Brendan O'Brien - My Redan Story
Where did you play your junior footy and what were some of the highlights?
I played my junior footy starting as a 14 year old with Cobden FC in the Hampden League. We did not win any premierships. Some highlights were winning an Under 16 Best and Fairest and coming Runner up in the Under 18 Hampden League Best and Fairest by one vote.
I boarded at St Pats too in Year 10 and 11 and I managed to squeeze into the First 18 as a Year 11, mostly as a back-pocket. There was some incredible talent in the team. I felt the odd one out, although I used to joke it was hard to drop the back pocket when the ball rarely got into the back-line.
I still have the St Pats blue/green/white jumper as one of my greatest trophies. In my nostalgia I tried to put it on last year and now it needs stitching.
You played at North Ballarat in the mid-90s before coming across to Redan, who or what was it that attracted you to the club?
When I finished junior footy I started studying at University at Ballarat and found it hard to commit to training at Cobden and in three years I had broken two legs and torn a quaddie.
In my third year of Uni, I thought I would go to the club with the best medical team, which I assumed was North Ballarat. However I struggled with my study commitments, my confidence to bury into packs waned and I only played half a dozen reserves games and pulled the pin on footy mid-season.
I found the atmosphere at North a bit cold and sterile too, a big powerhouse club that knew how good it was.
The following year I took time off footy to train for the Melbourne Marathon. I managed to run it in three and half hours and towards the end of the race will never forget cramping in my groins/quadriceps/hamstrings/calves simultaneously. Very painful. I was proud I completed the marathon but would never run one again.
Brian Lovison convinced me to play for Redan the following year, because they were struggling for players. I missed footy and joined about round four with some PE mates and I enjoyed the camaraderie and down to earth atmosphere of the club, players and the "Den". I felt there were no egos, just good people at the club.
During the late 90s there was a major reliance on students from Federation University. It was not uncommon to have less than ten players at training during the school holidays. What can you tell us about how that connection began and the role it played?
Great camaraderie developed amongst the players. I think we were all like-minded. No doubt there were tough times after some of the massive losses. We lost one game to Sunbury by 55 goals.
Generally at training on Thursday night we were all optimistic again though and perhaps possessed the short-term memory of a goldfish. I guess we all had grand delusions that at some point we would gel and turn it on.
After each game and some reflection time in the locker rooms, we would just re-group, have a few beverages and head out to the clubs/pubs chasing girls. I think most of us tried our absolute hearts out during the game, but acknowledged we were not superstars and could put footy in perspective once the siren had blown.
There were some terrific characters amongst that group and in many ways they allowed the club to survive ahead of the turnaround.
There were some great characters that gave us immense support. I will always have admiration for the supporters that turned up each week, despite our abysmal performance. I remember characters like Freddy, Teddy, Flogger, Remo Senior, Ray, Pymy, Jeff and his bloody dog turning up week in, week out.
I genuinely regret not getting to know these characters better. A lot of people were very proud of Redan's rich history and it is was these people behind the scenes that kept the club propped up when its knees were wobbly.
Who were some of the players and coaches who had the biggest influence on you while at the club?
I liked all the coaches. I had immense respect for Jason Mewett. I thought he did a great job with a club clearly in decline.
Matt Jones coached the next year and being one of my best mates I am probably biased, but under his realm I had the most enjoyable year of footy I ever had. I think Matt learnt a lot about coaching that year and is now on the coaching staff with the Dandenong Stingrays. I suspect he will get a gig at an AFL club soon and is the ultimate professional.
Marty Cusack coached the next year and was unbelievably optimistic and as a genuine teacher made an excellent coach. It was a pity that he coached Redan when it was at its lowest ebb.
Barry Hills was more old school in his approach but had immense respect of the playing group and was eventually the coach that got us our breakthrough win. I was disappointed he did not coach the next year, he deserved it.
You captained the side during a very difficult time for the club. How did you go about keeping the group together and motivated?
I did, but I was not a great captain and would have preferred not to have been and I really struggled with motivating speeches. I am not a great orator-despite being a Uni lecturer. I guess I was the eternal optimist though who eventually dreamed we would click. I never was negative or flat which may have helped the spirit of the group.
You also played Reserves and Seniors some weeks?
Yes I did, but not a smart move as generally I would cramp at 3/4 time after just one game.
Being around the club during the 1998 forfeit to Darley and the subsequent Save the Lions movement, describe what is was like to be around the club?
To be honest, in my immaturity I was mostly disappointed that I missed a game of footy, but no doubt it was a glum time. We obviously re-grouped and got enough players to field a team next week and I always felt we would get there.
Was there a particular time where you felt Redan’s future was safe and would thrive again?
I felt in my fourth and final year that Redan would definitely survive and thrive. We had the best junior talent (under 18s) and I was confident that group would be the basis of Premierships. I did not realise it would be so quickly and frequently!
What were some of your greatest highlights at the club?
On the field, probably the bravery of my mates. Seeing my good mates dive brazenly head-first into packs gave my inspiration although I still shudder at how lucky it was that Adam Pease, and in another game Peter Clothier, did not kill themselves in separate incidents. Some of the bravery was kamikaze.
