Middle East Correspondent: Huey’s cherry-ripe for the Swans job

By Rod Gillett
The news that Sydney Swans chief executive officer Myles Baron-Hay is stepping down at the end of the season will spark speculation in the Melbourne media about a replacement from the football managerial stocks, with all the usual suspects being given a run.
The best man to run the club in my view is already in the Swans’ backyard, not in Jolimont or Paddington, but in Newtown and he is now “cherry-ripe” to do the job.
Greg Harris, better known in the Sydney sports world as “Huey”, has just returned from a stint as the CEO of the Western Force rugby franchise in Perth.
Huey has a unique record in Sydney football, of all codes; he played first-grade in Australian football, rugby union and rugby league in a playing career that lasted from 1970 to ’86. In addition to a distinguished playing career, Harris has an outstanding coaching record as well as extensive experience in football development, sports administration, facilities management, and as chairman of an AFL club match committee, at the Swans. He has also chaired the NRL’s education and welfare committee.
Harris grew up in the St George district in Sydney, where he made his senior playing career with the local AFL club under his father Col Harris, a member of the Sydney AFL Hall of Fame. He was invited to train with VFL club Richmond but elected to read economics at the University of Sydney, where he joined the rugby union club.
He adapted well to the rugby game and in addition to being a regular first-grade player he represented Sydney and toured Japan and the UK. He was awarded a Blue by the university for his performance in the sport.
As rugby was an amateur game at that time, Huey was part of the exodus to rugby league when he joined the Cronulla-Sutherland rugby league club in 1978. That year the Sharks assembled a very strong squad and played in their first-ever grand final; Harris played a number of games in first-grade.
Footy was Harris’s prime passion and following an appointment as a teacher at the prestigious Sydney Boys’ High School he signed to play for East Sydney under former Fitzroy and Carlton forward Alex Ruscuklic. Huey had an injured knee and missed the celebrated centenary season in 1980 when Easts took all before it under former South Melbourne and Subiaco goal-kicking machine Austin Robertson.
Harris returned to the field the next season as captain-coach of East Sydney and led the Bulldogs to three premierships in a row. East’s victory in his first year was stunning; after being beaten by minor premier Newtown, coached by Sam Kekovich, by 10 points, his team beat Pennant Hills in the preliminary final and then beat the Angels by a whopping 99 points in the decider – a 109-point turnaround.
Needless to say, Harris took over from Kekovich as coach of the NSW state team in 1982.
He stepped down from coaching duties for the 1984 season but was a key member of the Easts’ premiership victory over North Shore. Harris retired from the game, but returned in 1986 to play for Sydney University when they took out the flag in second division.
Harris moved into football administration in 1986 when he became the NSW-AFL development manager. He was primarily responsible for putting together the NSW team that beat the VFA for the first time ever in 1987 and the NSW state of origin team that performed so admirably at the bicentennial championships in 1988, with a victory over WA and a narrow loss to eventual champions South Australia.
The funding crisis precipitated by Powerplay’s ownership of the Sydney Swans saw Harris leave his full-time position in football to resume teaching and coaching. In 1988 he lifted East Sydney back up into a grand final but they were well beaten by Campbelltown.
In 1990 Huey became the coach of the Swans under-19 team based in Sydney. He was the perfect choice for developing young players given his coaching and educational experience and practical philosophy, borne out in his various sayings such as, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog”.
Jason Mooney, Gareth John, Garry Stevens, and Ben Doolan were some of the boys that benefited from Huey’s tutoring and went onto to play in the AFL.
In 1992 Greg Harris got his dream job as executive director of Sydney University Sport. He was largely instrumental in raising the profile and performance of the sports clubs during his tenure. In his first year in the job, the Sydney University Australian National football Club won its first ever Sydney Football League first-grade premiership.
His influence on the university’s principal sports of rugby and cricket was more profound. The rugby club has won the most premierships in Sydney’s main rugby union competition, but it had not won the cup since 1972 when Harris took over. Since Huey’s appointment at the university’s sports centre, the rugby union club has won five premierships, including the last four in succession, from 2005 to ’08.
The effort to lift the university cricket club back to the top was Herculean given the moves of the NSW Cricket Association in the late 1990s to suspend the club from the first-grade competition. The club won the premiership in 2004-05 — for the first time since 1913-14. Its future is now secure.
Harris was also responsible for the transformation of the university’s sporting facilities and the introduction of an extensive sports scholarship scheme that enabled the likes of Test cricketer Stuart Clark and Olympic swimmer Elka Graham to combine elite sport and study.
During his time at Sydney Uni Sport Harris retained his involvement with the Swans. He became chairman of the match committee when Ron Barassi was coach in 1994 and then with Rodney Eade he helped pilot the Swans to a grand final appearance in 1996. He stepped down in 1997 to focus on the construction of a $5-million sports and aquatic centre at the university.
As the Swans became more like a football club than a circus the need became obvious to reinvigorate the Sydney Past Players and Officials Association (SPPO). Club chairman Dick Colless invited Huey, given his popularity and standing in the club, to be the chairman of the group. The SPPO has become a vibrant association and has developed close linkages with the South Melbourne past players’ association.
Harris took up the challenge last year as CEO of WA Rugby, which in addition to managing the Western Force franchise oversees the promotion and development of rugby in Western Australia.
He has returned to Sydney for personal reasons and given his tremendous knowledge and vast experience in almost all facets of sport, especially Australian football, he’s ready to lead the Swans’ administration.

