After making his debut for Cobram as a 15-year-old, it didn't take VFL talent scouts long to come knocking on Jeff Cassidy's door. Drafted to Geelong in 1974, Cassidy played 50 matches for the Cats over six seasons. Cassidy went on to enhance his reputation with stints at East Fremantle, Lavington, North Albury and finally Chiltern.
BRENT GODDE: You were born and bred in Cobram. Did you make your senior debut for Cobram and how old were you?
JEFF CASSIDY: I made my senior debut for Cobram as a 15-year-old. As a kid it was a fantastic experience because all I wanted to do was play sport and I especially loved my football.
BG: You had a year and a half in the seniors before being drafted by Geelong in 1974. How did you end up at the Cattery?
JC: The Murray league played inter-league against the O&M at Yarrawonga in 1973 and Geelong had a few talent scouts there. I ended up finding a bit of the footy and was lucky enough to be awarded best-on-ground. Back then it was the old system of zoning so I ended up at Geelong.
BG: So you arrive at Geelong as a 16-year-old kid?
JC: Yeah I was in the first year of doing my HSC.
BG: Who were some of the high-profile Geelong players of that era?
JC: Polly Farmer was my first coach. There was Ian and Bruce Nankervis, Gary Malarkey, Mick Turner, Robert "Scratcher" Neal and Larry Donohue who won the Coleman medal in 1976 with 99 goals.
BG: You made your debut for Geelong mid-way through 1974 and not shy from your 18th birthday. What are the memories of your senior debut?
JC: I played two senior matches that season. My debut was against Carlton at Kardinia Park and was a dream come true for a footy mad teenager.
BG: I was googling some background information on you and one site described you as a highly-skilled utility whose VFL career was cruelly undermined by injury. Would that be a fair assessment considering you played 50 senior matches for the Cats in seven seasons.
JC: That's probably spot-on and my biggest regret when I reflect on my time at Geelong was how many matches I missed with injury. When I was fit, I was getting a regular game in the seniors but I probably missed as many matches as I played. As I got older, I learnt to manage my body a lot better and I suffered a lot of soft tissue injuries early on. Obviously I would have loved to have played more matches but I'm still proud of my time at Geelong.
BG: Were you just unlucky injury-wise or did your body struggle with the demands of training and playing VFL?
JC: It's fair to say that sports science wasn't around back in those days. Most of the players during that era had full-time jobs and the we trained after work.
IN OTHER NEWS
BG: Did you get to play in any finals for Geelong?
JC: On my 18th birthday I played in a flag for Geelong reserves in 1975 against Richmond. My last match for Geelong in 1980 was against South Melbourne in the reserves grand final which we also won. I also played one final in the seniors in 1980 but I got injured. The seniors got beat the following week in the preliminary final against Collingwood but I was still eligible to play in the reserves grand final that year.
BG: You played your last match for Geelong at the end of the 1980 season just shy of your 24th birthday. Was it your decision to leave the Cattery?
JC: It was, because I had made up my mind that I wanted to go over and play in Perth the following season. Collingwood and Richmond played in the senior grand final that year and saw me play in the reserves and I had a good day and kicked six in the decider. The two clubs contacted my football manager about recruiting me, but I wasn't interested. It wasn't because I wasn't enjoying it at Geelong but East Fremantle offered me a full-time job with the footy club, a house to live in and also provided me with a car. So it was a fairly attractive package.
BG: Any favourite stories during your time in the VFL?
JC: There is lots of things we got up to and I'm just glad back then you didn't have the scrutiny that today's players have with mobile phones and social media.
BG: Yes there in no doubt the media and public scrutiny on AFL players these days is immense. But give us at least one funny?
JC: We used to have to run the bridges most Sunday mornings during the season. One Sunday our ruckman Ian "Bluey" Hampshire who was a good mate of mine and has since passed away decided to take a short-cut and hide under one of the footbridges until we came around. He splashed water on his face to make it look like he was sweating. When we got back Polly knew that "Bluey" had pulled a swifty so he made us do it again. "Bluey" wasn't too popular that day.
BG: I see you also made the bench on the Coodabeen Champions Geelong Team of the Century?
