Goodbye, Mr Magic

Filed in Other, Uncategorized by on February 4, 2011

"He was a very good coach. He was a great teacher – mainly basics, and common sense. I had the utmost respect for him as a player, a coach and a person." Tony Lockett, recalling his time in the tutelage of the late Darrel Baldock.

Darrel Baldock’s death earlier this week has saddened the wider Australian football community. Tributes will continue to flow throughout the 2011 premiership season and as AFL Chief Executive Andrew Demetriou put it, ‘Mr Magic’s’ reputation as one of the greatest players to grace the game will stand as long as the game is played.

In Baldock’s native Tasmania, people may feel particularly saddened. Here he was more than St Kilda's premiership skipper. He was captain-coach at Latrobe age 20, four years after having started his 395-game career in senior football as a 16-year-old at East Devonport.

He was a long-term football coach and mentor, a Labor Minister in State parliament, a racing identity and a dual State representative, counting a brace of first-class cricket caps along with his storied 25 appearances for both Tasmania and the Victoria at inter-state carnivals.

He was a family man, a friend to many and a great ambassador for his home State.

Gone is the man who, in the early 1960s, blazed a trail for the cream of the local crop across Bass Strait to the VFL, a trail that was followed by other true greats of VFL football. Players like triple-Brownlow medallist Ian Stewart, Richmond’s Royce Hart and goal-kicking machine Peter Hudson all followed in Baldock’s footsteps and carved out glittering careers in Melbourne.

Other more recent St Kilda greats, including the likes of dual-Brownlow medallist Robert Harvey and another winner of the Brownlow, the game’s all-time leading goal kicker in Tony Lockett, had Baldock as coach and mentor during their formative years.

During 1987, 'The Doc' took over as coach of his beloved St Kilda, resigning his 15-year post in Tasmanian parliament and immediately, if only temporarily, lifted the Saints from the foot of the VFL ladder.

While in his first season at St Kilda he suffered a minor stroke, the first of an eventual four episodes that weakened and eventually killed the 72-year-old. He died on Wednesday, February 2 at the Mersey Community Hospital in Latrobe, little more than a few good kicks from the Latrobe Football Club where he played in excess of 150 games and coached the Diehards to four consecutive premierships (1969-72) after his return from Victoria.

I didn’t choose Tony Lockett’s quote at the top of this piece to highlight Baldock’s skill at the game – his name embodies the very notion of a champion player. Rather, the quote was chosen because it best resembles my only personal experience of The Doc.

I was one of 20-or-more schoolboy footballers at training one afternoon when we were visited by the man, who would then have been in his mid-50s, at the request of either our coach or a parent of one of my teammates.

I don’t remember much fanfare, if any, just a few words from this football icon and an instruction to carry on with the same drill – changing one thing only.

We were to pass the ball from cone-to-cone using an ‘old-fashioned’ drop-kick.

The Doc’s rationale was not that he was trying to unearth a player the calibre of Ian Stewart whose pin-point passing made him the perfect foil for Baldock at St Kilda. Rather, his point was that if we could learn to concentrate and execute well enough with drop-kicks, we’d soon be zipping precision drop-punts back and forth, too.

On the surface it sounds something akin to Patches O’Houlihan’s “if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball!” mantra from Dodgeball, but all jokes aside, and as a piece of pure advice for football or any other endeavour, it still resonates today.

If you’re constantly seeking to achieve a level higher than the benchmark, you’ll sometimes find yourself ahead of the game. Shoot for the stars and even if you fall short you’ll land on the moon. A cliché, perhaps, but allow me just the one to illustrate the point.

Baldock was ahead of the game throughout his playing career, carving out a niche at centre-half forward that would seem otherwise impossible for a guy standing only 179cm. But by utilising a heady mix of raw skill, strength, determination and an ability to read the play and the bounce of the ball – he did it.

Immovable when taking possession in the mid-winter bogs of Melbourne’s suburban ovals and similarly hard to shift from his seat in State parliament, he was a man whose courage and commitment to a cause can never be questioned.

With this legacy secure both on and away from the football field, Darrel Baldock will continue to influence Australian Rules football and its followers. He has departed as a Legend in the AFL Hall of Fame and as the icon of his sport in Tasmania.

Vale, Mr Magic.


Comments (1)

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  1. Cliff Bingham says:

    "If you’re constantly seeking to achieve a level higher than the benchmark, you’ll sometimes find yourself ahead of the game."


    Love it.