WHEN Bendigo-raised Kevin Sheehan first embarked on his football dream 40 years ago, never did he think it would lead to an Order of Australia Medal.
But from humble beginnings playing with Sandhurst in the Bendigo Football League in the early ‘70s, Sheehan is now an OAM recipient for his services to football
Having been recruited from the Dragons to VFL club Geelong, where he played 102 senior games, as well as in three reserves premierships, Sheehan has since spent the past 30 years helping to grow the sport he loves.
From his appointment as the first full-time development officer of the then-VFL in 1983, to his role now that falls under the title of National Talent Manager, Sheehan’s passion for developing both the game and aspiring young league footballers – like he once was in Bendigo – remains as strong as ever.
“It (the OAM) is certainly not something you ever think of or dream of,” Sheehan told the Bendigo Advertiser yesterday.
“As a sportsman you dream about playing in a premiership or getting a game in the AFL, but something like this would never cross your mind.
“I’ve read about these awards year in year out, but never had I considered that it would be something I would be nominated for.
“I think I’m just terribly lucky that I’m in the right place at the right time, and that’s right through my career.
“Our family has the Rising Sun Hotel in Bendigo and I can still remember the day I was working in the bottle shop back in 1973 when Colin Rice (Geelong premiership player and former South Bendigo coach) and Bill McMaster (former Geelong recruiting officer) dropped in to see me.
“I was zoned to Carlton back in those days, and Carlton had some fantastic small players like Rod Ashman, Trevor Keogh, Brian Walsh and Jimmy Buckley, so I could understand why I couldn’t get a go at Blues, so after meeting with Bill and Colin I got traded to Geelong.”
Two years into his stint at Geelong, Sheehan – a rover for the Cats between 1974 and 1982 – was appointed the club’s first promotions officer.
“Back then all clubs had to have a promotions officer because there was so much competition from other sports,” Sheehan said.
“It was no longer just play cricket in the summer and footy in the winter, there were so many other sports available to the kids, so the league decided to put on a player at every club back in 1976 to get out there and promote the game in the schools, develop coach education and get the game out there.
“I was offered that job in Geelong while I was playing, and then by 1983 the VFL, as it was then, offered me the job to run that whole department.
“By then there were people in promotions at every club and we had full-time managers in country and metro zones, so it ended up being about 36 full-time people pretty quickly.”
Having played a leading role over the past 30 years in setting up the under-16 and under-18 national championships, the AIS-AFL Academy, Auskick, the TAC Cup and the Draft Camp – now Combine – these days, Sheehan is helping to take the game abroad.
On Saturday when his OAM was announced, Sheehan – who turns 60 in August this year – was in New Zealand with the Australian under-17 team.
“For any Australian who loves their footy, there could be no better place to be than where I was on Saturday. I was in Wellington with the Australian under-17 team that played an open age New Zealand side,” Sheehan said.
“The Australians won by 40 points, but who would have thought we’d be having genuine games with a Sherrin footy at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington, where Sydney and St Kilda will also play on Anzac Day this year.
“That shows just how far this game has come, and I’ve got no doubt, there will be some boys out of that New Zealand team who will become terrific AFL players.
“For an Australian who loves AFL, it’s exciting to see the game getting to a point where countries like New Zealand want to play it, so who knows where it will get to in another 20 years.”