Football mourns the passing of Yabby the players' coach

OF ALL the accolades bestowed on Allan Jeans in his final days, the one that tickled him most came from Leigh Matthews, the disciple who captained his first premiership at Hawthorn in 1983. "You are the coach most loved by the players you sacked," 'Lethal' told him.

OF ALL the accolades bestowed on Allan Jeans in his final days, the one that tickled him most came from Leigh Matthews, the disciple who captained his first premiership at Hawthorn in 1983. "You are the coach most loved by the players you sacked," 'Lethal' told him.

And it's true. Among those affected most deeply by the passing yesterday of the man they call Yabby are many and there were many he told their playing days were over.

One of them, Norm Goss, used to joke to Jeans that he had the ability to extract the knife without spilling a single drop of blood.

"One thing we all used to laugh about was that he maintained great friendships with so many of us after having sacked us," concurs dual premiership rover Richard Loveridge.

Jeans's honesty with his players was one of the qualities that made him one of the great coaches in football. So was his ability to employ different approaches to get the most out of different players, from blunt confrontation in the case of Robert DiPierdomenico to subtle persistence when he wooed Chris Mew out of retirement.

"He is a magnificent psychologist and a magnificent manager of people," is how Matthews put it yesterday.

But there was also the power of Jeans's oratory, his ability as a teller of stories and his understanding of the game. There isn't much scope for the motivational speech in the modern game, where the focus is on the clinical execution of pre-determined roles, but those who played under him insist that Jeans had the power to lift their performances with his words.

"There are very few teams where players play for the coach, but we did play for Yabby," says Russell Greene, who played in six grand finals for Hawthorn. "You always felt bad when you lost because you'd been beaten, but also because we'd let him down. I can't describe how much I loved him as a bloke."

Jeans's first of three premierships at Hawthorn would spawn no fewer than eight AFL coaches, Matthews among them, who invariably drew on the Jeans philosophy and, more often than not, made their own history.

But his mark on football was made much earlier, when he coached St Kilda to its only premiership in 1966 during a 16-year stint that included three grand final appearances. And it didn't end when he left the Hawks in 1990, either. Though his one-year stint at Richmond in 1992 yielded few wins, it left an indelible impression on the likes of Brendon Gale, now the Tigers' CEO, and Wayne Campbell.

Little wonder, then, that the steady flow of visitors at the nursing home near Cranbourne where Jeans spent his last few months included people from all three clubs, past and present. Among them has been Alan Joyce, the man who stepped in to coach Hawthorn to the 1988 flag when Jeans took ill and, by agreement, relinquished the post the following year for Jeans, who duly delivered the clubs' first back-to-back premiership.

Joyce says Jeans's legacy is not merely in the silverware. "He was such a strong person and had such high qualities and ethics that he made a lot of these people who went through under him better people in life not just better footballers," he said yesterday.

Although he was confined to his room in recent weeks, Jeans remained stoic. With his mind as agile as ever, he relished the conversation about football, politics and life, enjoyed banter with past players and even planned his funeral, likely to be held next Wednesday, with the assistance of his former boss in the police force, Mick Miller, and Hawk president Jeff Kennett.

The 1989 premiership was, as Dermott Brereton puts it, "Yabby's moment", the culmination of all of the accumulated wisdom and hard work delivered in the game many still consider the greatest grand final of the modern era. There was the battle plan, code-named Operation Tackle, and the speech that included the parable of the boy who wanted to buy a pair of shoes, and chose to buy a cheap, ill-fitting pair because he wasn't "prepared to pay the price".

Though Jeans's strongest allegiance was to Hawthorn, when residents at the nursing home asked him who he supported, he tended to reply: "The coach." Having coached 575 senior games, he understood better than most the pressures involved and was always willing to offer advice and support to others.

St Kilda coach Ross Lyon, for instance, will always be grateful for the unqualified public support Jeans gave him when things were "rough" early in his career at St Kilda and for the countless conversations over cups of tea in the past five years. Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson and several current players similarly feel privileged to have forged a close relationship with Jeans, especially in the past 12 months.

When I interviewed Jeans for the Hawthorn history One For All, he expressed but one regret the time spent away from his wife Mary and four children. His oldest son, David, was born the year he started coaching and was 32 when he retired.

He need not have worried. As second son, Peter, put it yesterday: "He was everything you could wish for in a father. We missed him a bit when we were growing up, but we had some pretty good fringe benefits along the way."

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