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SIMON SAYS – O’DONNELL ON SONG AT OPA LUNCHEON

Simon O’Donnell has reflected on his schoolboy and Amateur football run-ins with Parade and the Old Paradians in delivering a spirited address at the recent Association Luncheon in Melbourne.

 

Simon, the former Australian cricketer and VFL footballer turned horse breeder and sports commentator, graciously accepted an invitation to address the Old Paradians’ monthly luncheon at the RACV City Club in Bourke Street.

The ex-Assumption College student was called to the podium by the Master of Ceremonies Terry Henderson (1966) with whom he was heavily involved in OTI Racing.

And he was quick to draw on early experiences with Parade in addressing the partisan Old Paradians audience - and offer a friendly dig in the process.

“Once the dates aligned and I knew I was going to become part of this day I started thinking: ‘What do I remember about Parade and Parade College Bundoora?’ which I pass every day on Plenty Road going to work. ‘What memories do I have?’, Simon said.

“Well I have memories of the 1980 Herald Shield Final between Assumption and Parade. We won that game and what stood out for me in it was ‘How do you blokes live wearing that colour green all year?’.”

Simon also recounted a terrifying moment in an Amateur football match between the Old Paradians and the University Blacks, the latter then coached by his older brother Michael.

“The Blacks were competing in B Grade and at the time I’d just retired from playing football for St Kilda. I was 20 years of age and cricket had really taken over the realm of professionalism,” Simon said.

“But as cricket training didn’t start until mid-August/early September, my brother invited me to come down for a kick of the footy because they needed someone who was six foot in the forward line, and I said ‘I’d love to’.”

Simon said he remembered fronting up against the OPs “thinking I was going to have an enjoyable afternoon’s football”. “But it was a very challenging afternoon. I met a mob called the Considines, one of those great families you find associate with different schools . . . and when I whacked Brendon I didn’t realise he had three brothers.”

Simon recalled having to front up to the VAFA Tribunal to answer a striking charge against the Old Paradians stalwart the following Monday evening, although Brendon, he said, stuck up for him, “because what happens on the football field stays on the football field”.

“Then, after all these years, I walk in today and I’m grabbed from behind on the arm by the Considine boys’ father Maurie. He said to me, and this is loyalty to a tee, ‘I remember you. I can’t believe you’d hit my son when he did nothing to you in the first place’.”

Simon covered many facets of his sporting career, and people like Ray Carroll, his coach at Assumption, and his St Kilda captain-coach Alex Jesaulenko who influenced him along the way.

“Sport gives you life experiences and my first real-life experience came in my very first game of VFL footy,” Simon said.

“St Kilda was playing Hawthorn at the start of the 1982 season. Hawthorn was a very strong club, even in those days, while we had St Kilda were having our issues.”

Simon said that he remembered gathering for the pre-match team meeting where three players were assigned run-with roles - Jeff Dunne with Leigh Matthews, Jeff Sarau with Ian Paton “and I was to run with Michael Tuck”.

“I could feel the blood rushing out of my face,” Simon said on being told. “I thought I might have been allowed to settle into a back pocket and feel my way into a game.

“Anyway, Alex Jesaulenko was coach and I’ll never forget what he said because it left a lifelong legacy with me . . . he called an end to the meeting, asked all the other players to leave, but said to me ‘Son, just stay around for a minute’.

“Alex said to me, ‘Son, do you understand what I’m asking you to do?’. I said ‘Yeah, run with Michael Tuck’, to which he replied ‘Young man, I will never ask you to do something I don’t think you’re capable of doing.

“Now I can remember watching Alex Jesaulenko all my life. This bloke was a legend, a champion of Carlton and courage personified – and he hit me with that one line.”

O’Donnell then reminded that Michael Tuck represented Hawthorn in 426 senior matches, and was reported but once for striking – “in the opening round of the 1982 season with a fist to the face of No.22 of the St Kilda Football Club, which happened to be me”.

“But that one line in itself had a lifelong effect on me, not only in sport, but in life in many ways,” Simon said. “There was a real reality in what he said, the reality is that you’ve got to believe in yourself and what you do, and if he believed in me I was prepared to believe in him and do the best possible job that I could do.”

Simon spoke at length about his Shield, Test and One-Day International career, relating a glorious tale about his initial mid-pitch verbal from Isaac Vivian Richards and of the sheer jubilation in experiencing World Cup triumph in 1987 as a member of Allan Border’s XI in Kolkata.

He also talked of his very personal battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 24. As he said: “The key to anything of that magnitude in your life both physically and emotionally is that you must be realistic about what it is and how you work through it”.

“You have to make the best of the situation. It’s as simple as that.”

In concluding his engaging address, and answering in details all questions put to him from the floor, Simon commended the Old Paradians’ Association for continuing to convene what he termed a “brilliant” luncheon, now in its 81st year, “because of the camaraderie and interaction it generates”.

“We just don’t have this sort of interaction (at Assumption) . . . I think because the school has changed so much from what it was in the good old days”.