CHRIS KENNEDY has spent almost three decades in football as a player and a coach. Kennedy caught-up with the Border Mail's BRENT GODDE during the week.
BRENT GODDE: You are Yarrawonga born and bred but I believe you are a product of Assumption College in Kilmore which is highly regarded as a football factory?
CHRIS KENNEDY: I went to Assumption but as a kid growing up, footy wasn't really a priority. I played a bit of footy down there but I struggled to get a game in their best side.
BG: I'm guessing a few of your schoolmates went on to play AFL?
CK: A lot went to AFL clubs and Jason Smith was captain at Assumption and played for Richmond. Shane Crawford is a few years younger than me. But in my actual year I think 14 blokes were on AFL lists but never cracked it for a game.
BG: Did you make you senior debut for Yarrawonga?
CK: I played a handful of matches in the seniors while I was still playing thirds. I probably didn't get serious about footy until Andrew Knowles coached Yarrawonga. He sort of pulled me aside and said I was just wasting everybody's time if I didn't start getting fair dinkum.
BG: You must have listened to his advice because you won five best and fairest's at Shepparton United including three-in-a-row from 2001-03?
CK: I wouldn't describe myself as a talented footballer, I probably just got the best out of myself. I prided myself on my fitness and really enjoyed training. But I did seem to get a few votes for an unaccountable back-flanker who couldn't kick on his right foot. If I had of played at Yarrawonga during the last decade, I wouldn't have even finished in the top-five to put a bit of perspective on it.
BG: So you played most of your football at Shepparton United?
CK: I had four years at Yarrawonga before heading to Shepparton United for nine years and was playing coach at Mulwala for four years. I then had one season under Craig Ednie back at Yarrawonga when I was 36. I was well and truly in the twilight of my career but managed to scrape a game.
BG: Did you even win a flag as a player?
CK: I went out to Tungamah in 2009 to play with my brother-in-laws and ended up winning a flag out there. My wife, Katrina, is from Tungamah and I had a heap of fun playing out there. I played in a few losing grand finals, so it was satisfying to finally win one. I also played in four straight losing preliminary finals when I was playing coach of Mulwala.
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BG: At least you can say you won a flag. A lot of players end up with none?
CK: It was right at the end of my career and I remember the umpire called me an old fossil. Of course my teammates heard it and the nickname has stuck since.
BG: Ha ha, you have been a bit stiff there. Were there any other memorable funnies from your playing days.
CK: I remember playing against Euroa one day and our coach made Brenton Cooper buy a new pair of screw-in footy boots because it was muddy. Well he kicked a stack of points that day and blamed the boots. When the siren went at the end of the game he took his boots off straight away and left them on the ground. So Jason McMartin picked them up and kept them.
BG: You are obviously still in good nick and don't carry any weight. What do you do these days to keep fit?
CK: After my playing days finished I got into triathlons and have also run two marathons at Melbourne and the Gold Coast.
BG: You first co-coached Yarrawonga alongside Drew Barnes at the start of 2011?
CK: I remember Wally Brear the president got Drew and myself up to the RSL Club for breakfast one morning. I had always admired Drew as a footballer and had played against him a bit when he was at Nathalia. It was a bit out of the blue but Wally said how would you two like to co-coach Yarrawonga next year. We just shook hands and made a verbal agreement to do it.
BG: With hindsight, it was an inspired choice by Wally?
CK: Albury were an intimidating outfit at the time and we started to model our game plan on the way Drew played and have that take no prisoners mentality. We knew we had to match Albury physically and Drew certainly led by example in that respect. We had a good working relationship and I really enjoyed coaching alongside Drew.
BG: In 2011 Albury beat you for a third successive time in the grand final. It's fair to say you had an eventful off-season the following year. The club was able to sign Brendan Fevola in a massive coup. What are your recollections of landing Fev and did you have much to do with it?
CK: Personally I didn't have much to do with Fev arriving at the club. Allan and Matt Tripp who have been long-time supporters and sponsors, made contact with Glenn Brear and asked if the club would be interested in signing him. Glenn rang me and asked me and I said 'purely from a marketing point of view, we can't knock this back.'
BG: As you said Allan and Matt Tripp were heavily involved. The rumour was going around at the time that Fev was playing at Yarrawonga to pay back gambling debts owed to the Tripp's. Fact or fiction?
CK: I don't think it's true. To my knowledge Matt got to know Fev and knew he was looking to reignite his career outside the AFL. Matt got the ball rolling and history will show Fev was great for Yarrawonga and Yarrawonga was great for Fev and helped him turn his life back around.
BG: Did you think it was a risky move considering Fev was sacked by Brisbane the previous year and was dealing with numerous personal issues at the time?
CK: Not really because momentum was against us at the time. We had just lost three grand finals in-a-row. Craig Ednie had decided to join Mulwala and no other side in the competition wanted to try and stop the Albury juggernaut. It was always going to be a risk signing Fev. But once the hype got out about the arrival of Fev, it just gave everybody some hope. Craig decided to come back and there was a real buzz around the club again.
