and do you think it’s a good thing for the sport?

Simon: Sport’s now run by money, whether we like it or not and change is an offset of that. Without 20-20, we probably wouldn’t have the cricketing facilities or the following the game has. I think the first thing you have to do is accept the change that has happened to the game. Test Cricket still exists, Sheffield Shield cricket still exists, one-day cricket still exists and we’ve got this new phenomenon called 20-20 which finances the lot of them.

 

Steve: Fair enough, and just finally… Who is your early tip to win the AFL flag this year?

Simon: It won’t be my mob, St Kilda; they’re not quite up to it… They’re not far off it, but they’re not up to it. I’m thinking Adelaide… Or Collingwood. Of course I’m leaning towards Adelaide, because I’m the same as the 90% of the community, I hate Collingwood. They’re a fantastic team, Collingwood… But interstaters are going to be hard to beat this year. I don’t know if Sydney quite has it, but Adelaide and West Coast, I think are the two that are at the top of the tree for me to challenge Collingwood at the moment. Weather or not they can beat them is yet to be seen.

 

Steve: Well that’s it, thanks for your time… Much appreciated!