Steve: This is Steve from Calibre Fitness talking with Tom Hafey. How are you doing Tom?

Tom: Sensational Steve... and getting better.

Steve: Fantastic. Tom Hafey is a former Australian Rules football player and coach and an icon of Australian sport. He is 81 years young, but age that number doesn’t play a big role in Tommy’s life. He’s still going strong, training harder than most men 60 years his junior!
Tom is considered to be one of the most successful and inspirational coaches of the post-war era. He began his senior football life as a tough, relentless back pocket specialist who played 67 VFL games for Richmond between 1953 and 1958, but it is as a coach that he is better remembered. Throughout his career, Tom Hafey coached four teams to Premierships in ten Grand Final appearances and is one of only six coaches to have coached over 500 AFL/VFL games.


These days, while most people his age would be happy to still be walking, Tom is still training every day like an athlete, doing motivational speaking all over the country, running coaching clinics and having a massive, positive influence on tens of thousands of Aussies every year.

Tom, you’ve never touched alcohol or cigarettes and gave up cakes and biscuits 40 years ago, so you obviously have a pretty phenomenal diet. What does your diet consist of and is there anything you let yourself indulge in.

Tom: Well, ice cream is not lollies biscuits or cakes. I make new resolutions and you need to make new resolutions you know you can keep, because I’m trying to show my little girls when they’re coming through the years to set your mind to do something and nothing should sway you. So I said ‘I won’t eat lollies biscuits or cakes for 12 months’, that was 38 years ago and I haven’t eaten a lolly, biscuit or cake since. But ice cream’s not lollies biscuits or cakes. Is that right?

Steve: Haha, exactly.

Tom: So Steve, I have a lot of dessert, but the meals I eat are pretty basic and simple. I have cereal for breakfast with fruit and yoghurt and a cup of tea. At lunch I often just have a salad sandwich, or if we’re out I’ll just have what they have there. Then for dinner, we have red meat once a week; fish probably twice a week, pasta and pretty basic things like that and I eat a heap of fruit. When I go for a drive, and I go for a lot of big drives when I speak to schools, I might take a dozen pieces of fruit. I’ll eat them on the way up and on the way back. It keeps me awake for a start, but it’s also good healthy food, isn’t it.



Steve: Yep, absolutely. Your training routine is pretty well documented; waking up at 5:20am, an 8km run, followed by 250 pushups and a swim in Port Phillip Bay, then up to 700 crunches and sit-ups. Is this still your daily routine?

Tom: Oh, yes it is. I don’t do all that on the weekend. I get out of bed when I feel like it. Instead of getting out of bed at 5:20, it might be 7 o’clock or even 8 o’clock, and I might not do as much... But I never not do anything. The only time I might miss out completely is if I have to catch a plane at 6 o’clock in the morning or something like that because you have to be out there an hour before the plane goes. But in most cases, probably 360 days of the year I would be doing exactly what you mentioned.

 

Steve: As each year passes, how hard is it to maintain your fitness level?

Tom: Well, I was one of the first players ever to use weights and that came about when one of my teenage friends, a mate I went to school with and we knocked around with each other and stuff like that, went into weight lifting. He actually represented Australia in the Olympic Games in 1956. I would go down to his garage where he had his own weights and then after that I went to a gym in the city. It would have been 1952, and incidentally Steve... I bought some weights in 1952, they’re very rusty but they weigh exactly what they did when I first bought them, how about that? But I still go to the gym now. I’ve been to Bodyworld tonight and I go there, once the footy’s over when I can get to the gym in a really consistent manner, I’ll go 3-4 times a week and I work really quite hard, as hard as I can do. I never leave unless I finish the card. I tick off the exercises I put down and go right through that and I’ve also got a wave rider so I’m down in the big surf with my grand children at Portsea or around at Point Leo, Flinders, Honeysuckles, places like that. I say to everybody every different day is a great day; if you don’t believe me, try missing one.

 

Steve: Haha, absolutely. Tom, you played for a few VFL teams, but predominantly Richmond. Are they still the team you follow these days?

Tom: Yes. I come from Richmond. We were born in Richmond and lived in 6 houses during the depression, in my first 4-6 years. Then in the depression, my dad had no job and 2 little children, so we went up to Canberra. He was a printer. We lived in Canberra for 5-6 years, which only had a population of 11,000 back then. Now I think it’s about 360-380 thousand. So 11,000 would be as big as Benalla or Warragul or Colac or somewhere like that. Then we lived in East Malvern and that’s where I was recruited from. Then when Maureen and I met and got married, we had a milk bar in Bridge Rd Richmond for 5 years where 2 of our 3 children were born in the shop.

Steve: How do you think the Tigers will go next year?

