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AFL legend toasts local icon

Tuesday, 5th July, 2011

BEST WISHES: AFL great Kevin Sheedy toasts BH icon Joyce Condon on her 94th birthday. BEST WISHES: AFL great Kevin Sheedy toasts BH icon Joyce Condon on her 94th birthday.

Australian sporting royalty came face to face with an icon of Broken Hill yesterday when AFL legend Kevin Sheedy dropped in to help celebrate the 94th birthday of local art pioneer Joyce Condon.

The impromptu birthday celebration was part of Sheedy’s whirlwind 36-hour visit to the city which also included lunch with his long lost second cousin, 59-year-old Jean Dawe.

After flying in from Darwin on Sunday night, Sheedy also addressed a breakfast with local business people, spent time with more than 100 excited kids at a junior coaching clinic at Jubilee Oval and capped it off at a special dinner in his honour in front of more than 300 guests at the Civic Centre.

In the city on a joint invitation from the BH Football League and Junior Football Association, it was immediately obvious why Sheedy was considered the best person to spruik (and later coach) the AFL’s newest team, the Greater Western Sydney Giants.

The 63-year-old living legend was equally at home in front of the star-struck kids or sharing a glass of champagne with Joyce Condon, who was born on July 4, 1917.

“You need to get more high marking back in the game,” Mrs Condon advised the master coach, as he presented her with a special GWS foundation member cap to mark the special occasion.

“It is really sissy football they are playing at the moment,” Mrs Condon added.

“This is a serious (AFL) commission meeting we have going here,” Sheedy replied with a laugh.

“They could do with another woman on the AFL Commission if you are interested.”

Mrs Condon, acknowledged as one of the pioneers of the BH art scene after opening the city’s first commercial gallery, then had Sheedy hanging off her every word as she re-lived her years living on the land, running the Yanco Glen Hotel and teaching art at TAFE.

 Earlier, Sheedy lunched with Mrs Jean Dawe, whose grandmother Jean Nixon was a sister to Sheedy’s grandfather John Nixon.

“My sister Anne-Maree discovered the family connection only recently and I was delighted to be able to make the family connection in person,” Sheedy said.

The second cousins met at the Miners’ Memorial atop the Line of Lode where Mrs Dawe’s grandfather Charles Henry Broomhall - who died in 1927 from lead poisoning while working on the Central Mine - is remembered with a plaque.

“It was very nice of him to take the time,” Mrs Dawe said ahead of last night’s dinner where she was Sheedy’s special guest.

“He is such a down to earth person and nothing was too much trouble.”

Sheedy’s other historical connection with Broken Hill was having played here for Richmond in a match against Port Adelaide at the Jubilee Oval in the 1970s.

“People don’t realise how much influence New South Wales has had in our great game,” 63-year-old Sheedy told yesterday’s business breakfast.

“Tom Wills and Henry Harrison who wrote the rules of the game 150 years ago came from western Sydney and it is only now that we are getting the first fully-fledged New South Wales team in the competition (the Sydney Swans were a relocation of South Melbourne).

“Collingwood’s Jock McHale, the greatest coach in AFL history, came from Sydney as well. Football is not just about Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth,” Sheedy added.

One of the game’s great visionaries, Sheedy suggested that in the next 25 years the AFL would be played “on five continents”.

“There are already more people who watch AFL in America and watch the game here in Australia,” Sheedy noted.

“In the next 25 years the game will change dramatically - we’ll have 20,000 South African kids playing Auskick.

“We’ll be playing for premiership points in India and Asia - our game will go through a lot of changes.”

Sheedy also predicted a bright future for the Greater Western Sydney (GWS) Giants, who will play their first match for AFL premiership points in 2012.

“The Giants will be a very powerful team,” he said.

“The Victorian clubs are already worried - the NRL (rugby league) is worried - and so they should be.

“We have 3.8 million people in our zone and there are currently 50 NSW players already on AFL lists.

“The Giants/Swans rivalry will be like Collingwood and Essendon’s ANZAC Day clash (which Sheedy is credited with devising).

“We’ll have our own ‘Dreamtime at the ‘G’ match (a celebration of Indigenous football), we want to play a Prime Minister’s Cup to acknowledge what the government does and we also want to play a match to honour the farmers because no-one recognises their efforts,” he added.

Sheedy also had a kind word for outspoken football commentator Sam Newman, claiming he was “the best ruck coach ever” and also believes the AFL competition will eventually be played in two conferences.

“At the moment the AFL can’t have a fair draw (with 18 teams and 22-24 minor rounds),” Sheedy said.

“The only fair draw is to give Collingwood a hard draw. That’s fair,” he joked.

Sheedy also quipped that he had drafted former North BH player Dean Solomon to Essendon in 1997 to “keep the people of Broken Hill happy”.

Another former local, Crows forward Taylor Walker, has also been heavily linked with the GWS Giants for next year, but despite spending his 45-minute breakfast address sitting in front of a live-sized cut-out of Walker, Sheedy deflected questions about coaching another former North junior.

“Our recruiting staff are talking to a lot of players - I’ll know more about that at the end of the year,” a cautious Sheedy replied.

The Giants’ General Manager of Regional Development Garry Buchanan, was also part of the five-man GWS delegation to visit BH and said the club had already signed almost 10,000 members.

“We hope to develop a relationship with Broken Hill and its community because there are some very knowledgeable football people here,” Buchanan said.

“We aim to be one of the biggest sporting clubs in Australia and are very excited about what the future holds.”

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