JC: I remember reading a story where a few reporters questioned my inclusion and Bob Davis had a go at them. "I beg your pardon," Bob said to the reporters, "Butch Cassidy? He can make the ball talk!" which was a big compliment at the time.
BG: You had a one year stint for East Fremantle in 1977 before returning to the WAFL in 1981 for four seasons? Any particular reason you decided to head back to Perth?
JC: I went over for about 10 matches. I had a fairly serious thigh injury at the start of 1977 and it was one of those really wet winters in Melbourne. I was fortunate to play some decent footy while I was there which led to me getting recruited over there in 1981.
BG: You kicked 163 goals from 70 matches in the WAFL and topped East Fremantle's goalkicking twice?
JC: I remember Ken Judge was also at East Fremantle at the time and the coaches more or less gave us a licence to attack at all costs. Ken played on one half-forward flank and I was on the other.
BG: The WAFL was a high standard of footy?
JC: In my opinion it was the best competition at the time outside of the VFL. Especially because there were no Western Australian clubs in the AFL like there is now and there were a heap of talented footballers running around in the local competition getting recruited to the VFL clubs.
BG: It's fair to say you really thrived over in Western Australia. Do you put it down to anything in particular?
JC: It was a fantastic standard of footy, with big, dry grounds which suited me as a footballer.
BG: Any good stories during your time in the WAFL?
JC: It's not a funny story but I still remember one night at training we were hit by a cyclone. We were training and all had to go and huddle next to the grand stand. It was a bit terrifying at the time because the windows in the social club were bent the wind was that fierce. It was quite horrific but we managed to escape unscathed.
BG: You were lured to Lavington in 1985 and coach the club for four seasons? How did you end up at Lavington Sportsground?
JC: It was a little bit by accident really. My wife and I were quite content living in Western Australia but Lavington were advertising for a coach nation-wide and I seen an ad in one of the local papers. Originally being from Cobram and my wife from Katamatite I thought I would put in an application and if I got it we would be both closer to home. A couple of weeks later I got a phone call from the president Joe Murphy and I suppose the rest is history.
BG: The club boasted a star-studded line-up at the time?
JC: There were a few players that were getting towards the end of their careers but it also boasted some young talent who had emerged through the junior ranks like Dean Greacen. One of my rules as a coach was not to have travelling players and all locals. If you couldn't train at least two nights a week and support club functions, I didn't want you at the club. We had a dedicated group at the time and it would have been a kick in the guts to them to bring in some high-profile recruits and then the locals miss out on a game.
BG: Did you have much to do with recruiting during the club's golden era?
JC: We targeted players from the Hume and Tallangatta league mainly and were able to get some handy recruits that way. Blokes like Darren Holmes and Kerry Bahr. I remember one time there was a gun playing for Henty who I won't name. I invited him in for a roast around home and to see if he was interested in playing at the higher level. My wife was still preparing dinner so we sat down for a chat and his first question to me was 'What's your best offer?' I said my offer is 'get going, we don't wan't players like you at our club.' So he left and didn't even end up scoring a free lunch.
BG: The club was flying financially at the time due to the popularity of the Lavington Sports Club and the pokies bonanza. Were most players well paid at the time?
JC: To be totally honest I think that was a myth and has been blown out of proportion. You look at Ralph Aalbers for instance, he would have got twice as much money if he went to another O&M club at the time. When I first came to the club we had working bees with all the players involved, and would do wood carting and stuff like that just to raise money to buy footballs and gym equipment. I was proud of that because all the players had put in an effort.
BG: When you arrived at Lavington did you feel the resentment from other clubs?
JC: That's probably a fair comment but I didn't let the sort of thing worry me. We had a strong supporter base at the time that used to turn up every week. Opposition sides used to make jokes about having the pokies. Albury used to have a bit to say but now hate it when somebody mentions Joss.
BG: The night club Sportees was pumping at the time. What are your memories of those days?
JC: It's sad to see the joint empty. Back then it was a hive of activity and it would be massive of a weekend and even on a Sunday night the joint would be pumping. The players used to run the disco on Sunday nights which was another fundraiser for us.