Tom: Well, I like to think they’re on the right track, but everybody says ‘on the right track’, but being a realistic sort of person... This year we finished 12th, we lost more games than we won. There are 11 other sides that think they’re going to be better than us. But I was really pleased with the way they went about the job, we lost some games we shouldn’t have lost. Lost to some very ordinary teams, and yet we beat the premiers. We beat Sydney Swans by 6 goals; we beat Hawthorn by 10 goals. You can’t work that out. We’ve actually won against West Coast and Geelong by 10-12 points in the early part of the season and yet we’ve been beaten by teams that we definitely should have beaten. Hopefully we might learn a bit from that.

 

Steve: Who do you think is the best footballer you’ve played with or against?

Tom: Yeh, that’s too difficult a question. I don’t like to compare the boys I played with. I think that each club I’ve gone to, there’s been a lot of great people and players. I guess, Francis Bourke, Royce Hart, Kevin Bartlett, Kevin Sheedy, Ian Stewart, Billy Barrett, Dicky Clay, Michael Green, Barry Rich-there are a lot of good players... and yet when I go to Collingwood, the older players who had been the big names such as the Des Tuddenham, Wayne Richardson, people like that, they’d gone a little bit past it. But then you’ve got Peter Daicos, Peter Moore, Billy Picken, Ronny Wearmouth and fellas like that who came on the scene. So it was really great. Then I went down to Geelong and 2 boys who we got that were rejects from other league clubs happened to be superstars. One was Gary Abblett Snr who was let go by Hawthorn. Well he was a superstar. There’s no doubt about that. I think everybody recognises that now, and the other was Greg Williams who wrote to me and asked if he could come down for a trial because he’d been knocked back by Carlton, the club that he was actually sewn to after two occasions after winning the best and fairest in the Bendigo league. He was an instant star at Geelong, won the best first year player, best and fairest in his second year and I think it was his 3rd year that he won the Brownlow. Ironically, he went back to the club that originally rejected him and won another Brownlow. It’s an amazing career isn’t it?

Steve: Oh, absolutely.

Tom: When I was up in Sydney, we had a lot of boys who came up there, but there were some really good players up there; Mark Brown, Dennis Carroll, Mark Bayes and obviously David Murphy, Warwick Kappa. See Warwick kicked 92 and 103 goals in his 2 years with Tommy Hafey, so that will give you some indication. It was a really great effort in Warwick’s case.

 

Steve: You were the first coach to introduce the practice of 3 training sessions a week and were always renowned for having the fittest team in the league. How did you maintain such a fit group?

Tom: Yeh. Well I just felt that you only get out what you put in. I know that the boys had a feeling that, when the going got tough we’re going to win these close games, which we used to, because we’d trained harder than the opposition. Sometimes a lot of people are very negative and anti anything someone puts up. But I just knew that’s what was required. I knew that we’d done the same up at Shepparton and won 3 premierships in a row, so I just felt that you had to train hard, work hard and live well. I don’t mind the players drinking, but I get upset when they do the wrong thing by their team mates. I really hate that.

 

Steve: Could you tell us a bit about Percy Cerutty and the effect he had on your life and your coaching style?

Tom: Absolutely sensational. He was a man who I really admired like you wouldn’t believe. I read his first book when I was coaching Shepparton and I could not put it down. I immediately wrote to him and we became very good friends. I’ve got the 6 books that he wrote, I’ve got 2 books written about him and somebody sent me a book from America earlier this year, Training with Cerutty. I’d never known those books were around, so I’ve read them with interest. But I’ve re-read and re-read the Percy books, and people, when I lend them, say this is 30-40 years before it’s time. I suggest to everybody, if you can get the chance to read a Percy Cerutty book, you’ll be absolutely staggered because we’re talking early 60s, when he wrote his books, yet it’s the sort of things people are just doing now. I thought he was just marvellous. We went down there as a group, I brought him up to talk to our players, things like that. He wasn’t a football person, but he liked it enough. I just thought he was absolutely marvellous.

 

Steve: What age did you actually play football until and do you still play any sports?

Tom: Well, everybody played football when they were young in my time. There was no such thing as the idiot box, when you come home to sit and watch that or play these games on the whatever. My mum would say ‘get outside and play’, so we’d be outside kicking the footy or bowling the cricket ball. Everybody played football during winter and cricket during the summer; it was just the national thing to do. The girls would have been playing ‘rounders’, which is now softball and basketball which is now netball. There were other sports there, but they weren’t as popular. They weren’t the sports that were in the paper or anything. We didn’t have any of the junior teams they have today, the under 10s, under 12s, under 14s, under 16s. So the first football I played was in the under 18s with East Malvern. That was probably when I was 16, so 2 years for the under 18s, then I went into the seniors.

 

Steve: Are you playing any sports at the moment?

