• April 4, 2012

Iconic AFL Legend, Tommy Hafey

My interview was to commence with Tommy Hafey at 9am. As usual I struggled to roll out of bed at 7.30am and rushed out of the door to try to beat the pent up of traffic on the West Gate Bridge. Arriving at Hafey’s beautiful Saint Kilda home, I was greeted with a charismatic wide grin and warm handshake. Within minutes after the initial sip of tea, I was utterly shocked into complete disbelief. The clock has ticked over to 9.20 am and the retired football veteran has been awake since 5.20am! He has already completed his daily vigorous routine of 250 push-ups, six kilometre run, swim in the bay and last but not least are the astonishing 700 sit-ups. At 81-years-old Tommy remains a fighting fit unretired AFL legend who still wholeheartedly believes that motivation comes from within and fitness is the basis for success.

“I never ever have an excuse. 365 days of the year without fail I will be out exercising. Even if it is pelting down like you wouldn’t believe or if the water is freezing you just become accustomed. A lot of the time I might only get three or four hours sleep. I’ve always been a morning person.”

Tommy ignores a calendar that says he should be a pensioner playing bowls or bingo. “It frustrates me seeing all the older folk sitting around waiting to die, particularly males who are too lazy. Jail is full of people who should have been doing things.”

Renowned as a resilient worker on and off the field, Tommy has an endless list of accomplishments. In his younger years, he was a printer by trade and owned a milk bar. Currently Tommy is a motivational speaker who thrives on presenting at schools and football clubs. He was also cast as an ambassador for Jeep, marking the company’s 70th anniversary with an advertisement showcasing his gruelling morning regime.

Most famously, Tommy is known for his extensive AFL career as he played 67 games for Richmond. He coached a total of 522 games for Richmond, Collingwood, Geelong and Sydney. “I always gave football my best. At a young age, I was a very ordinary AFL player. I never won best and fairest and I even struggled to hold my spot.”

Former footballers who Tommy coached often approach him with regrets. “I have boys who I have coached who come up and tell me that they should have been a better player. They often apologise for not working hard enough. It’s sad that they come up to me 30 or 40 years later realising they could have been better but you can’t put an old head on young shoulders.”

Tommy emphasises the importance of putting in 100 per cent effort. “I admire those players who try their very hardest. I particularly like Chris Judd as he is such a wonderful role model with the way he has lived his life. Also Gary Ablett is a marvellous person, especially being a son of a superstar who was controversial in a lot of ways.”

Tommy explained how football has changed significantly since its inception.  “I don’t like the way football is played now, people my age are like that. They run around kicking the football sideways doing those stupid handballs and so often I walk out. I go to a lot of country and metropolitan games as there is a completely different atmosphere and tremendous ability.”

For  the past 23 years Tommy has lived in Saint Kilda with his beautiful wife, Maureen who he married 57 years ago as they met at the Ziegfield dance in Glenferrie. “She looked like a starlet and I bought a car so I could visit her.” They married when she was 21 and he was 24.

Dancing was Tommy’s favourite pastime.“The dances they used to have were just marvellous and it was a really lovely time of my life. Back in those days you actually danced with a man. Now you walk into a bar and there are groups of girls dancing on their own while their idiot boyfriends are getting stuck into the booze next to the bar. It’s just not the same.”

Tommy has three daughters and six grandchildren. 38 years ago he made a New Years resolution to his little girls as he promised that he would give up lollies, biscuits and cakes. Since then Tommy has kept his promise because health is such an integral part of his life and he has never even had a drop of alcohol. “I always thought drinking was dumb to be quite honest. Suddenly at the age of 15 all of my friends were smoking and drinking which I thought looked so stupid.  My three brothers also followed in my footsteps.”

Sporting individuals such as Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier are the people who inspire him. Tommy continues to look up to dear friend, running and fitness guru, Percy Cerutty. “I read Percy’s first book in the early 60’s when I was coaching Shepparton. I couldn’t put it down. I ended up writing to him as he is absolutely marvellous. He is a strong and an impressive person.”

Tommy continues to push the old age barriers and continues to inspire, spreading his lifelong message to children that motivation comes from within and his famous words are, “If it is to be. It is up to me.” Few veterans of the VFL era are instantly recognised as Tommy as his fighting fit physique and strong presence continues to encourage generations.

Walking away from the Hafey residence, I realised that I have left with more than a story as his zest for life is contagious. Throughout the two hour interview, Tommy constantly kept trying to turn the spotlight onto myself, firing the questions and providing words of wisdom because he genuinely cares about people. This legendary football star is truly living life to the  fullest potential and is one of the most uplifting and inspiring people you could ever cross paths or share a cuppa with.

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