Comments

  1. Mark Lockie says:

    Hey Rocket – accidently happened upon this blog, noting your comments about Huey. Your example of his famous sayings undersells it – I prefer others, such as “$20 haircut, 2-bob head” and “Operation successful, patient dead” or “Young bull, old bull” I reckon there’s a book in it to match the Denis Commetti one!

  2. Hi Mark,

    You in uni sport in Sydney now? How’s it going up there?

    Spoke to long-time La Trobe FC president John Dumaresq today. Interesting developments at the Trobers, including taking the beer glass out of the hand of Larry, the curly-haired figure in the club logo, and putting a rolled-up degree in its place.

    Student footy clubs are changing.

  3. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for your Comment – great to hear from you.

    You captured many of Huey’s great sayings in your comment.
    Another pearler was when he was coaching Easts and he told them at quarter time to “kick longly”…

    I was pleased to see Sydney Uni beat your mob – UNSW/Eastern Suburbs recently for the University Cup – which given the great association uey had with both Uni and Easts could have been named after him…
    But as he would say, “Why buy a dog, and bark yourself?”

  4. Peter Schumacher says:

    What a CV that bloke has.

  5. Sheik Mohammed bin Rocket says:

    Yes, Peter it is a pretty impressive resume.

    But just like so many resumes it does not necessarily encapsulate the intangible qualities of the individual. Huey is a born leader: his ability to get people to work with and for each other not just on the footy field but in the workplace is extraordinary. People just love working for him.

    Many of the kids that played in the Swans U19 team that he coached in the late 80s/early 90s were from the bush; Huey was able to relate to them extremely well, and just as crucially to their parents. Mind you, he had great support staff! A number went on to play AFL, but most of the rest carved out great coaching and playing careers in the country and in Sydney. Tim Sanson is still coaching Lavington in the O & M, and Graham Hart this year took Osborne to yet another flag.

    I’ve always marvelled at how he coached East Sydney to the 3 flags in a row, 1981-83. The Sydney AFL was very strong at the time, the impact of the Swans on attendances, sponsorships, media coverage, and general interest, had not yet been fully felt. Sam Kekovich was coaching Newtown that had a number of ex VFL players in their ranks, Barry Breen was in charge at Balmain, and ex Richmond winger/rover Billy Brown had taken over from John Pitura at North Shore.

    Huey took over from Austin Robertson (who was too busy running Packer’s cricket circus): Easts had built themselves up incredibly to win the premiership in 1980 – their centenary season, after the major disappointment of 1979 when after being unbeaten all season under Alex Ruscuklic (ex Fitzroy & Carlton) they had been eliminated from the finals series.

    In many ways the Easts’ players of that period were like Carlton’s players at the time – very talented, hard-at-at, no nonsense, and mainly blue-collar with the odd high flying professional.
    All of whom loved a good time off the field. The Blues had recruited Mark McClure from East Sydney, his brother, Stephen, universally known as “Bomber”, was among the many great characters that Huey had to mould into a cohesive unit. He did it 3 times in a row – a stunning effort.

    To all the punters going to the Almanac launch in Sydney tonight – hope you enjoy Huey’s work!

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