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An extraordinary man

Australian football has lost one of its legends, with the passing of former St Kilda, Hawthorn and Richmond coach Allan Jeans. Martin Blake reviews his contribution to the game and to those who played under him.

Australian football has lost one of its legends, with the passing of former St Kilda, Hawthorn and Richmond coach Allan Jeans. Martin Blake reviews his contribution to the game and to those who played under him.

AUSTRALIAN football has had few days more momentous than grand final day, September 24, 1966. With a bare half an hour left to play, the

perpetually downtrodden St Kilda held a wafer-thin lead over the powerhouse that was Collingwood.

St Kilda coach Allan Jeans made his way around his St Kilda players at three-quarter time with last-minute instructions and encouragement. The Saints, the competition's least successful outfit they had finished last a record 18 times in 70 seasons were on the cusp of winning their first premiership.

Jeans knew the gravity of the moment. He, the players, the club, needed something special. His piercing voice rang out. In one simple sentence, he nailed it: "Twenty-five minutes to make a name for yerself, like ya never made before . . . "

The game has lost one of its legends, but thankfully that piece of audio is enshrined on the 1996 documentary One Hundred Years of Australian Football.

The St Kilda players did make names for themselves that day, beating Collingwood by a solitary point in arguably the most famous of VFL-AFL grand finals. Jeans made his name, too, although in the context of nearly half a century at the elite level of the game, it turned out to be just one day and one achievement.

There was so much more: another three premierships with Hawthorn. Jeans's 1966 triumph in just his sixth season as a senior coach was enough to make him a legend of the club and the game. That he moved across to Hawthorn and oversaw the most dominant and successful period in that club's history, winning premierships in 1983, 1986 and 1989, added another compelling chapter to his story.

Almost certainly he would have had a fifth premiership in 1988 had he not been forced to absent himself because of a brain haemorrhage that threatened his life. Hawthorn won the premiership that year under Alan Joyce's temporary leadership cut from similar cloth.

Still, Jeans's four flags in 26 seasons as coach is a tally bettered by only four men in the 114-year history of the VFL-AFL, and his 62 per cent of games won record stands up against all but a handful.

A middling player who was recruited from Finley in New South Wales to the Saints in 1955, he made up for lack of superstar quality on the field through 77 senior games by making himself one of the pre-eminent coaches in the game.

He was coaching the blighted Saints in 1961 at age 27, and had St Kilda in a grand final in 1965 for the first time since 1913, then upward to the flag in 1966. In the rooms later, captain Darrel Baldock raised a glass to toast the coach, whose speech is on the public record: "I neither have the talent nor the ability to express my feelings. But wherever you boys go or whatever happens to you, I'll always remember you for this wonderful moment you gave me."

He will be mourned by St Kilda and Hawthorn, and the broader football community. Jeans retained a strong affection for both clubs, which he took to a total of nine grand finals. "People say, 'Which one do you favour?'," Jeans told The Age in a 2003 interview. "You've got to understand, from a coach's point of view, winning's everything. It keeps you in your business and it makes it easier if you win. [But] I just say, 'they're all Australian boys with a different colour jumper on, that's all'."

Jeans also coached Richmond for one season, in 1992, with no conspicuous success, before stepping away from the game for good. He put his feelings succinctly. "A coach gets tired of it. It's very demanding."

He took to the greens at Cheltenham Bowls Club, near his home, competing with ferocity. He spent his latter years following his grandchildren's sport, but was laid low by the curse of pulmonary fibrosis. Many of his players were among the visitors to his retirement home in recent months as his health failed him.

Some years ago Leigh Matthews, who was coached by Jeans and went on to coach Brisbane to three successive premierships, described Jeans as "the father of the modern running game". If that is so, Jeans can be said to have left a considerable legacy. In times when it was more common for teams to merely defend at the back, Jeans liked his teams to run and create.

His sphere of influence proved to be profound his disciples were many. In the 2001 season, there were six AFL coaches who had benefited from his tutelage Mick Malthouse, Rodney Eade, Gary Ayres, Grant Thomas, Terry Wallace and Matthews. Most of them drew extensively from their personal knowledge of the Jeans collection of stories and truisms.

He was revered in the game. When Tim Watson took up his first coaching job at St Kilda in 1999, it was Jeans whom he sought out for advice. They spent hours together. Peter Schwab played under Jeans and was a disciple he openly used Jeans as his mentor when he coached Hawthorn later. So did Ayres, who coached Geelong, Adelaide and more recently Port Melbourne in the VFL.

