Phillip Walsh RIP

A surfer, catching the late afternoon rays at Bells Beach, Australia.

Phillip Walsh died tragically around 2am Friday morning in his home, after allegedly being stabbed multiply times by his 26 year old son. Phillip’s wife, Meredith, was also injured in the attack. Phillip had come to prominence this year as the coach of the Adelaide Crows in the Australian Football League (AFL). But I knew him long ago.

Connections

We weren’t friends. Walshy was two years older than me. However, we went to the same primary and secondary schools and we played for the same junior football team, St. Mary’s. Walshy was captain of the St. Mary’s Under 16 team while I struggled to get a game and, on most days, a kick in the club’s under 14 team. My brother, Brian Guy, a very good football player, was a teammate of Phil’s and new him much better than I.

A few years on Brian moved to Melbourne for a short time and, together with some mates from Hamilton, rented a house that was owned by Walshy. Phil lived just a couple of doors up the street.

While I loved watching the game, I only played so that I could hang around with my mates at training. It appears that Walshy approached the game with a completely different attitude which, together with his pace and natural talent, saw him rise to prominence at the highest level of the game.

A Life in Football

Recruited by Collingwood, arguably the games most famous club, to join them in 1983 in what was then the Victorian Football League (VFL), Walshy acquitted himself admirably winning the clubs Best First Year Player award. Strong overhead, able to kick with either foot and with electric pace Phil was an excitement machine. As a Collingwood supporter I couldn’t have been happier. 

However, turmoil ensued the following year when Phil joined rival club Richmond. Back then it wasn’t all that common for players to swap clubs, but that was a time when both Richmond and Collingwood actively head hunted each others players.

Despite the shock of leaving the team I’ve supported all my life, I remained a fan of Phil’s and was always pleased to hear news of how well he was doing in the sport.

After three years at Richmond Walshy headed north to play with the Brisbane Bears. It was 1987 and that club’s inaugural season in what had, by then become, the AFL. Four years later Walshy’s playing days were over, but not his time in football.

Phil continued in the game in a range of roles and at a variety of clubs. He worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at the Geelong Football Club prior to taking on the role of Assistance Coach at Port Adelaide in 1999. His next adventure came, again as an assistant coach, in 2009 at the West Coast Eagles in Perth. Phil moved back to Port Power in Adelaide in early 2014, prior to moving to arch rival the Adelaide Crows to take on the position of Senior Coach towards the end of that year.

Said to be a demanding man and one of the game’s most respected tacticians reports are that, within a very short time, he had built a strong relationship with his players. After years working behind the scenes he was a fresh face in a game full of media savvy coaches and club presidents.

In 2012, while on holiday in Peru with his wife and son, Phil fractured his collarbone and pelvis as a result of being hit by a school bus. It’s said that, while recovering from this serious accident, he had decided to make a series of changes in his life including giving up alcohol.

Memories of Phillip Walsh

I went back to Hamilton a few weeks ago to visit my mum, Mary, and catch up with my brother Brian and his sons Matthew and James. Mares, who has an outstanding memory, started to talk about Phillip Walsh and other members of his family. Phil was the youngest of seven children.

I remember Phil’s dad, Bill, as the Manager of the Menswear Department at Thompson’s, one of Hamilton two huge department stores back in my youth. Thompson’s would have a once a year stock taking sale. It was an exciting time when the three boys in our family would get outfitted for the rest of the year.

I think both our families may have, for a time, lived in White Avenue, Hamilton. Mares told me of the day when she was chatting with Peg, Phil’s mother, while wheeling me around in the pram. I was two years of age and Phil was a very active four year old. Apparently, in a moment of fatigue, his mother quipped, "I’m too old for little children, Mary".

Even Then, A Leader

I remember the day my brother Brian had his head kicked in by a local lad. Coming home on the bus from school a few days later I spotted the offender and proceeded to tell him what I thought of him. He began to get up and things were not looking good for me. Fortunately, for me, Walshy was there to save the day. No violence, just a few cutting remarks that took that fellow down a few pegs and made him think on his actions.

I remember thinking that was how a Captain should behave. You stick up for your team mates and you don’t shy away from the battle. That was the only memory I have of either of those guys on that bus, and I’m not sure what that means.      

Despite the obvious rewards a life in sport, at the elite level, often comes at a cost. Phil had spoken in the media about the disconnect that had existed with his children which he’d put down to his commitment to his job, particularly during his time at Port Power. Phil also said that he loved to surf and, through surfing, had found a way to reconnect with his two children.

I’ve written this piece a day later than I wanted to. I’m actually a pretty resilient character but this news, coming life a thief in the night, was such a shock that I needed to spend time absorbing it. I spent hours thinking about family and my old friends from Hamilton. In a few hours time I’II be heading to the region centre, Ballarat, for a get together with members from my first band, Taxi. That meeting will become all the more important following the news of Walshy passing.

I’m reminded of the need, despite our daily struggles, for reflection and forgiveness in our lives. Most important of all is family and friendship.

I dedicate this photo, made at the iconic Bells Beach, to Walshy.

Phillip Walsh, Rest In Peace.   

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru