AFL Round 22 – West Coast Eagles v Melbourne: Pride of the Eagles, Demons and Bombers

Not much to get enthused and report about in a game between my hesitantly aspiring Eagles and the hesitantly expiring Dees.  Scanning memory and the ground at half time for inspiration when the familiar trudge of Neale Daniher came into view, as it has hundreds of times since he became the Eagles Football Manager in 2008.

From a distance there is no visible sign of the Lou Gehrig’s Disease (or Motor Neurone as it is more medically termed) that he made public earlier in the week.  As a kid I remember watching the black and white movie ‘Pride of the Yankees’ with Gary Cooper as the seemingly indestructible Gehrig who played 2,130 consecutive games of professional baseball between 1925 and 1939.  With Babe Ruth he was the core of the 1927 World Series winning New York Yankees ‘Murderers Row’ still considered the greatest lineup of hitters in baseball history.

To my teenage self it was inconceivable that such a powerful man of undisputed character, compared to the wastrel Babe, could be struck down without warning or hope of cure.  The culmination of the movie is the “Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth” speech that Gehrig gave to a packed Yankee Stadium on the 4th of July in 1939.  The text of the speech survives but only a few grainy cine film images of Gehrig delivering it, so Major League Baseball made a tribute for the 75th anniversary of his retirement, using clips from every first baseman in MLB today to fill in the gaps.

Lou Gehrig

Daniher spoke for himself in an interview with former team mate Tim Watson earlier in the week, so I won’t put words into his mouth.  But watching him all these years I always see the undemonstrative, phlegmatic demeanour of the Ungarie farmer.  Unusually long arms always hanging limp at his side, long before they were weakened by illness, with a clip board hanging listlessly – not clasped purposefully like the intense, younger coaches.

“Why waste effort on things that won’t affect the result,” his manner always seems to say.  “We’ll win or we won’t.”  “It’ll rain or it won’t.”

Younger coaches run the hundred metres across the ground, more to disperse nervous energy than achieve a purpose.  These past 7 seasons Daniher has always displayed the resigned trudge of a farmer off to check the fences.  “Don’t want the stock getting’ out on the road.”

It was reassuring to me as a fan, that behind all the frenetic speculation and expectation of footy’s media driven pressure cooker, we had a man with his eye on the horizon looking for a change in the seasons.  Been there.  Done that.  “Why don’t we try him forward, he looks the type.”  “Give him another couple of years to grow into himself.”  “Reckon it’s the sale yards for that one.”

How do you capture a career in football that rates you a champion by all who saw you play; but takes 12 seasons to accumulate 82 games; has you club captain at 21 in a season where you never get on the park; Grand Final coach; and coach of a club that made finals 6 out of 10 years under your leadership – but nothing in the 30 years before or since; Kevin Sheedy; Joseph Gutnick; Darren Jolly?

The beginning of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” came to mind.   :

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same

*The full version is at

Next week my Eagles get a chance to extend their season another game or two into the finals.  We are 2 or 3 midfielders short of ‘general rain’, but I can see the next bumper crop in the paddock.  We have a colt called Jeremy McGovern come down from the bush with a sureness of hand and quickness of foot almost reminiscent of the Blue Diamond winner come down from Ungarie in ’79.  Hope his fetlocks are sounder.

Melbourne have some calls to make.  Last week I said NicNait could be the difference for the Wallabies in the Bledisloe Cup.  I watched Jack Watts closely all night and pondered his sporting future.  Badminton?

There are worse things in life than not making it as a league footballer.


WEST COAST          6.1          9.5   16.9   18.11  (119)                  

MELBOURNE           1.1       3.3    5.4      8.5   (53)          



West Coast: LeCras 4, Darling 4, Kennedy 3, Hill 2, Cripps, Lycett, Shuey, McGinnity, Gaff

Melbourne: Fitzpatrick 2, Vince, Bail, Howe, Pedersen, Dawes, Tyson



West Coast: LeCras, Masten, Shuey, LeCras, McGovern, Gaff, Hurn

Melbourne: Jones, Vince, Howe, Bail, Cross, Jamar


Umpires: Fleer, Farmer, Leppard

Crowd: 35,083 at Patersons Stadium

Our Votes: Masten (WCE) 3; Shuey (WCE) 2; Jones (M) 1


  1. David Zampatti says

    There’s a tendency to gloss over one of the highlights of Neale’s career, his three years as an assistant coach at Freo (1995-97).
    He was then, is now, a man of wisdom, generously shared. Two pearls of it I remember clearly; that you had to have at least six “A-grade” players to have a tilt at the flag (I suspect being an A-grader was a higher bar to jump in his mind than it is around the traps these days)…
    …and that Martin Whitelaw would play two hundred games for the Dockers. As it turned out, Marty fell a tantalising 199 games short of Neale’s prediction, but I think no less of either of them for it.

  2. Thanks Peter. Lots to ponder in your report.

    Bill Bryson’s recent One Summer in which he chronicles some of America’s big events in 1927 is informative on Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. I found it fascinating. As always, Bryson is most readable.

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks PB it was a footballing tragedy re Neales career I was at footy park the last time he did his knee against the ledge a truly great player and those words are used far too often . We can only wish him the best in his future health struggles thanks , PB

  4. Luke Reynolds says

    Well said Peter. The Danihers are so likeable I can’t even hold a grudge against Terry despite him knocking out one of my heroes, Gavin Brown, in the 1990 Grand Final. I add my best wishes here for Neale.

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