Jeff Kennett watched his final match as president of the Hawthorn Football Club two weeks ago, and it was not the way he wanted his tenure to finish.
Collingwood was three points ahead of the Hawks when the final siren reverberated around the MCG and the most outspoken club administrative figure in the AFL looked utterly devastated. He stood at the top of the players’ race, his face a picture of disbelief.
His team’s premiership aspirations were over and the sun was going down on his reign as president.
Kennett’s stint in charge at Hawthorn officially concludes at the club’s Annual General Meeting on December 14. But that night against the Pies felt like his final footy hoorah.
For some, it will be a shame to see Jeff go later this year. He has been a larger-than-life character of the game who has always enjoyed putting on a show for the public in front of a crowd or a microphone.
For most though, it will be a relief. That annoying, nasal voice may never be heard on radio or television discussing footy ever again.
But Hawthorn’s AGM in December should not be Kennett’s final word in the AFL. There could be one more chapter left in his colourful AFL journey – and it should cover his time in the league’s commission.
Whether you love him, choose to ignore him or yearn to throw rocks at him, Kennett would be a fantastic fit on the AFL’s governing body. His experience, leadership and passion for the game would only benefit the league.
Kennett was approached by people ‘within the AFL family’ in July to put his name forward for the AFL board. He refused, saying his six years of service to Hawthorn was enough and it was time to move on to the next phase of his life.
However, even Kennett may not realise the impact he could have on the game if he was on the board.
It doesn’t have to happen this year. Give it a few seasons and get him in there.
He knows what it’s like to govern; after all, he led the state of Victoria for nearly a decade.
When Kennett became Premier in 1992, Victoria was in decay. It was a rusty economy, crippled by exorbitant interest rates, increasing unemployment and a severe decline in manufacturing.
Nine years later and Kennett had transformed Victoria from basket-case to powerhouse.
He led a government that embarked on massive programs of economic and social reform with overwhelming approval. He was instrumental in making Melbourne the most liveable city in the world, as judged by The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Survey in August 2011.
Kennett led the Liberal Party with unrelenting force and won admiration from many for doing so. He was, and still is, an excellent debater, who tore down barriers of silence and prejudice to clear the way for many to seek treatment for depression.
Recently, Kennett’s work as the national face of charity beyondblue has transformed his already iconic brand. His initiatives in the battle against depression have raised him above the unpleasantness of daily politics and seen his popularity soar.
Then there’s his incredible success at Hawthorn – the club he has turned into one of the most vibrant and healthy sporting organisations in Australia, both on and off the field.
When Kennett took over the presidential reins in 2005, the Hawks were dwindling near the bottom of the ladder and had sunk to a six-year membership low. But there were dramatic changes during his time at the helm.
– Relocated its administrative headquarters to the state-of-the-art Waverley Park in 2006;
– Joined with the Tasmanian government in 2007 to secure one of the biggest sponsorships deals in Australian sporting history;
– Won a premiership and recorded an AFL record profit of reportedly over $5 million in 2008; and
– Reached 50,000 members in 2009 – the first club to ever reach the milestone.
But Kennett’s love is not exclusive to Hawthorn.
He loves the game.
He understands its immediate concerns.
Allegations of tanking, unfair fixtures, excessive stadium deals and the saturation of betting advertising; he understands all the issues in the AFL after being embroiled in the inner sanctum of a club for six years.
Admittedly, the 63-year-old’s theories to fix these issues often sound outlandish, but most importantly, they spark discussion. He’s an ideas man and is always thinking ahead.
His proposal to increase club lists has merit, as it would allow teams to play each other twice and create a balanced match schedule. And his idea to not force struggling clubs to foot stadium bills for low attendances at games needs to be implemented if the AFL wants to maintain 18 strong clubs.
Kennett is also charismatic within the footy community.
Let’s face it – how many club presidents can say they’ve been on a cheer squad’s banner before a game?
He knows how to connect with fans and he knows what they want. After all, as Victorian Premier, he had had most of their votes for a decade, and he could bring their viewpoint to the commission.
Unlike many others in positions of power, Kennett has had the guts to criticise the AFL. His provocative and controversial comments have, at times, irked many in the industry, prompting regular spats with AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou.
Kennett says the AFL can’t wait for him to go, but imagine if they were both on the same side of the battle.
He would be implementing and executing the ideas, rather than suggesting them to the board.
Kennett has more to give to the game. And a position on the AFL board would fit like one of his well-tailored suits.