In their prime

by Chris Riordan

News filtered through on Christmas afternoon that Maurice Rioli had died suddenly. “He’s not that old!”, was the dismayed response.

Not long ago, Andy Irons’ sudden passing made shockwaves – how could it be that one so young, with so much to live for, was gone?

It is not a happy topic.

So many of out sporting heroes are cut down early. For some it is “just” their sporting lives that are shortened, others’ mortality is more literally highlighted.


  1. Les Darcy the saddest and greatest of all.

  2. I have strong memories of the moving photo of Peter Knights, premiership cup in hand, et al surrounding Peter Crimmins in his hospital bed just after winning the ’76 flag. Crimmo died on the Monday after the GF, not much more than 12 months after registering his last Brownlow votes.

  3. Darren Millane’s death was due to his own poor behaviour and poor judgement but it was a tragic loss. Darren was a great footballer and a much better man than some of his public behaviour might suggest. The club claimed at the time that “Pants” was always the first player to put his hand up to visit sick Collingwood kids in hospital and do other charity work.

    As a player he was the heir apparent to Shaw as captain and there is an argument to say that his loss as a leader was part of the reason that The Magpies went backwards in the nineties.

  4. Peter Flynn says

    Both of mine died in competition.

    Russell Mockridge from Geelong.

    Tommy Simpson. I’ve visited the plaque near the summit of Mont Ventoux where he expired. Quite moving.

  5. Peter Flynn says

    Two more from the world of cricket.

    Collie Smith (Sobers was driving the car).

    Archie Jackson (TB)

  6. Damian Watson says

    The death of Melbourne player Troy Broadbridge was obviously a tragic occurence as a result of the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004. He was only in his mid 20’s when he passed away from memory. It is also unfortunate in a sporting sense to an extent as he was establishing himself as a reliable defender for the Demons. I remember that engrossing battle Broadbridge had with Matthew Lloyd in the 2004 Elimination Final which proved to be his final game.

    Who could forget the death of Ayrton Senna in 1994, when the three time F1 champ accidentally rammed into a wall at high speed. I think it was at the San Marino Grand Prix, although I’m not 100% sure.

    I know Clinton Grybas wasn’t a sportman but he was such a well-renowned and likeable sports broadcaster with great talent and variety. To see him struck down virtually before his prime at the age of 32 was a sad loss. Grybas could call practically every sport so effectively and the research and knowledge placed into his preparation before hius commentary was quite admirable.

    Just a few other AFL players who have passed away at a relatively young age following the climax of their careers:

    Jamie Tape- former Collingwood and Richmond defender in the 1990’s, was also a great footballer at Woodville/West Torrens in Adelaide.

    Laurence Schache- former Bears forward in the early 90’s under Walls. I think he booted about 50 goals in his first season.

    Bluey Truscott and Ron Barassi Snr- former Demon premiership players who died in active service in the era of WWII, along with many other league footballers.

    Brent Green- Sydney and Brisbane ruckman who played briefly in the late 90’s.

    Those are the players off the top of my head although I’m sure there are many more.

  7. Damian Watson says

    Almost forgot Ron James, a young Footscray and Williamstown player who tragically perished in a water skiing accident while still a listed player. From memory he debuted at Williamstown at the age of 15.

  8. In a sporting sense – also at Footscray – Neil Sachse’s quadriplegia was a young loss…and a life of struggle.

  9. Mick Jeffrey says

    A number from a selection of sports

    BASKETBALL: Drazen Petrovic (Croatia, New Jersey Nets) – Car accident. The story goes that he was going to be included in NBA Jam, the now famous arcade basketball game. Some machines apparently are haunted, perhaps that’s urban myth.

    THE WORLD GAME: Marc Vivien Foe (Cameroon) collapsed in a Confederations Cup game and died.

    RUGBY LEAGUE: He only had retired a few years earlier, but Peter Jackson represented Queensland and Australia, and died in 1997 from an overdose.

    MOTORSPORT: Greg Moore (Canada). At a time when American Open Wheel racing was at civil war with each other but the on track product was as good as F1, the final round of the 1999 CART series (which raced on the streets of the Gold Coast) was held at Fontana in California. Moore was amongst the most popular guy in the paddock, and was good mates with Dario Franchitti who that day was in a title fight with Juan Pablo Montoya. Not more than 10 laps into the race, Moore suffered a massive crash on the back straight (Fontana is an oval track), slammed into the wall, and suffered head and internal injuries that claimed him. The rest of the drivers were shattered, many in tears, and the CART series never recovered.

  10. At a club level, while South Melbourne Hellas weren’t actually killed off by the A League, they have no meaningful future as a soccer club because they are not able to get into the elite competition. So at the age of 51, the club that won 4 NSL championships and was recently adjudged Oceania club of the century is left without short to mid-term hope — something that may well kill it off.

    Ditto Fitzroy FC, North Sydney Bears, Wimbledon FC and any other entity killed off by the modernisers.

  11. John Butler says

    A significant number of Man U’s “Busby’s Babies” in the Munich air crash.

  12. Jamie Tape wore number 13 at Collingwood, as did Wayne Gordon who was the only other Collingwood player under the age of 40 to die of ill health in recent years.

  13. Vitas Gerulaitis

  14. Sadly, we add Sean Wight to this list. R.I.P.

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