BG: As you said, the same year Craig Ednie decided to join Mulwala but backflipped on his decision in February to remain at the Pigeons. How controversial a decision was that at the time?
CK: It was just common sense really. Craig had just played in three losing grand finals and was coach for two of them. I think he was just mentally burnt out and his good mate Nick O'Bryan was coaching Mulwala. I know internally Nick and Mulwala were understanding of the situation but externally there were a few people that wanted to pot Craig.
BG: Between 2009-11 Albury beat you in three successive grand finals. Was the club hellbent on seeking revenge in 2012 no matter what the cost?
CK: One thing I was proud about during my time at Yarrawonga if you go through the Border Mail paper files there is not one instance where we as a club whinged about the strength of Albury. Internally we admire Albury and have never been envious or jealous. We just strived to find a way to match them. Albury have been able to keep its list together through Joss and employment. We have followed that blueprint and relocated a lot of guys to Yarrawonga for employment reasons.
BG: Did it take a financial toll on the club trying to match Albury?
CK: There is no doubt about that. The club was so competitive for the first half of the decade but there was a price to pay. Ross Mulquiney, Andrew Mott, Scott Jacques, my brothers Andrew and Damien alongside a group of local farmers and there is a crew that I haven't mentioned that have worked relentlessly the last four or five years to get the club back to being financially stable.
BG: Can you give an insight what the rivalry was like at the time. Would you have a beer with the opposition or both sides genuinely disliked each other?
CK: On the field there was a fair bit of spite - there is no doubting that. It took a fair while for us to earn Albury's respect. Early days I don't think Albury really respected us and it wasn't until we started beating them that it became a huge rivalry. I just wish the grand final ledger was 3-3 instead of 4-2. So history says Albury had the better of the rivalry but most of those grand finals were epic encounters.
BG: Is there one player from Albury that Yarrawonga loved to hate?
CK: It wasn't so much the players but the spectators seemed to hate Mackie and used to give him a bit of lip when they could. I remember Marcus McMillan saying to me once, how good would it be if Mackie played for us? The thing I hated about Mackie was he never seemed to play a bad game when the stakes were high. Personally I didn't have any spite for Albury or their players - I just wanted to beat them.
BG: Yarrawonga "bended the rules" and cleared Fevola to Glenrowan so he could serve a one-match ban and play for the Pigeons on Easter Sunday on a match permit. Who was the mastermind behind the cunning stunt?
CK: It has got Glenn Brear's fingerprints all over it. Because of the potential financial bonanza of Fev playing on Easter Sunday, we had to find any loophole we could to make it work. When almost 9000 people rocked up it just proved there would have been a lot of disappointed people if Fev didn't play. There was no doubt the league wanted it to happen. Fev didn't disappoint, he got sent off for hitting Josh Hamilton, kicked seven and the match ended up being a draw against Lavington. The crowd certainly got some bang for their buck that day.
BG: It paid massive dividends with a grand final sized crowd on hand to watch Fevola make his Pigeon debut at Mulwala's Lonsdale Oval?
CK: We almost needed to call an Armaguard to get all the cash out of the joint. But we needed the cash injection. The O&M will never see a day like that again for a home and away match. The buzz around the ground that day and looking at the crowd from the coaches box was amazing.
BG: Obviously Fev is an intriguing character. What was it like to coach him and how would you describe your relationship?
CK: I don't think I ever once tried to coach Fev. It was more about just letting him have some fun. I knew when the game was in the balance or when the stakes were high, Fev would never let you down. There is no doubt in some matches when we were winning easily, Fev would get bored. When he was in the zone, he was literally unstoppable and in every big match he performed.
BG: Probably the best description of Fev is that he was a prodigious talent as well as an entertainer?
CK: Spot on. Fev knew he was an entertainer, the players knew he was an entertainer and to their credit, the players remained super disciplined around Fev. Fev was the show and he chose what the show was going to produce. The players knew they were part of the show but the crowd was there to watch Fev.
BG: Were there any heated moments between you two at any stage?
CK: Not really. I remember there used to be bucks parties that used to come to the footy just to watch Fev. One day he didn't even come to the huddle at quarter time and just sat on the fence and talked to the boys on the buck's party. I couldn't have cared less because they were there to see Fev. Another time he kicked a goal and jumped the fence and saluted his own goal which was fairly entertaining at the time.
BG: What about Fev and any of the players?
CK: I remember Fev and Craig Ednie having quite a few words with each other out on the ground once. Fev ran out of the goal square and was chasing Craig trying to give him an earful. It was pretty funny to watch.
BG: Those two were pretty close weren't they?
