AFL Grand Final: Betting on O’Keefe



Roland and I are walking through our small town between bouts of sideways rain, doing it easy. I’ve just cut a load of wood to pay for my grog over the Grand Final weekend.

We slip into the tavern to be warm for the length of a lazy traveller.

“Give me your iThingie,” I tell him.

“What for?” he asks.

“I want to place a bet on the Norm Smith.”

“You never bet,” he says.


He hands it over. I press this and that with cold, muddy fingers and have no idea what I’m doing. There’s barely reception out here, but I think I’ve accidently phoned Africa.

I try to get it right and put some money down on Ryan.

“O’Keefe?” says Roland. “Why him?”

It’s a fair question. I hate betting agencies. Normally, if I wager, it’s with a mate, for a six-pack, or the like. I lost a bottle of Turkey on Stroppy Jack kicking the ton last year. I knew he probably wouldn’t, but I wanted him to. It’s why I don’t bother with footy tipping anymore. Betting becomes my barracking tax. I’m hopeless at it.

I’m either dialling my horoscope, a phone sex company or placing ten on O’Keefe, when I decide to make it twenty.

“Big spender,” Roland laughs.

Him and Ted have been known to blow a thousand on heads and tales out of boredom.

But it’s not about the money.


I first took notice of Ryan O’Keefe when Roos was in charge at Sydney. Paul Roos was a CHB who attacked. He got 25 or more touches. Took about 12-15 marks a game. Was, with Carey, the greatest pack mark in the comp. He played most of his footy at Fitzroy, so most people never saw his best.

Poor Brett Stephens, though, had to watch Paul’s man a bit. The rest of the backline, indeed, the league, wasn’t ready for backmen like that. People didn’t mix and match and cover as a unit.

By the time Roos was a coach other teams were onto it, always aiming for the attacking defender’s opponent. So Roos pretty much invented tempo football. When the team was up, they would attack. When it was not, the half forwards would push back into defence. Make a shitfight of it, stop the run. Then push forward again.

And, soon, more and more, push forward quicker, harder.

That required huge work ethic. Constantly running the full length of the ground. As much or more than an on-baller. Not many forwards had the engine to do that, but O’Keefe did.

I would watch him, time and again, at the top of the telly frame, like a train on goddamn tracks, shuffling one way, shuffling the other. It seemed like he was in every shot somewhere, relentless, moving scenery. Back, forward, back again.

He became one of my favourite players.

He was no loud personality, no lair. Did not have the blistering handball of Mitchell and the like, or freakisness of Stevie J, or lazer-like kick of Bob Murphy. He was no roadrunner. In fact, he so barely stands out that at times I would think he’d had ten touches, only to see he’d racked up close to 30.

O’Keefe was just a bloke. With enormous ticker!

It was no surprise, as the game evolved again, backs and forwards becoming faster, at an age most flankers push into pockets, that overhanging the bench then retirement, he evolved again. Moved into he midfield. Supposably a young man’s game. I doubt his heart noticed the difference much at all.

Maybe that there was more traffic. More stoppages. The things he often was seen shuffling by, on his way to stop or create. He had already learned to read the play better than most.

I would imagine he just changed tack. Put his work ethic, his honesty, from constant movement and the longest, unrewarded sprints, into tackles and bumps.

I’d imagine he loved it.

Each week this year, he’s taken on the best. Where as most gun midfielders have a tag, I’ve had the privilege of watching O’Keefe head-to-head with Hodge, Pendlebury, Bartel, the best. Not as talented, or blessed as those blokes, other than knowing exactly how much to defend, how much to attack.

Still no-one seemed to rate him. Not in the elite. Not with the Swans and the Judds and the like. He was maybe a level below that, but only just. Unnoticed. Doing the job. A foot solider in a team of them. At a club built on them. With a culture of honesty and work.

These things don’t get noticed as much by commentators. The nature of the media’s game, is to have flashy things catch your eye.


But I reckon, on a big stage, 300 games in, over 100 after most people have retired, in the guts, in a Grand Final, when things are tight and scrappy and everything’s far more of a fight, the biggest fight, I reckon O’Keefe just might do the job. That a panel of experts might see those things.

The building-bloke things the naked eye doesn’t notice. Like honesty. Like character. Like someone who will line up on their best and do the job.


“Come on, Old Dog, let’s hear it,” Roland says.

“It’s only twenty,” I tell him. “But my way of owning one-millionth of what’s going to happen, I reckon.”

“If it happens,” he says.

“Well, if it don’t, I’m spending twenty on a bloke I like.”

“Without knowing him.”

“Call it faith,” I tell him, and we finish our beers, then one more, and step back out into the rain, which is falling like a bastard down stairs again.


  1. Shane Kennedy says

    Great summation Matt. I’ve always had a similar respect for O’Keefe but adding a further layer is that he went to the same school as me.

    I had another school mate at the game who put a bet on him so he could cheer the St Kevin’s connection. Ironically, he edged out Hanneberry, who is from the arch rivals Xavier.

    A good win.

  2. Dips O'Donnell says

    O’Keefe – a good St Kevin’s boy

  3. A lot of ‘left footers’ playing on Saturday apparently.

  4. Matt Zurbo says

    Geez, Dips, if he’s a good’un, I’d love to see a Great!

    Phantom, lefties… Half the Swans, half the Assie cricket team, Jimmy Hendrix!!! There’s something about ’em.

  5. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Matt the other major point about , Ryan OKeefe FOOTBALL BRAIN his body positioning at ball ups in nullifying his opponent when to totally go and attack I agree he gets the most out of himself and fits the bloods culture superbly .
    He is one of my favourite players also , spot on with compete logic for a , GF , Matt !
    A further question have , Sydney lost the plot in there recruiting getting away from
    players who fit and encompas what , Stuie Maxfield started and having so much of there salary cap on two players to me does not make sense and will cause huge problems in the long run your thoughts , Matt ? Thank you

  6. Matt Zurbo says

    Mal, Plugger, Hall, Everett, Healy, Sydney have always nailed one or two big, commercially viable name from other clubs, and built a team of troupers around them. Their strength is in their coaching/system/culture. All good teams have several guns. Syd have a way of making their bottom six better than anyone else’s.
    Also, Hawks, Cats, Pies, all had at least two gun forwards when they won their flags. Gums ton could not have done what he did without Buddy and Roughie. Syd is first and foremost a battleground vs rugby, it’s not just about how well they play, but exposure. So, yeah, early to say, and, to be honest, is not bush footy, so only passing interest, but, from a number of angles it makes sense to me.

  7. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Ist off totally agree re interest wise ,Afl way down on my priority list and yes Sydney have always recruited big names some of which was before salary cap to be paying a player a large sum when he will no longer be playing is stupid if they lose players as a result this could prove to be a idiotic recruiting decision time will tell

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