Sheedy was the quintessential self-made player. Not blessed with great skills, he was able to carve out a brilliant career with dedication, perseverance and thoughtfulness. At his peak, he was a supreme big-game performer who epitomised the "kill or be killed" attitude of the Richmond club. He also attracted criticism for his theatrical attempts to win free kicks, his provocative gestures to opposition players and his occasional use of force. Later in his career, he realised an ambition he had held since his schooldays of becoming a full-time professional football player.
After his retirement, he commenced a coaching career with Essendon that has endured through several eras of the game. Sheedy is an innovator whose ideas shaped the modern style of Australian football coaching, taking it away from the "hot gospelling", hard training style and into the realms of a science. He has been at the forefront of many changes to the game in the last 25 years, and, despite his idiosyncratic speaking style is always sought for an opinion on any matter concerned with football.
On 25 July 2007, it was announced that his contract would not be renewed at the end of the season, ending 27 years as Essendon senior coach.
In Sheedy's last home game as coach against Richmond in Round 21 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, a near sell out crowd of 88,468 people turned out to farewell the great man Sheedy and James Hird. Although Essendon were defeated by a few goals, Sheedy received a standing ovation as he left the field for the last time.
Sheedy's passion for coaching continued and he vowed to pursue a coaching career at another club but in the interim accepted an ambassadorial position with the AFL. He is currently running and writing articles on Supercoach in the Herald Sun
Another hurdle to jump was Billy Barrot. Barrot, a star player loved by the Tiger fans, played in Sheedy's favoured position of centre. Fortunately for Sheedy, Barrot was somewhat temperamental and prone to miss some matches. When he was injured in the third game of the year, Sheedy was selected in his place for his debut. But Sheedy struggled and after six games in the seniors found himself back in the reserves for the remainder of the year. His season was ended by a serious knee injury that further put his future into doubt. From the sidelines, he watched Richmond win the premiership against Geelong.
Returned to fitness, Sheedy faced an enormous challenge in 1968. Fortunately coach Tom Hafey saw something in Sheedy's willingness to listen, his determination and fierce desire for the ball. Placed in a back pocket, Sheedy firstly nailed a regular spot and then began to emerge as key player in the team's defence. He won a Victorian guernsey in 1969 and was a stand out in the Tigers' three finals games, which culminated in a second flag in three years. He finished runner-up best and fairest to claim a remarkable turn around in just two years.
By now, Sheedy's on-field persona marked him as a "villain" to be watched. He enjoyed niggling his opponents, physically and verbally and seemed to be at the centre of every melee on the ground. Occasionally, his teammates blanched at some of his more theatrical attempts to win free kicks or fifteen-metre penalties and he had the ability to drive opposing supporters into a frenzy. Since his injury, Sheedy had lived on the edge knowing that if he failed at Richmond it would be the end of the line because of the impending five-year suspension. But he seemed to have an innate ability to read how far he could push the envelope and indeed he was never reported during his career, a fact that would surprise most who saw him play.
He was now acknowledged the best in his position in the VFL and a key personality at Punt Road. A turning point came in the 1972 season, when Sheedy played in Richmond's losing Grand Final team. In an earlier final, Sheedy had ruffled Carlton's captain coach John Nicholls, suggesting that he was finished as a player and that Richmond had the wood on the Blues. Nicholls and his men, stung by media criticism and the attitude of the Richmond players, played a whirlwind first half in the Grand Final, booting eighteen goals to lead by 45 points. Sheedy, caught embarrassingly out of position a number of times, was switched to the unfamiliar position of ruck rover for the last half. Although the Tigers lost, Sheedy was a revelation in his new role.
Now permanently playing on the ball, he set up Richmond's Grand Final win in 1973 with three goals in the first quarter. In 1974, he was best afield in the Grand Final with 30 disposals highlighted by an uncanny piece of play in the second quarter. Sheedy marked next to the goalpost, went back to apparently take his kick from the impossible angle surrounded by opposition players, then casually ran in and handballed over the head of the man on the mark to lone teammate in the goalsquare who booted the easiest goal of his life. It was this mixture of flamboyance and cunning that attracted the media to him, and Sheedy was voted player of the year by journalists.
Sheedy made good copy; during the season Richmond had appointed him as full-time promotions officer, effectively making him the first professional footballer in the VFL. In time, all of the clubs would copy this appointment and by the 1980s, most clubs had a half dozen or so players employed as promotions officers. It was a bridge between the casual Saturday afternoon era and the age of true professionalism in the 1990s.