CK: They were. I remember one day we were playing Wangaratta at home and Fev thought the umpires were cheating and told them so and got yellow carded. He said he was driving back to Melbourne. The game was in the balance so I had to drag Ednie off and told him to go and find Fev and tell him we need him for the last quarter. We were a couple of points up at the last change and Fev come back on and kicked 7.2 in the last quarter and we ended up winning by 40-points.
BG: Seven in a quarter would have been entertaining?
CK: The funny thing was there was a buck's party there that day and they had to skol a beer for every goal that Fev kicked. So every goal Fev kicked you would see the boys skol their beers and chuck the empty cans up in the air which was a pretty funny at the time.
BG: Apart from being an entertainer, did Fev still play by the team rules?
CK: Fev was always a team player, especially in finals. We had a style of play we wanted to implement and he bought into that. I never once tried to pull him into line. Some of the most brilliant players just like to express themselves in different ways. I don't talk to Fev a lot since he left the club but every time I have bumped into him he has been up and about and is in a good place mentally.
BG: There is no doubt there must have been times where you just shook your head at some of his feats on the field?
CK: Fev is the best player I have seen. Even some of the stuff he used to do at training was amazing to watch.
BG: Did Fev train much?
CK: When he was living in Yarrawonga he trained all the time and enjoyed training. He used to love the competitive drills or anything that was game based. He would soon tell you when he was sick of a drill as well.
BG: Off the field at Yarrawonga Fev kept out of the headlines except for his one indiscretion where he was caught on CCTV footage out late and drinking before coaching the interleague side the following day. Were you surprised at the time?
CK: To be honest I wasn't. I think Fev only really got involved in the interleague for the social aspect and having a good time with the players from the other clubs. I think the problem was because the O&M lost, Fev copped some heat. If they had of won and Fev kicked six or more and then they found out he was drinking on the Friday night - everybody would have just laughed it off. At the time a few people rang me up about it but I knew Fev couldn't care less about what had happened.
BG: You were able to get some sweet revenge on Albury by winning two flags in 2012-13. What was the key to beating the Tigers and what were some of the tactics you used that paid dividends?
CK: To be honest, even though we had Fev we still thought Albury had way more talent than us across the board. Especially by foot - their superior skills could cut you to ribbons. So we just had to make every match as contested and scrappy as we could. Just contest after contest and it was imperative that we matched their aggression. I think we did that well and protected the corridor and played boundary side a lot. I don't think any side could have beat Albury if it became a shootout because they were just too skillful.
BG: Did the players take much convincing about the game style?
CK: It did take a bit of convincing before the players started to adapt to the game style. I just told them the truth that Albury was a five-goal better side and were too fast and skillful. It wasn't just me, Drew was co-coach and we had some great assistant coaches in Leigh Fraser, Noel Skehan and Dean Carroll. As a coaching panel we put all our energy into watching Albury and how could we beat them. History says we worked it out.
BG: Was the 2014 decider when you were surging late and Fev hit the post, the flag that got away?
CK: To be honest I think 2014 was Yarrawonga's best performance in a grand final even though we didn't win it. Albury belted us in the second semi-final a fortnight earlier by 10 goals and arguably boasted their strongest side with the O'hAilpin's running around. We tinkered with the game plan and guys like O'Connor and Pettifer had to sacrifice their game for the benefit of the team. We were in it all day but just fell short but I couldn't have been any prouder of the group.
BG: Is there one Tiger that caused you the most heartache?
CK: Mackie always seemed to play well against us and never played a bad final. Chris Hyde was always damaging when he had the ball and Andy Carey hurt us in the grand finals at the start of the decade.
BG: Apart from Fev, Yarrawonga had stars in Bonat, Ednie, Pettifer, McMillan and Leslie. Is there one Pigeon that doesn't get the accolades he deserves.
CK: I think Michael Stevens. When discussions bob up about Team of the Decade and things like that, Stevens hardly rates a mention but he is certainly in mine. Maybe because he was only at the club for three years. But he won a Morris medal, best and fairest and was a premiership player in 2012.
BG: You coached Yarrawonga for six-years, run a successful building business alongside your brothers and have four kids. Where do you find the time to fit everything in?
CK: I'm lucky in that I have got a very patient and understanding wife in Katrina. Our roles have switched a bit now and Katrina puts a lot of her time into the netball club.
BG: You have got strong family connections with the football club?
CK: My father, Wayne, was recruited by the club from Melbourne and got him a job as a builder. That's where our building company started and why we continue to support the club as much as we can.
BG: How many employees have you got and how many play football for Yarrawonga.
CK: We have got more than 45 employees with about a dozen playing for Yarrawonga.
BG: You are still heavily involved with Yarrawonga?
CK: My main role is recruiting and finding employment for potential recruits.
BG: Can you see yourself coaching again in the future?
CK: I don't think so. I think there comes a time when your contacts dry up and you run out of fresh ideas. From a distance I see what Mark Whiley is doing at the club and has got a lot of young assistants on board and the next generation is coming through.