Most of them kept in touch with him. Conducting a series of interviews with Hawthorn players of the 1980s recently for a book about the club's greatest era, I found the players would talk about the influence of Jeans at length, without prompting.

Jeans was a players' man, and in the public domain, he would defend his men vigorously. Dermott Brereton called him "the pseudo father to so many men in Australia, it's not funny". In that context, it is ironic that one of his most famous statements, delivered with characteristic dry wit, appeared to dismiss players as automatons: "Players are like sausages. You can boil them, grill them, curry them. But they're still sausages."

That tough man Brereton, for one, admitted he was scared of Jeans, who was once state wrestling champion. He liked to wrestle his players for fun, inevitably pinning them down until they yielded. He fought Robert DiPierdomenico once, pinning him against a wall in the coach's ante room at Glenferrie Oval after the fearsome "Dipper" had abused him. Jeans won the duel, but they sorted their differences over the next few hours, heart-to-heart.

Kevin "Cowboy" Neale, St Kilda's 1966 premiership hero, was the closest to outwrestling Jeans. Neale told The Age in 2003 that his motivation was to avoid being pinned under the stench of the old jumper Jeans used to grab from his locker each training night without washing.

"He'd get you on the ground after training he was pretty strong and he'd lay across your face with that stinking jumper, and he'd say, 'Just say I'm the better man and I'll let you up'. I'd say, 'You're the better man', and he'd say, 'You're a weak, big bastard'."

Jeans was a policeman who rose to the rank of senior sergeant, and did not brook fools or crooks or liars or troublemakers. Notably a young Gary Ablett snr came and went from Hawthorn under his watch, for Ablett had caught the attention of the police at the time. He would become an all-time great at Geelong.

Yet the likes of Brereton the lair flourished. When Brereton turned up at a game with yellow boots, Jeans said: "You'd want to get a kick today, son."

Jeans was a great orator whose contradiction was that he hated talking in the media. He did what was required and that was all he invented the term "team balance" as a reason for a player to be dropped. Typically, he would take a young football reporter into his trust, and invite you into the little coach's room at Glenferrie Oval, where he would proceed to reveal one or two team matters that would make your eyes bulge. Then he would add: "Now that's all off the record. Would you like a quote?"

Of course that quote would be something along the lines of: "We just give our best and as long as you're giving your best, we can't argue with that." Not that he despised the media, just the circus that came with it. Coaching a gathering of journalists at Moorabbin in the 1990s he began his speech with customary tinder dry humour: "You blokes know the words . . . but you can't play the tune!"

Jeans's most famous speech came at half-time of the brutal 1989 grand final when an injury-riddled Hawthorn was struggling to hold off Geelong. He drew on an old story about a boy who bought cheap shoes, only to be disappointed that he did not cough up the money for a better pair. Elevating his voice almost effortlessly, he made the connection with the game to be completed: "Pay the price! Pay the price!" Hawthorn won, of course, but only just, and many of them paid an awful price with their bodies.

Until 1987, Jeans was combining his police work with his coaching. He and his wife Mary had four children and a cluster of grandchildren.

He came before the professional era, but he knew about professionalism itself. "Good players make good coaches," he used to say. But in his own case, he was being somewhat too modest.

So much more than a coach...

Allan was like a second father to me. Whilst his football and coaching exploits were well known, the way he offered his support and advice to me away from the game is something that I will cherish the most. From the coachs box he was ferocious and fearless and took our young side to the pinnacle of our game. He pioneered the modern coaching style and many of his contemporaries followed suit with great success. He will be sorely missed. KEVIN NEALE, St Kilda premiership player

His biggest legacy will be in helping change the way the game is played and the quality of the relationships he forged with the players he coached. He was . . . a firm disciplinarian and one who really cared for his players as people and not just as footballers. ROHAN CONNOLLY, football writer, The Age.

Allan was a person of great strength, honesty and integrity and will forever be remembered as the man who helped deliver our first premiership cup. Our sincere thoughts and condolences go to his family and friends at this difficult time. MICHAEL NETTLEFOLD, St Kilda chief executive

Hawthorn Football Club has lost a very humble and extraordinary individual, who not only nurtured many of our players, but also led the club to premierships in 1983, 1986 and 1989. We will all miss him. JEFF KENNETT, Hawthorn president


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