Kevin Sheedy is one of the Australian football’s best known and most enduring figures. An early Christmas present for his mother Irene and father Tom, he was born in Melbourne on December 24th, 1947. He grew up in the working class suburbs of inner Melbourne, developing a passion for sport, and particularly football, while a schoolboy.
That childhood, where he first worked as a paper boy, then as a plumber gave him a powerful work ethic, something which he has long carried over into football. His early days in football also taught up another valuable lesson - never give up. Too small, too slow, he was at first rejected by VFL clubs, so he went and played in the old VFA with Prahran. There he won the first of the many premierships that decorate his career.
To get to the VFL, he first had to sit out a season. And when he finally got to Richmond, he suffered a severe knee injury. Typical of Kevin he found out everything he could about knee injuries, putting himself through a rigorous rehabilitation process and going on to become a three-time premiership player with the Tigers.
Kevin has always had a thirst for knowledge, believing anyone could have a good idea, so long as you take the time to listen. That’s why he believes two of the most important words in the world are “hello” and “thanks” – “hello” to get the conversation going, “thanks” for that little idea that he might be able to turn in to something special. There is no doubt that his passion, his worth ethic and that Kevin Sheedy gregariousness has allowed him to turn his life journey into something special.
He has gone where no other Australian football person has gone before, coaching or playing in more than 1000 VFL/AFL games. He won three VFL premierships as a player and four premierships as coach of Essendon, where he spent a record 27 years, turning the club from an old-fashioned suburban entity into a modern-day powerhouse of the national game.
Kevin’s achievements off the field are also legendary. He has been an innovator, a galvaniser and a bridge-builder, using football to bring together the many communities that make up Australia, particularly Aborigines and the more recent arrivals to this country than his own Irish forebears.
Kevin began his senior football career with the Prahran football club in the Victorian Football Association in 1964. After playing in a premiership with that club, he transferred to Richmond in the Victorian Football League in 1967 and played 251 games before retiring in 1979. The three grand final wins came in 1969, 1973 and 1974.
In 1981 he was appointed Senior Coach at the Essendon Football Club, where he coached for a record 635 games. In that time the club completed in 19 finals series. During his time at Essendon the club played in seven Grand Finals, winning flags in 1984, 1985, 1993 and 2000. The club also won six of eight “Night” grand finals in which it competed.
Sheeds, as he is known throughout the game, was “All Australian” coach in 1984, 1985, 1993 and 2000 and State of Origin coach in 1984 and 1985. He was also the successful coach of the International Rules Team in 2005 and 2006, winning three of the four Tests played during his tenure. In round 15 of 2007, Kevin broke the VFL/AFL’s combined playing/coaching record with 251 games played and 628 coached - 879 games.
In 2008, Kevin was inducted in to the Australian Football League’s Hall of Fame, made a Legend of the Essendon Football Club and named The Australian Thinker of the Year. He was appointed to be an Ambassador for the AFL during the 150th anniversary celebrations of Australian football.
Kevin then took his career in a whole new direction, moving to Sydney to coach the new Greater Western Sydney side. There his unique ability to market the game of Australian football has been as important as his years of playing and coaching experience. His time as coach of GWS, when it ends in 2013, will be measured by the amazing number of column inches and stories he generated on radio and television as much as by the team’s performance on the field.
Though no one will forget the moment when he combined marketing and football in one brilliant moment – the little jig he did on national television when the Giants won their first ever game against the Gold Coast at Manuka Oval in Canberra. As Kevin said afterwards, the journey along the Federal and Hume Highways back to Western Sydney that evening was measured not in miles per hour, but smiles per hour.
Kevin also played a pre-eminent role in establishing the AFL Coaches Association serving for a time as president. He received the Advance Australia Award in 1993 and in 1998 was admitted as a Member of the Order of Australia in recognition of his service to sport and the community.
A voracious reader, he is himself the author or co-author of seven books, including his best-selling memoir, Stand Your Ground. This is a defining book in the history of Australian football, drawing together the many narratives and influences that have made Kevin Sheedy a legend of the game and also a man of great achievement in the many communities that he continues to reach out to outside his sport.
Another book, The 500 Club, the story of the men who have coached 500 games, has been described not just as one of the best on Australian football, but one of the best sporting books ever written in this country.
Because he was himself a gift to his parents on that Christmas Eve all those years ago, Kevin has long been a champion of other gifts – the gift of knowledge, the gift of opportunity, the gift of that single word he believes is so important to having a good life: Thanks.