Tom Hafey: A chance encounter and conversation


“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle – when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”


On 12 May 2020 it will be six years since Tom Hafey passed away.


I met Tom Hafey only once. I remember the occasion well. It was mid December 2013, it was memorable and it was while travelling on the 96 tram from Bourke Street in Melbourne city to St Kilda. Lorelle and I were on our way to a Joe Camilleri and the Black Sorrows Van Morrison tribute concert at the Palais Theatre.


After we hopped onto the tram in Bourke Street, Lorelle sat on one side of the aisle and I on the other.  Almost immediately I could hear a man engaging Lorelle in a wide-ranging, upbeat conversation –  almost excitedly.  I didn’t take any notice initially but then after awhile I looked across and saw that the man engaging her was none other than the great Tom Hafey. I commented to the chap opposite me that Lorelle didn’t have a clue who she was talking to, which caused a little mirth between us. I lent across and whispered in Lorelle’s ear the identity of her travelling companion.


Tom gathered that Lorelle and I were together and introduced himself.  I asked how he was faring and he replied that he was ‘sensational and getting better’ and hoped we were too. We didn’t know at that time that this was a usual Tom Hafey expression. A dapper Tom was on his way home after a Christmas party and explained that each year he hosts players who played under him at Richmond to a Christmas luncheon at a Richmond hotel (can’t remember which one). He had a Santa Claus hat in a bag which he gave to Lorelle for her to wear on her Christmas Day!


When the tram pulled up at a couple of stops along the way, Tom waved to people on the platform, who quickly whipped out their phones to get a photo.  It was very obvious that he enjoyed engaging with people and loved a chat.


Tom was very knowledgeable about the Melbourne music scene and more generally. He said that he and his wife often went to see various bands etc. at the Palais and elsewhere in Melbourne over the years.  I can remember his knowledge of the local and international music scenes as being pretty good. He knew Joe Camilleri and also many other famous musos which was not surprising given the affability of the man and desire to meet and talk with people.


I mentioned that we lived (at the time) in Olinda and that I was on the local football committee “The Bloods”. Tom said that over twenty years ago he had once visited the club as a guest speaker and would be keen to do so again.  He asked me to mention it to the committee and gave me his business card. It would have been good to have Tom talk to the club, especially about his lessons on leadership.  Unfortunately, this was not to be as Tom became ill in early 2014 and passed away in the following May


One could not be in a conversation with someone like Tom Hafey and not want to engage him on matters of football. Here we were talking to the great Tom Hafey, a coaching force majeure, the man who had coached Richmond to four premierships, the man named a Richmond immortal in 2003, Richmond’s team of the century coach, an AFL Hall of Fame inductee.


I asked him about his proudest moments in football and was interested to hear him say that three premierships he had won with Shepparton were close to the top of his list and up there with his four premierships with Richmond.


As a former long distance runner and a regular jogger, I reminded Tom of an interview he did with George Negus about ten years previously where he mentioned that every morning he got out of bed at 5.30am to run about 8-10k followed by stretches, 200 push-ups, a dip in the bay and then home to finish off with 600 sit-ups.  He responded that nowadays he ‘is as slow as a wet week’, had a shorter swim and ran about 5k every morning. He followed this with the same regime as in the past, except that now he only did about 100-150 push-ups and about 200, sometimes more, sit-ups!  Tom reminded us that he didn’t drink or smoke and that his philosophy is that you’ve got to keep active; keep doing things.  Also, everyone must work hard, maintain a strong work ethic and have a fitness regime.


We talked about Tasmanian players who had played VFL/AFL and I asked him who he thought was the best and could he rate a top 10?  Royce Hart was Tom’s number one and probably the best player he had been associated with. Unfortunately, I didn’t have pen or paper so I can’t remember the order of his best Tasmanians but I know that Ian Stewart and Darrell Baldock were somewhere in the middle as were the usuals, Verdun Howell, Alastair Lynch, Brent Crosswell and Peter Hudson.


Tom told us that for him every day is a great day and it was important, regardless of your age, to do daily exercise and always look after your health. He said he loved life and always worked hard at being the very best he could be.  Tom reminded me to make sure that I always had my regular male health check which, he opined, a lot of men failed to do.


By this time, we were approaching St Kilda Esplanade and Tom was keen to point to out to us where Barass (Ron Barassi) lived and Crawf (Shane Crawford) and several others.


As we alighted the tram near the Palais, Tom wished us well and I remember he said that he had loved our chat and hoped to see us again.  He told us not to stop moving and reminded me not to forget about his desire to visit Olinda.


When I heard in early 2014 that Tom was ill, I sent him a note wishing him a strong recovery, reminding him of who we were and our conversation with him. I didn’t expect a response but he emailed me back. He remembered us and thanked us for our kind thoughts and wished us well. I have kept this email.  Lorelle and I were very sad when we learnt of Tom’s passing.


On the back of Tom’s business card which he gave me to remind me about our Olinda conversation, is a parable about the lion and the gazelle and pretty much sums up his philosophy – I have listed it at the beginning of this piece. The parable is on my study room wall.


Just after Tom passed, Tess Lawrence in the Independent Australia (17/5/2014) described Tom’s morning ritual ‘as a daily baptism and salute to a new day, with new possibilities and adventures’. I have always loved this quote. Tom doesn’t greet the sun or mornings any longer with his run along the St Kilda foreshore and Melbourne is the worse for it. Hopefully, others are collecting the discarded needles that Tom was renowned for picking up off St Kilda beach.


