Tribute to Roosy

by Steve Fahey
 
I know it’s an un-Collingwood and un-Floreat Pican thing to do, but I want to pay tribute to one of the greats of our game, who is fast approaching his swansong (pun intended).
 
I first came across Paul Roos in 1979.   He was wearing number 19 for the fashionably named Beverly Hills Junior Football Club Under-17 team playing in the Doncaster District Junior Football League.  He was a superstar, and already playing at Fitzroy Under-19s. I wore number 12 for one of their opponents, Macleod, and had been developed into a tagger due to a rare combination of limitations (severe myopia, little ability) and strengths (could run all day).   We played them in the preliminary final and got a toweling before they went on to easily win the Grand Final.  
 
The boy from Beverly Hills was soon making his name on a much bigger stage, debuting for the Roys in Round 4, 1982 and quickly adapting to senior footy.  While it couldn’t be called a golden era for the Roys, as they didn’t win a flag, all things are relative, and it was at least a silver era!  They had a boom crop of youngsters, led by Roos, Pert and Osborne, and some veteran stars such as Quinlan and Wilson, and made the preliminary final in 1986.  Roos was a star, and, in combination with his close buddy Pert, formed the cornerstone of a defence which was a springboard to attack.
 
His move to Sydney in 1995 was one of the final nails in Fitzroy’s coffin.  After captaining the club for three years he had been offered to Collingwood at the end of 1990 in order to try to deal with some of the Roys’ financial woes.  He resented that treatment, the deal fell through and he resigned from the captaincy.  He resumed the Roys’ captaincy in 1992 and eventually left the crumbling club to head north to Sydney three years later.
 
I went to Fitzroy’s last game in Melbourne on 25 August 1996 against Richmond.  It is by far the most emotional sporting occasion I have attended, and I guess it was because it was a funeral for a club and a community more so than a game.  One of my favourite memories of that emotional day is the motorcade of past players before the game, with Roosy, having played on the day before for the Sydney Swans, proudly wearing and waving his Fitzroy scarf to the adoration of the Fitzroy crowd.  One of the things I can confidently say I’ll never see again is an AFL player being paraded wearing the colours of his old club while still being involved in the season with a rival club.
 
The move to Sydney rejuvenated his career.  He played under Barassi in 1995 before Rocket Eade took over in 1996.  The Swans were a surprise finalist in 1996 and made the Grand Final after Plugger’s unforgettable point after the siren to beat Essendon.  Roos was a star in the first half of the Grand Final, as the Swans enjoyed a lead over the hot favourite Kangaroos.   Kangas’ coach Denis Pagan responded to Roos’ influence by moving his former Fitzroy teammate John Blakey onto him as a defensive forward.  Roosy apparently looked up when Blakey came to him at the start of the third quarter and said something along the lines of “You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Johnny, tagging a 33 year-old.”  This was classic Roos, frequently able to maintain a sense of perspective and humour no matter how intense the contest.  Sadly for him, his one and only shot at a Grand Final as a player ended in a loss. 
 
Incredibly he was selected for the All-Australian teams in 1996 and 1997 at the ages of 33 and 34, his sixth and seventh selections in the best of the best of our game, including twice being named as captain.  This formed part of a plentiful list of individual honours as a player: second in the Brownlow in 1986, third in 1985, winner of the Leigh Matthews Trophy (the AFL Players’ Association MVP) in 1986, E J Whitten Medalist (for best player for Victoria in State of Origin footy) in 1985 and 1988, captain of the Roys for six years, five times Fitzroy best and fairest.
 
As impressive as this list is, just as looking at the statistics after a game paints only a small portion of the picture, so does this list.  He was a colossus as a player, acclaimed by fans of all teams for his skilful, dashing and courageous play.  He was as loved by the Swans’ faithful as he had been by the Roys, the “ROOOOOS” chant echoing around the stadium when he got the ball.  One painful memory of his playing career for me was the day that his great mate Pert played for the first time for the Pies against his old club and great mate in 1992.  After Pert put the Pies in front deep in the last quarter, Roos won the headlines and the game by kicking the match winner for the Roys.
 
After finishing his playing career in 1998 he spent some time in the USA from where his wife Tammy originated.  A less known aspect of his career is that he coached the USA AFL side to victory over Canada.  Upon return to Australia he became an assistant coach to Eade at the Swans.
 