Tom: Oh, no. Not really. I just go to the gym and do my fitness things which is very constant and something I enjoy. Look, I go and see a lot of games, but I walk away a lot of the time when they start messing around with the ball. Kicking the ball backwards, sideways, having 150 interchanges, 200 handballs. It’s not the game I was brought up in. I know a lot of people my age say that and people then say ‘that’s just the old folk, whatever’, but I just don’t enjoy it. I’ll tell you what I do enjoy, I see more games in the country than in the metropolitan leagues. I like the atmosphere, I recognise the great skills of today’s present players and I wouldn’t dare compare country and metropolitan with the great skills our AFL players have got. But I just prefer the way the game’s played to be quite honest.

 

Steve: Sure. Tom, you’ve won a lot of big football accolades, but what do you consider is the highlight of your football career?

Tom: Look, I think playing your first game is something special. A lot of children ask me that at the schools that I go to and I know it’s a selfish sort of a thing, but there’s a lot of people that have been sensational players in the local teams and country teams and all that sort of thing and yet if they play one game with an AFL team, people immediately take them up to an eliteness, so I suppose playing my first game was something special and I was a very ordinary player at that level, incidentally. But I guess, being connected with football for so long, having so many good friends who I’ve kept in touch with all these years. Being godfather to some of their children, being invited to their children’s weddings and things like that. I just think that’s what life’s all about really. I try to encourage people to really keep your friends, get on the phone, ring up people who you might have been very, very friendly 20-30 years ago when you were a youngster, and all of a sudden you drift apart, understandably. But it doesn’t hurt, now and again, to put in a phone call, so I do that a lot to be honest. I’ll tell you what I also do, Steven, I ring up 130 boys who played with me at Richmond, and come Christmas time... I take them all out to lunch. That happens down at the London Tavern down on Lennox St in Richmond. It’s the pub that the boys used to drink at when they didn’t think I knew they were drinking. We go there and I get probably 70-80 to come along. If I’ve got their phone number, I’ll ring them up- all the boys that played with me at Richmond. They come from miles, 10 of them come back from interstate every year. They put their arms around each other and cry. But that’s what teams are all about, having feelings for each other and enjoying each other’s company.

 

Steve: Did you have to make any particularly hard decisions in your sporting career?

Tom: You probably do, mainly with other boys who you have to let go after 2-3 years and you just have to make a decision whether they’re going to be good enough to get a game and be a very good player for your team. I think anybody who coaches has to make hard decisions, it’s not nice to do, but it has to be done. You’ve only got 40 players on the list, so you often have to drop certain players. A lot of the boys get rejected by a certain club, but make it big at another club and incidentally, there were 6 of the 22 players in the Sydney swans premiership team this year who were rejects from other league clubs, there would have been 7, but Ben McGlynn who got the axe from Hawthorn was injured so he couldn’t play in the Grand Final. Last year there were 5 in Collingwood’s team and when St Kilda nearly could have won the premiership twice in the last 4 years, 8 of their players were rejects from other league clubs. How interesting is that? That’s the thing I tell the children, ‘don’t get upset when things don’t go your way’. The great Shane Warne took no wickets for 150 in his first test and he finished up having taken 708 wickets and was probably the 2nd best cricketer who ever played the game. So if you’re feeling sorry for yourself and get really down, you’re probably never going to reach your potential, are you?

 

Steve: No, exactly. What advice would you give to a young athlete/footballer just starting out?

Tom: I just tell them to listen to what the coach has to say. They shouldn’t take their faces away from the coach, look into his eyes and ask him questions as well. But make certain you’re the most enthusiastic and passionate person on the football ground. You need to really work hard. I go down and watch some of the players train and sometimes I’ll take training... and I know that it’s very social, especially in country and metropolitan leagues, but you always think that the players could be a little more passionate about it. I know that’s somewhat the coaches job, but I just know a lot of the boys come back a few years after and wish they could have their time over again. They apologise for their slackness or for their lack of discipline when they had their chance.

 

Steve: Yep, exactly... and just finally Tom, which up-and-coming footballer are you most excited about?

Tom: Well, obviously Trent Cochin, who’s still an up-and-comer even though he’s won 2 best and fairest. I’m fanatical and crazy about his tremendous courage and his talent and I think he’s getting the best out of himself. It will be interesting to see how he goes being a leader. There’d be a lot of players like that though, there’s no doubt about it. Naturally enough, being connected to Kevin Morris, his boy Stephen, I’ve been so pleased and proud because he didn’t get it easy, even though he might have been the son of a champion, Kevin. He was at Richmond; he was at 3 other clubs then had to go to West Adelaide in South Australia where he was actually recruited from and he finished 7th in their Best and Fairest last year. So you find a lot of things like that, don’t you?

 

Steve: Yeh, absolutely. Okay, well... Thanks Tom, that’s all I have for you. I appreciate your time and all the best in the future.


Tom: Good lad.