Almanac Opinion: The Demonising of Dermie




Dermott Brereton would make a great mate – he is loyal and honest to the core. He would always have your back. This dependability is also a large part of what made him a great footballer. I was one of his fans.


Dermott Brereton’s flaw as a commentator is that he has frequently allowed these loyalties to cloud his opinion. He isn’t the only ex-player to suffer this commentary affliction, but his outspokenness and the influence he holds due to a controversial and spectacular playing career, highlights it – his critical judgements are more likely to be picked up by other media – and by fans.


Brereton isn’t such a public figure these days – he appears to mostly reside in the pay TV forum. This piece refers to a time when he was prominent holding a microphone at SEN and writing for The Age, not to mention match-day commentary (his views may well be more circumspect now).


And to declare my bias – or, loyalty – I am writing from the perspective of a Geelong fan.


It seemed that for a lengthy period, Brereton had an especially agitated bee in his bonnet about the Cats. From memory, it began with berating Will Slade in a 2003 Age column, for allowing himself to be carried off the field on a stretcher (unnecessarily, in Brereton’s mind). Slade wasn’t the first player to do this, and he was following advice by trainers. He was also a young footballer trying to establish himself. Brereton was considered by many to be a bully on the field, was he now being one off-field?


When Slade shot back at Brereton, declaring him an idiot, other ex-footballer media commentators accused Slade of being disrespectful.


It is hard to argue that this stoush had a negative impact on Will Slade’s football career, but it ended without fanfare a couple of years later, though, as coincidence had it, not before trying out with Hawthorn.


Brereton since has variously taken aim at Chris Scott and other Geelong players: Mathew Scarlett, for example, and most notably, Joel Selwood (more on Joel later).


But, why would buzzing Apis mellifera swarm in Brereton’s bonnet about the moggies? He was even a paid-up Cats member at one stage. Therein lays a clue. His close friend, Gary Ayres, was then Geelong coach, and Dermott’s irritation appeared to follow that parting of ways.


It was only the loyalty conspiracy theory that made sense.


Some evidence was found in Brereton’s stern defence of Ayres on Nine’s Footy Show. It followed a run-in between Ayres and Geelong supporters after Ayres returned to Kardinia Park as Adelaide coach. Dermott essentially accused a fan of lying. Ayres revealed himself to be somewhat of a repeat offender after clashing with a Melbourne supporter later in the same year.


Brereton has also shown commentary loyalty regarding Collingwood connections, too (he barracked for them as a kid, and played a season for the Pies at the end of his career).


However, he had a stint at Sydney as well, and that didn’t prevent him from condemning Adam Goodes for dangerous play, which might seem, on the surface, to defeat my loyalty argument; except that it concerned a match involving the Hawks! This was also a starting point for the booing of Goodes, though Brereton isn’t responsible for the chain of events that later followed.


But, back to the anti-Selwood campaign – and I use the word ‘campaign’ intentionally. It’s Brereton’s role to express an opinion, but his persistent criticisms of Selwood appeared to be personal, and were expressed via all the mediums he occupied. Was he still carrying baggage about the Ayres dismissal?


Or did he see something in Selwood he didn’t like in himself or, perhaps, something he did like and guarded?


Brereton’s initial accusations focused on Selwood’s tendency to raise an arm to draw a head-high free kick.


You could just as easily have argued Selwood was trying to shrug the tackle and, once he had broken free, the umpires held him up by blowing their whistle (this was particularly true early on). Choose your confirmation bias.


The criticism had little effect, however, and if anything, Selwood proceeded to be awarded more free kicks – perhaps taking the line “If I’m going to be accused of something I might as well do it”. Or maybe the publicity attracted umpire awareness and they responded accordingly.


Brereton, meanwhile, varied his observations to suit – was Selwood now dropping his knees, or ducking his head? Brereton’s disapproval groans were barely disguised during match commentaries. He even went as far as intimating Selwood was a cheat by agreeing with a caller on SEN who made that accusation (he certainly didn’t challenge the claim).


The most you could accuse Selwood of was exploiting a rule – the rest was up to the umpires. Selwood consequently admitted as much himself (or was he verballed?). In fairness to Brereton, he also acknowledged the umpires’ role.