Roos hadn’t always been considered a senior coach in waiting.  One of my favourite memories from his playing days at Fitzroy was when the always innovative coach David Parkin was seeking to empower players to take greater responsibility for training.  Parkin entrusted Roosy with designing and running the first training drill of the session.  Parkin was bemused to find that Roosy’s drill was to have players lined up in a kick to kick format where the only instructions were for players to kick high to the other end where those players would try to take screamers.  Not that sophisticated, but an insight into the passion for the game that Roos has always displayed.
 
Even when Eade’s position as coach became untenable late in the season in 2002, Roos was not considered a prime contender.  He was appointed caretaker coach for the remainder of the season while the Swans reportedly wooed and signed Terry Wallace.  Roos had success with the team and quickly gained enormous popularity with the players and supporters, such that the club was almost forced to appoint Roos and reportedly pay out Wallace.
 
The success-starved Swans made the finals in 2003 and 2004 before winning the big one for the first time in 72 years in 2005.  As I have got older, I have become able to feel pleased for at least some of those enjoying premiership victory, provided both that the Pies are not on the wrong end of the Grand Final, and that the winner is not Carlton.  In 2005 I remember feeling genuinely touched by the obvious excitement and pleasure of Roos, Bobby Skilton, Barry Round, Paul Kelly and some of the older supporters.
 
The Swans went within a point of making it back-to-back in 2006 before making the finals again in 2007 and then tailing off.  The Swans announced in mid-2009 that Roos would hand over the reins to John Longmire at the conclusion of 2010.  This announcement had a small fraction of the build-up, profile and apparent tension of the Malthouse/Buckley changing of the guard.
 
The Swans were expected to struggle in 2010 after the departures of Hall and O’Loughlin left a young list and apparent forward half deficiencies. They have surprised most by finishing fifth after the home and away season.  The coach is a master, and his demeanor during his final season has been remarkable, the most relaxed anyone can remember from a coach at this level.  He has regularly been seen on camera laughing and smiling, tossing lollies at his assistant Steve Taubert and even playing up to the cameras pre-game with Mark “Choco” Williams in a most unlikely comedy double act.  In case anyone equated his relaxed demeanor with not caring, they were reminded of his ambition and competitiveness when he gave the Swans a fierce spray at quarter-time in their clash with the Pies.
 
My favourite Roos moment of 2010 came in the press conference after their 73 point loss to Melbourne in Round 17, their biggest loss under Roos. Asked what he said or would say to the players after the game, he looked directly at the camera with a straight face and said (something along the lines of) “I spoke to them at ¼ time and it did no good, I spoke to them at ½ time and it did no good, I spoke to them again at ¾ time and it did no good, so I gave it a miss after the game.”  Laughter erupted, not a sound usually heard in a presser when a coach’s team is thumped.  Again, lest anyone may have thought that he was beyond caring, the Swans won their last four games to finish the season with a home final.
 
Passion, competitiveness, humour, perspective, decency, class and immense skill are the qualities I most associate with Roos.  When he leaves the highest level, he does so not only as a legend of the game, but as a rare apparently well balanced individual in a game and indeed a life in which most of us struggle to find balance.   Well done Roosy, thanks for what you have given the game and its aficionados and good luck for the future.

Comments

  1. Peter Flynn says:

    Thanks Steve. Great read.

    I also really enjoyed that R17 press conference.

  2. John Butler says:

    Steve

    Collingwood on top and I find myself in complete agreement with the FP’s spiritual leader.

    Unsettling times. :)

  3. Karen Brophy says:

    Steve

    What a fabulous article. You had me laughing and tearing up.

    Well done and good luck in the finals.

    Karen

  4. Holly Fahey says:

    Hey Daddy :)
    nice article p-dog.
    go the pies!
    ily h-dog

  5. Steve,
    Genuinely good article. Wonder what Roosy will do next?

  6. Steve Fahey says:

    Thanks Chalkdog, Karen, John, Flynny and my darling daughter Holly for your generous comments

    Holly (aka H-Dog), who calls me P-Dog (P being for Papa/Papy)was particularly amused that the comment after hers came from Chalkdog.

    We are hoping that this is in no way an omen for tomorrow night’s clash !!

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