General Footy Writing: Danihers biography taps into a sentimental yearning for the past

By Adam McNicol

The back cover of The Danihers contains a quote from Kevin Sheedy. “They say nostalgia is the most powerful drug in the universe. If so, this book should be banned.”

Sheeds might have been off-target with his effort to win the coaching position at Richmond, but in this case he’s spot on. The Daniher story – the tale of the only four brothers to ever run out together in a VFL or AFL game – really does tap into our sentimental yearning for the past.
It takes us back to the pre-midfield-rotation days, when each VFL team had a ruckman who rested in the forward pocket, when footy was free of nonsense sayings like “frontal pressure”, and when supporters stood on terraces at places like Windy Hill and Arden Street.

Writing the book became a nostalgic journey of its own. It began when Neale and I travelled 620 kilometres north from Melbourne to the family farm in May last year.

Located just outside the tiny town of Ungarie, in the Riverina region of New South Wales, the farm was where I met the Daniher elders, Jim and Edna, and was treated to their legendary hospitality.

Upon our arrival, Edna served up plates piled high with home-grown roast lamb and veggies. Having myself grown up on a similar wheat-and-sheep property near Manangatang, in the Mallee, it was easy to feel at home. Countless cups of tea were enjoyed as the sharing of stories began.

A champion local player until he finally retired when aged in his mid-40s, Jim took us on a tour of the football grounds where he spent much time during his younger years. The old Burgooney oval has sat idle for so long that we found it covered by trees taller than Paul Salmon.

A broad-shouldered man, with an imposing presence and a booming voice, Jim also directed us to Four Corners, which was a footy club in a paddock. The pine goal posts were still standing and the ground was bare sand. “Just like when we played on it,” Jim noted, with typically dry wit.

Back at the farmhouse, Edna recalled the Sundays when she would rise at 4am to bathe the youngsters and dress them in time for church. Jim and Edna have 11 children in all, the seven girls having excelled in their own sporting careers, especially in basketball and netball.

Now in her late 70s, Edna still spends plenty of time in the garden and helps out chasing sheep when required. Her collection of scrapbooks, filled with clippings from her sons’ footy careers, are works of extraordinary dedication, and made my job much easier.

Jim, who recently turned 80, still loves to watch footy, whether it’s the local Ungarie lads or the AFL. He’s just not sure why today’s players refuse to kick the Sherrin. “Never handballed in my life,” he said, while recalling his days wearing Ungarie’s black and white hoops.

During our stay at the farm, a gathering was organised at the nearby town of Temora, which included Neale, Chris and five of the Daniher sisters. It featured so much laughter I struggled to decipher any of the stories when I listened back to my recording of the evening. The Daniher siblings maintain a strong bond. They are great mates.

A day later, we adjourned to the front bar of the Central Hotel for a few middis of Tooheys New in the company of Harry Sanson, Lindsay Henley and Harry Rowling, who were part of Ungarie’s 1974 premiership team. Terry Daniher played in that flag when aged just 16. In the same season, he also won the Northern Riverina league’s best-and-fairest and, for good measure, was best-on-ground in the grand final.

The time at Ungarie ended after we had lent Chris a hand with drafting some sheep. Chris is the one whose life journey has taken him home. Such is his passion for the Ungarie community and its football club, he is still playing for the Magpies at the age of 43. According to Sheedy, “Chris had talent, don’t worry about that. But he was tough – tough as the whole lot of ’em.”

True to their Irish heritage, the Danihers are all brilliant story-tellers. Anthony told many great yarns about doing pre-season training on the farm, when Terry would supervise running sessions up and down the gravel driveway.

I sat with Anthony at the Docklands when his son Darcy played his first AFL game for Essendon last season. It is remarkable to compare Darcy’s professional status with Anthony’s first year in the VFL, when he worked full-time as a wool classer.

Terry’s contributions to the book were usually made over a couple of Melbourne Bitter stubbies. Twenty five years since he led the Bombers to their drought-breaking premiership in 1984, Terry was always smiling as he talked about the days when he and his team-mates would warm down from matches with a cold beer.

He would chuckle while remembering players like Paul Van Der Haar, Leon Baker and Simon Madden grabbing a smoke off the doorman at Windy Hill after training.

Despite their many successes, the Daniher brothers are still the boys from the bush footy fans assume them to be. And their story – from kids in outback New South Wales through to Neale’s time in charge at Melbourne – is a tale about rising from humble beginnings and achieving a dream. In many ways, it resembles the rise of the AFL itself.

The Danihers, as told to Adam McNicol, Allen & Unwin, $49.99, will be launched on Wednesday 6 August 2009.


1) Terry and his father Jim played in a grand final together for Ungarie in 1973. Terry was 15, while Jim was 44.

2) Neale spent four years at boarding school in the New South Wales city of Goulburn and became one of St Patrick’s College’s finest rugby union players.

3) Terry made his VFL debut with South Melbourne three months before Fiona, the youngest of his seven sisters, was born.

4) After being told he was no longer wanted by South Melbourne, Terry almost signed with Fitzroy. He was later traded to Essendon in exchange for midfielder Neville Fields.

5) Anthony was so laconic when playing in the juniors at Ungarie, Edna once walked onto the field during a break in play and told him to start “having a go!”

6) When Neale kicked three goals in the last quarter to almost single-handedly defeat Carlton at Princes Park in 1981, up at the farm his younger sisters were unaware of his achievement. Rather than listening to the footy, they were roller-skating around the concrete floor in the shearing shed.

7) Neale was made Essendon captain in 1982. But he never skippered the Bombers in a VFL match.

8) Before he made it to Essendon, Chris had already needed a knee reconstruction, after falling off a swing during Christmas Eve festivities in Ungarie.

9) Anthony was runner-up in the Sydney Swans’ 1985 best-and-fairest after lining up on the wing for much of the season.

10) When all four Daniher brothers played together for Essendon, in the round 22 match against St Kilda at Moorabbin in 1990, Kevin Sheedy allowed each of them to start on the ground. Neale began at full-forward, Anthony on the wing, Chris in the centre and Terry at full-back.


  1. Pamela Sherpa says

    Top effort Adam. I’m gonna love reading the whole book.

  2. Fiona Butler says

    I have read extraacts from the book on the net and I look forward to reading the book even though I have never been a Essondon supporter and I am a one eyed Carlton Supporter I have always been a Daniher supproter and comming from a farming community myself enjoy following the Danihers and the whole family.

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