‘Tommy you were and will forever be ‘sensational’ and we are the better for having known you’. (‘You’re not that good Kevin’, Kevin Sheedy, p78, HeraldSun, 16 May 2014)


I am sure Tom Hafey would concur with the following quote that also resides on my study wall:


“Running is a road to self-awareness and self-reliance… You can push yourself to extremes and learn the harsh reality of your physical and mental limitations or coast quietly down a solitary path watching the earth spin beneath your feet, but when you are through, exhilarated and exhausted, at least for a moment everything seems right with the world”.


Lorelle still has Tom’s Santa hat. It is sentimental and is probably the last Christmas hat that Tom wore, at least in terms of his annual Richmond players’ Christmas party.




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  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Tom Hafey certainly was a most remarkable man. Loved everything that he did, and he did it with passion and commitment. A great role model for everyone. It must have been a wonderful experience meeting him. Thanks for the story. Loved it!

  2. Rulebook says

    Allan thank you and I know from talking to a few tigers along the way how they looked forward and enjoyed,Toms lunch and speech every year immensely respected lovely story

  3. Chris Daley says

    Fantastic. Thank you

  4. Stainless says

    Wonderful story about a wonderful man. Thanks

  5. Michael Tabart says

    A great read as per usual Allan.

  6. Roseville Rocket says

    You’ve captured Tommy brilliantly Allan.

    He really valued those Shepp premierships – 3 in a row.
    Maureen and Tommy had me over for dinner one night when he was coaching the Swans and lived in Bronte.
    Displayed in the billiard room were all the premiership teams he coached – incl the Shepp ones.
    As I’d seen him play in all those grand finals that’s all we talked about.

    Tommy never called anybody by their nickname, it was always their given name.
    So it was never “Bewsie” or Andy, always Andrew…
    He called me Rodney.

    Reckon all his old players must really miss that Christmas lunch.
    Redda Noonan and the Sheep boys used to come down for it.
    Or should I say Brian.

  7. Ron Kreymborg says

    Good read Allan. Cheers, Ron

  8. Well done. Great read.

  9. Radka Shaw says

    Another great story: thanks Allan and keep them coming!

  10. Luke Reynolds says

    Magnificent Allan. What a great, inspiring man T.Hafey was.

  11. roger lowrey says

    A great yarn Allan with nothing at all that surprises me.

    I met Tom once at a sporting themed lunch in Melbourne. He seemed much keener to find out more about me and my journey through life than I was about his.

    I later realised this wasn’t a pretence. I think he just really did like engaging with people and asking them to share their experiences with him. A lovely man.

  12. Greg James says

    Great reminiscing, Allan. As a Swans fan I have very warm regard for Thomas Hafey! He was a vital cog in the march up the ladder in the 80s, unfortunately the (arguably) most talented team didn’t win a finals game under him. But the ride was incredible! Williams, Capper, Toohey, Healey, Carter, Mitchell , Carroll…..

  13. Sensational article about an absolute dead set legend
    well done and keep wearing the Santa hat!!!

  14. Love this Allan. The willingness to remain open to the world and engage with people so warmly is such a gift. And on a tram. Going to a cultural event. Meeting a footy legend. That is all so Melbourne – such a public culture. Rich.

  15. And Rodney, we should dig out that piece you wrote about Tommy.

  16. Daryl Schramm says

    Thank you for this.

  17. When I was teaching, Tom would regularly ring me bout giving our Year 12 students an inspiration talk. We were usually unable to accommodate him but he still rang regardless. His calls would be of about 30 minutes duration. As some other other writers have said, he could talk about a wide variety of topics. He liked to talk about his Sydney days but became very excited when I told him I had taught at Wodonga. John Perry was all he said and then told me all about John as a player. He had kept in contact with John and his family. Tom knew all about the famous Black Stump Hotel found just outside Wodonga which John and his family owned. Barry Richardson was another Wodonga boy who he knew well. He was a lovely man and a great man for country football. Eventually we did manage to have Tom talk to our students and, of course, he was very good. A great man.

  18. DBalassone says

    Beautiful story about a great man Allan.

  19. Frank Taylor says

    Thanks Allan. Simply marvelous piece about a great, giving bloke.
    Unfortunately I never met him, however my middle daughter, Bonnie, did when Tommy gave a talk to her class at Eltham High, probably 2001 or 2002. Made a profound (and positive) impression on Bon.

    Cheers, Frank

    PS – noted that Collingwood has not been mentioned.
    ’77 -’81 was (still is for some) such a time of heartbreak.
    I still love Tommy.

  20. Allan Barden says

    Frank – no, the Magpies and Tom’s days in their nest didn’t come up at all. I think probably because as an old, former Tasmanian I got him talking about Tasmanian football and footballers and then other subjects. At the time I remember being really interested in his comment about his Shepparton days and he was quite adamant that Royce Hart was one of the best players he had ever seen. I just wish that I had a notebook at the time or thought to use my phone (!) to take down Tom’s top 10 Tassie players.
    Tom was a fascinating chap who was able, in the space of a few minutes, to have you thinking that you had known him for years.


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