A contributing factor is that we have experienced a long period of overly technical adjudicating. When the umps are trigger-happy players will seek to take advantage of it. Staging is another consequence, and it’s no coincidence that the prevalence of it increased too. And some players throw their head back; others propel themselves forward. That Selwood was often where the ball was and first to it, added to propensity to earn frees.


Around the same time, Hawk forward Buddy Franklin took the art of diving to expert levels. Brereton was silent about Franklin, or if he did comment, criticism was muted. Was drawing fifty-metre penalties a lesser indiscretion in his rule book, if you were in the circle?


Amusingly, Alistair Clarkson, while Hawthorn coach, also joined the mob by singling out Selwood frees following the 2018 Easter Monday clash. When one of his players, Paul Puopolo, was later similarly accused by Richmond players, Clarkson defended Puopolo’s actions as an “evasion tactic”.


The wider ramification of Brereton’s commentary about Selwood is that it adopted a life of its own among opposition fans who, over the years, often took vilification to extremes. It wasn’t just the boos, or the words, so much as the vehemence behind them.


Ultimately, this could lead to exploration about emulation, and how public outbursts by authoritative figures give unintended license to those who have a prejudice to justify.


I always felt Selwood could quell Brereton’s criticism by contacting him – have a chat over coffee or similar, ask “Do we have a problem?” There’s much objectification inherent in taking pot-shots that is nullified when we get to know someone as a person. I also suspected that Brereton would lack the strength of his criticism convictions if interviewing Selwood on his SEN radio show.


But, in time, their chance to meet came in the commentary box when Dermott was covering a Geelong (pre-season?) match at Kardinia Park, and Sel wasn’t playing.


Credit to Brereton, he didn’t skirt the issue. The exchange was brief and went something like this…


Dermie (as an aside): “I suppose you’ve heard some of the things I’ve been saying about you?”


Joel (wryly): “Yes, you’ve been carrying on a bit.”


Then they continued general footy chat.


When Brereton covered a Geelong match soon after, and Selwood was awarded a head-high free, Dermie blamed the tackler for poor execution! By 2017 he was heralding Selwood’s hunt for the football, and declaring him one of the greats of the game. But, it was too late to rehabilitate recalcitrant opposition fans who, if anything, became more vitriolic as Selwood and the Cats refused to go away.


Similarly, if Selwood – heaven forbid – found himself playing for another club, their supporters would change their tune too. But, that guernsey-change is unlikely to happen, because Sel, you see, is also loyal.


If Geelong wins the Grand Final on Saturday (and perhaps even if we don’t) it could be Joel Selwood’s last game. I wish not, because he still looks in fine fettle.


For Cats fans, regardless of his decision, he will be eternally lauded for skill, leadership and willingness to put his body on the line to win the hard ball – and spill blood in the process.


More than carrying the persona of ‘fearless footballer’, he will be revered for commitment to community, as the recent Jim Stynes award attests to.


It may have been a long segue, but this article is really about Joel Selwood.




(Ed’s note: This article is unrelated to and was submitted prior to the release of this week’s allegations concerning the Hawthorn Football Club.)


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About Paul Spinks

I have had writing published and performed in various mediums, though not always with the luxury of a deadline. Below are links to some pieces published beyond this great site.


  1. Daryl Schramm says

    Terrific read. That good that I went exploring. Those mea culpa articles and the comments are a great illustration of why I am so keen to help with lifting the profile of this marvellous community website. Looking forward to the next read, maybe after the GF?

  2. Definitely some interesting analysis there, Paul.

  3. excellent article Paul. I’m a Saints tragic but Joel is the best player I’ve seen in the last 20 years. His first 10 years were amazing
    . I guess it depends on what you value so I’m tipping the thing Dermot envied the most is Joel’s natural leadership, something he never possessed

  4. Apologies for the delayed response.

    Thanks, Daryl:
    Yes, there’s great writing on this site.
    I’m just emerging from the GF – made notes, but haven’t progressed further yet,

    Thanks, Smokie:
    Some lines of thought could probably be further explored.

    Thanks, Ian:
    Hard to make final conclusion with Dermott. He liked to play hard, and sometimes his player-comments followed suit, especially if he felt aggrieved about something.
    Though, he’s possibly since mellowed considerably.
    Joel finished off in fine style!
    Hang in there with the Saints. – you set in motion our unbeaten run!

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