Stealth bomber Sheeds the top choice for Sydney’s west
The Harbour City is abuzz with excitement today at news that Kevin, um, Spacey has agreed to be the foundation coach of the AFL’s Western Sydney team.
The star of such films as American Beauty and The Usual Suspects, Spacey – no, hang on, it’s not him, it’s another Kevin. Some bloke called Kevin Sheedy.
Used to play for the Tigers – no, not Balmain, the Richmond Tigers, and he coached a bit for a team called Essendon. Apparently he’s quite the deal down there in Melbourne.
If you’re trying to quantify the challenge AFL faces up here as it establishes its 18th club in Sydney’s Greater West, there are two strong pointers today.
The first and most obvious is that, apart from the most rusted-on sports tragics, that rare group of people who love all codes equally, hardly anybody in Sydney knows who Kevin Sheedy is.
He could walk from the Opera House to Circular Quay and along George St and up Martin Place and across Hyde Park and stand on a park bench singing See the Bombers Fly Up while waving his red and black jacket above his head, and 99.9 per cent of people would think he was an eccentric homeless guy.
It doesn’t matter that his appointment is an amazing coup, the equivalent of getting Sir Alex Ferguson to coach the Central Coast Mariners, or Jack Gibson as the inaugural coach of the Melbourne Storm.
I’m sure pretty much every Melbourne reader is currently thinking “who the hell is Jack Gibson?” (the late five-time premiership coach of the Roosters and the Eels, and yes, they’re rugby league teams). Well, it’s the same with Sheeds up here now.
The second big pointer to Sydney’s lack of knowledge of Sheedy and inability to immediately grasp the magnitude of his appointment is today’s media coverage – all over the very front page of Melbourne’s Herald-Sun newspaper, yet in Sydney, just the blurb up the top of the front page of The Daily Telegraph, pointing to coverage up the back.
Both papers made the right call. Huge in Melbourne, massive for the future of the code, but kind of confusing in Sydney. There’s no point plastering the front page of a Sydney newspaper with a story about a bloke no-one knows, involving a sport about which many Sydneysiders remain at best unconvinced and at worst openly derisive.
And herein lie the challenges for Sheeds. AFL has done well in Sydney, but when people here think of AFL they think of the Swans. And many of them still have a bandwagon relationship with the club. Aside from this season just gone, the Swannies have made the finals every year since winning their historic 2005 flag, but the TV audience has been patchy and several games have drawn disappointing crowds
The Swans still seem to draw the bedrock of their support from expats from the AFL states, and a hard core of New South Welsh Aussie Rules converts. There aren’t that many of these people in western Sydney - and of those who are there, many will remain loyal to the Swans anyway.
Most of the expats in Sydney are well-paid inner-city types who are happier at the SCG than the ANZ Stadium in Homebush. And Sydney’s west is the spiritual home of league.
Unlike the entry of Port Adelaide of Fremantle into the comp – two nuggety working-class clubs that tapped into the long-standing hatred of the more silvertail Adelaide Crows and West Coast Eagles – the new western Sydney club cannot manufacture a sense of history or rivalry where none exists. Especially in an area where quite simply most people would rather watch league anyway – of if they do like Aussie Rules, are already loyal to the Swans.
If you are looking for a cinematic metaphor for Sheedy’s appointment, it’s not Kevin Spacey, it’s Brando in Apocalypse Now, going up river into what has long been the AFL’s Heart of Darkness.
Sheedy conceded as much today in his press conference, saying: “It’s taken too long to get here, too long. But it took too long for a lot of other things that have happened in this country, but we’re here now and we’re going to get this right.”
If anyone can get it right it’s Sheedy. There are so many reasons why this is an inspired appointment.
The fact that he is such an unknown in Sydney will be a great promotional advantage. When the journos and through them the public get to know Sheedy, with all his enigmatic bon mots, his tangential ruminations about the nature of existence, the guy will very quickly become a cult figure who people look forward to hearing.
Despite playing in three grand finals for Richmond and winning four as Essendon coach Sheedy has been more of a force off the field than on it, a trailblazer for indigenous participation in the sport; latterly, a champion of Islander players – this community-driven stuff will be vital as he taps into the people who make up Sydney’s west.
He can also attract corporate dollars because he is a capital-l leader, who management types will flock to hear.
He will also be too smart to bung on any class war nonsense against the Swans.
Beyond all this, the best thing Sheedy has going for him is that he’s kind of mad. And a mad idea needs a crazy person to drive it if it’s going to come off.
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