After finishing third in 1975, Richmond began a slide down the ladder. Sheedy's standard remained high - in 1976 he won the best and fairest for the only time and received life membership of the club. But he was shocked when his mentor and idol Tom Hafey left the club due to a lack of support at committee level. In 1978, he was made captain but his game was now struggling and he resigned after just one year. After just four games the following season, Sheedy read the writing on the wall when he was started all of the matches on the bench. He announced his retirement and immediately became an assistant to coach Tony Jewell. Throughout the 1980 season, it was clear he was preparing for a senior coaching role. He examined every facet of the club as the team went on to take the premiership.
Until round 16, 2007, Sheedy had coached the club in 629 games, a record for Essendon, and the second most by any coach in the history of the game. Coupled with the 251 games as a player, it is the most combined games as a player and coach in the history of the AFL, as some of Jock McHale's games were as a captain-coach.
He has never been a passive coach, and is well known for trying what commentators have often described as bizarre tactics. Sheedy has always believed in trying his players in as many different positions as possible, and also in giving discarded players from other clubs a second chance. These moves haven't always paid off, but sometimes they have been crucial. Sheedy made several moves in the last quarter of the 1984 grand final, when Essendon looked out of the game, and the side scored a come-from-behind victory. On the recruiting front, prior to the 2000 season, Sheedy lured ruckman John Barnes back to Essendon (a side that had traded him many years earlier) after he was let go by Geelong. Barnes proved to be a valuable player in the premiership side that year.
On Round 9 of the 2006 AFL season, Sheedy coached his 600th VFL/AFL game. However, the milestone was not one to be remembered, as Essendon went down by 60 points to Port Adelaide (a fate that also befell Jock McHale, who lost his 600th game as coach of Collingwood). The loss marked a low point in Sheedy's career, with the Bombers missing the finals in 2006 and in finishing 15th, their lowest finish under Sheedy.
Following the mid year departures of other AFL senior coaches Neale Daniher, Chris Connolly and Denis Pagan, speculation mounted that Essendon would move to remove Sheedy in order to hire one of these experienced coaches or alternatively compete with the other coachless clubs for the leading candidates. On 25 July 2007, it was announced that his contract would not be renewed in 2008. Sheedy agreed to stay for the rest of the season and had a farewell match against West Coast in Round 22 2007 at the Subiaco Oval where Essendon lost by eight points.
Another of his most memorable stunts came in 1993. In his excitement at winning a close match, with ruckman and forward Paul Salmon kicking a goal after the final siren against the West Coast Eagles, he waved his jacket in the air as he came rushing from the coaches box. To this day, the supporters of the winning club wave their jackets in the air after the game when the two teams play.
Another example of his ability to build up and promote matches was in 1998 when he labelled Kangaroos executives Greg Miller and Mark Dawson "marshmallows", referring to how soft they were. This caused a tension between the two camps and came back to bite Sheedy, with the Kangaroos defeating the Essendon Football Club in a finals match that season. After the match, Kangaroos supporters were provided with marshmallows, which they threw at Sheedy. Unfazed by this, Sheedy then promoted the rematch in 1999 as the "marshmallow" game.
Sheedy has long been an ambassador for the game throughout Australia, taking it upon himself to promote both the game in general and the Essendon club in particular. He has also done a great deal of work with Aboriginal communities in the northern parts of Australia, encouraging young Aboriginal people to take up the game, and being a vocal supporter of anti-racial vilification laws in the game. He has also encouraged foreign players to train with his side such as a former American footballer, a skillfully athletic Ethiopian immigrant and more recently two gallant Japanese try-outs.
In the build up to the 2005 International Rules Series, as coach of the Australian side, Sheedy promoted the game by light-heartedly mentioning that supporters could attend the International rules game and be in for a high-scoring clash, or watch the Melbourne Victory game which was on at the same time, and see a scoreline of "0-0, or 1-0, or 1-1".
Sheedy has racked up numerous appearances on television and radio, including appearing on FOX FM's Friday morning football tipping with Tracy Bartram and Matt Tilley in 2003 and 2004. He is also currently the spokesman for Aquamax Australian water heating systems.
Sheedy visited the United States in 2007 on a tour of North America as AFL ambassador, attending the USAFL National Championships and was well received from stateside fans. He is currently running and writing articles on Supercoach in the Herald Sun
Sheedy is married to Geraldine, and they have four children.
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