I still have immense respect for how tough Jay Dineen was. I have never seen a player wrestle the ball out of a pack as much as he. Also I enjoyed watching the silky smooth moves of Brett Stone, a class footballer. These guys would have been in the premiership teams if they had not moved on.
The breakthrough win in 1999 against Daylesford was special of course (photo right). I think I played in 66 consecutive losing games in four years. Sharing it with the guys who had persisted through the tough times (like yourself Remo) will always be my favourite single football memory. Without a doubt.
How much of an honour was it to win the Dalton-Bayly Medal?
I am immensely proud of the award, but we were at our weakest point in the club's long history, so I do put it in perspective. Still, every now and again I will skite I was a Dalton-Bayly winner of the BFL's powerhouse to some of my students.
Have you played in a premiership and how did it measure up to the 1999 win over Daylesford?
I played in a winning Reserves Grand Final with Cobden against Warrnambool in a game where we only kicked three goals to their one. We played in hail that day and although I have played in snow in Ballarat, Beaufort and Daylesford, that was the most horrendous conditions I played in. I was hypothermic that day and that night as I passed out on Cobden's football oval in an inebriated stupor, not my brightest moment.
I also played a handful of games with Wendouree Swans (the year before they joined the BFL) and managed to play in a winning Grand Final with the twos which was great fun. Though both premiership wins pail into insignificance next to winning that solitary game against Daylesford.
Tell us a little bit about your line of work and if it helped you with your footy preparation while still playing?
I work within the Faculty of Health at Fed Uni, as the Discipline Lead of Exercise and Health Sciences. I currently teach Anatomy and Physiology and Exercise Physiology to Nurses, PE and Exercise and Sport Science students.
I also coordinate several research projects into how exercise training effects the genes that regulate our immune and cardio-vascular system's health. Maybe some day we will work out how to optimise exercise training to best improve health.
When I was playing at Redan, I was undertaking my PhD. I guess my Exercise and Sport Science background may have helped, as I would do a lot of strength and endurance training pre-season. Not that it showed on the scoreboard.
Tell us about some of your experience working with AFL clubs.
I managed to sneak a role at Hawthorn FC in 2008 as a sport science consultant to the Fitness guy, Andrew Russell (ex Ballarat Uni lad). I would visit Waverley every month just to catch up and advise Andrew on developments in Sport Science.
I can't say I made much of an impact at all, as that year Andrew's training strategies worked perfectly. I got to go to the games including the grand final and as an avid Hawthorn Fan loved it!
However the University arranged a formal relationship with Essendon FC the following year and I was given a role to supervise PhD students who were doing research with the Bombers. I had to sever my relationship with Hawthorn unfortunately.
I would head to Windy Hill about once a month to check up on my PhD students. When they finished their PhDs the relationship wound up. James Hird took over the next year.
In your own areas of research, what trends do you see emerging in the next decade in relation to athlete recovery?
I think cold therapy will stay the major form of recovery although it's probably just a placebo. To me recovery research has stagnated for years and particularly since the debacle at Essendon I doubt whether anyone will get adventurous with chemical/peptide strategies.
Footy is a tough game and with often only six to seven days turnaround there is little that can be done - apart from rest, good diet, mild stretching and maybe a massage or two.
Have you been to any of the Premiership wins since hanging up the boots? How did it feel to see the club you saw almost fold achieve the ultimate success?
I missed out on the first Grand Final as I was working in New Zealand, which was hard as I was still emotionally involved with the Lions. I have been to two premierships.
I definitely have a tinge of regret that when I returned from NZ in 2004 aged 33 I did not pull on the boots to at least try to crack a senior game as I thought I was bit old. Boomer Harvey has proved post thirties is not the point of football mortality.
However the reality was that I was "over" the formality of footy and that of course the talent and depth well surpassed my capability. I do feel a strong sense of pride though that Redan achieved success and that I played a small role in ensuring the club survived the lean times. I would have said the former line dozens of times in conversations over the years.
Tell us about what you are up to these days.
I moved to Buninyong from Soldiers Hill last year so that my partner Linda and I could be closer to work at Uni and we could have more space for our 13 month old boy when he grows up - Dashiell Jack.
We really enjoy the community village feel of Buninyong. With a little active toddler most of my time outside work is busy entertaining the little guy, and trying to switch off the endless loop of Wiggles songs resonating in my head when I am not entertaining the little guy.
Although I will l never push footy onto Dash, I do harbour thoughts that he will one day pull on the maroon and gold guernsey and hopefully get to belt out the Redan theme song more than my once!
What advice would have for the juniors starting out their careers at Redan?
Put footy in perspective. I think it's great for personal development for the young cubs to strive for excellence by improving overall fitness, maintaining a proper diet, focusing on team contribution (rather than kicks) and importantly refining skill efficiency (practice kicking on the other leg).
However I think it's important kids learn to switch off after the game and just enjoy the contest. Maybe losing so many games has affected my views - but footy is just a game.