BG: Its probably fair to say there were some big egos running around for Lavington during the late 80's. What was it like coaching the group?
JC: I think all clubs have players with big egos but I found the group fantastic to coach and never had any issues with any of the players. They were always at training and were happy to do things around the club. The group was really tight-knit and was one of the driving forces as to why we had some success at the time. Don't get me wrong, there was some different cats amongst the group but we all got along.
BG: During your four-year tenure you played in four grand finals for one flag in 1986. What can you tell me about your first season at Lavington?
JC: The players were fantastic to coach in my first year and we ended up getting beat by three points in the grand final against Albury. I don't think we played badly but to Albury's credit they were too good on the day. We were in a position to win but didn't make the most of our chances. My main concern as a coach was to not dwell on the loss and try and make amends the following year.
BG: The following year Lavington wins the flag?
JC: 1986 was fantastic and we didn't approach it like we had to make up for the previous year. We just treated it as another season and everyone trained hard. I think we tinkered slightly with a few positional changes which benefited the side. We beat Wodonga in the second semi-final by a big margin. North Albury rolled Wodonga in the preliminary final which was a fairly big upset. We then went on to beat North Albury in the decider by around 11 goals.
BG: You also win the best and fairest in a premiership year which is always a high accolade?
JC: I didn't know but I was talking to Ralph Aalbers the other day and he said Simon Curtis and I are the only two Lavington players to achieve the feat which is a huge honour.
BG: The following year in 1987 you endure more grand final heartache?
JC: We copped a hiding from Wodonga. We had a few injuries but to be honest I don't think it mattered much. Wodonga had a star-studded side and had blokes like Michael Garvey running around on a wing.
BG: In your final year in 1988 you suffer another grand final loss?
JC: We played Wangaratta Rovers at the Albury Sportsground and I thought it was a terrific game of finals football. We got in front early but they slowly turned the momentum and ended up winning by about three goals. I would have loved to have won that grand final and coached again the following year but I ended up going to North Albury.
BG: Considering the talent did the group under achieve only winning one flag?
JC: It's easy to say but I think we should have won two but we didn't. Two would have been an excellent result. I think during those four years we might have lost a dozen games so we were ultra-consistent against quality opposition. Hence we played four grand finals all against different opponents.
BG: Albury is in the spotlight this week for its pre-season trip to the Upper Murray. Did you encounter anything like that over the pre-season during your time as a coach?
JC: I remember one year we had a pre-season camp and stayed near the Lake Hume weir wall from the Friday night to Sunday lunch time. The players made the decision there was to be no alcohol on the camp. We had a curfew each night but Wayne Pendergast and Mark Stevens snuck out on the Saturday night for a few drinks and got back in the early hours of the morning. They may have been a tad unlucky but I found out what they had done. We did a training session on the Sunday morning and when we were finished I called them out to the front of the group. I made them do an extra 40 hill runs and they both ended up spewing before they finished.
BG: At the end of 1988 North Albury come knocking and you are at Bunton Park the following season?
JC: I was contemplating retiring at the time but went to North Albury just as a player for the first 12 months and then took over as coach the following two years.
BG: How were the Hoppers travelling at the time?
JC: They were tough times with the club struggling after having some success under Martin Cross. Probably about 70 per cent of the group who played under Cross had retired and its fair to say it was a struggle.
BG: What was it like to play against Lavington?
JC: It's a different feeling playing against guys you coached for so long but at the end of the day everyone just moves on.
BG: After your coaching stint at North Albury, you then head bush to coach Chiltern in 1992 and 1993?
JC: We lost the grand final in 1992 by three points and were undefeated the following year and lost as well. Chiltern had some terrific kids back then like Nigel and Matthew Lappin. I have fond memories of my time at Chiltern and am still fairly close with Jock Lappin who is a legend at the club. After that I had had enough and retired.
BG: You enjoyed an outstanding career but what would you consider the highlight?
JC: Obviously the premierships because that's what you play for. I remember my first flag in the Geelong reserves we were playing in front of a crowd of 85,000 as an 18-year-old kid.