Terry Daniher simply loved to play football. The smell of the liniment, the banter in the dressing room, the boisterous, one-eyed crowds at suburban venues, beating an opponent in a one-on-one duel, taking a strong mark and kicking a crucial goal, then the socialising aspect post-game - Daniher loved all of it. In an era before professionalism, the man known as ‘TD’ thrived in what was a coming-of-age period for the Essendon Football Club. If ever a man typified an era, Daniher was everything that was great about the VFL in the 1980s.
Speaking from Windy Hill for the eleventh episode of historical podcast Fabric of the Essendon Football Club, Daniher spoke at length about his love for competition, his fondness for Essendon’s spiritual home, and the pride he took in captaining the Bombers to the 1984 and ’85 premierships.
“Growing up [in Ungarie, NSW], I thought I’d be a farmer all my life and just be playing footy locally,” Daniher admitted.
“But, to get an opportunity to come south [to Melbourne], to meet the people you do in the industry, I’ve got a lot to be thankful of. Plus, the Bombers have been fantastic. To live through that time here at Windy Hill for all of my career, and to rub shoulders with blokes like Dick Reynolds and Billy Hutchison and Jack Clarke and Kenny Fraser and those sorts of guys, it was really good. It was just so great to see them in the rooms, ‘Dickie’ Reynolds and them when we won the ’84 Grand Final, it was just a magic moment. He got to hold the cup up and I’d never seen him smile [like that]; he had a smile from ear to ear. You were just rapt for those guys, because they’d been there and done it and they realised there was a fair break [since] the previous premiership [in 1965].”
Before arriving at Windy Hill in 1978, Daniher played 19 games for South Melbourne (1976-77), and what he recalled best from his one visit to Essendon (resulting in a loss) as an opposing player was the cold showers post-game - an unenjoyable aspect of visiting any suburban venue during those years. His first coach at Essendon was former champion Barry Davis, who, as history shows, laid the groundwork for future success. But it was the arrival of Kevin Sheedy at the end of 1980 that dramatically changed the culture of the club.
“The coach comes in and he’s got his philosophies and his way of doing things. It was good timing, actually, because Barry probably went as far as he was going to go with us and played a very important part, teaching and getting the skill level to a certain [level]. And then Kevin took it all to another level and developed that hardness. Training had certainly stepped up another level, he didn’t take any nonsense; if blokes stepped out of line, you weren’t going to be around the club. If you didn’t do it his way, or towed against the team ethos of the way he wanted to build it, see ya later. That was just the way it was, that’s the way he built the club. So, it jumped you into line. You wanted to be part of it. If you wanted to turn up and play Saturday, you had to do it the Sheedy way.
“We all did our thing, we all had our personalities. That’s where you needed someone pretty hard and, [with] Kev, that’s the way he trained. If you didn’t pull your weight, you’d be out there [on the ground and he’d say], ‘If you want to stay out all night, I’ll be happy to boys. If you do the right thing, train to a level I think we need to, we’ll get in and get out.’ And that’s the way it was with Kev - he didn’t take any nonsense. And you needed a hard-line coach like to keep all of us guys under control.”
Sheedy sacked leading ruckman Simon Madden as captain after 1981, replacing him with TD’s younger brother Neale. Unfortunately for Neale, he missed the season through injury and Ron Andrews led the team. At season’s end, TD won the best and fairest and Sheedy told the 25-year-old that he would be the next captain of the Essendon Football Club.
“It was a complete surprise. Neale was obviously captain before I was, only for a short period, and I can’t really understand [why I was chosen, because] you had Simon and Timmy [Watson] who would have been very good leaders, and were leaders of the club. But he came and throttled me and said, ‘Look, we want you to be captain’ and I said: ‘Ah, well, I’m only just starting to get a kick, Kev. I’m starting to feel pretty good about myself, just running around enjoying the game.’ He said, ‘No, well, you’re captain now, you’ve got a few extra responsibilities.’ I said, ‘What are they? Toss the coin?’ He said, ‘Just keep doing what you’re doing. Lead by example.’ But really, I was still just one of the boys.
“It worked out fine. You mature as you go along, each and every one of us. And really, Simon was captain anyway, and Watson, along with Neale when he came back, and all the other more senior guys. Roger Merrett, 'Fouldsy' (Garry Foulds) - we all came through together, we were all the same age, so who was me to stand up there and point the finger at them and tell ‘em what they’ve gotta do? I was one of them. I just stayed the same, really.”
The choice of TD as captain was an inspired one. He had the respect of the playing group, was adored by the supporters, was great socially but also the hardest worker on the track. In 1983, he led the team into its first Grand Final since 1968, where the Bombers were belted by Hawthorn to the tune of 83 points. The following year, Sheedy and Daniher led Essendon to its first premiership since 1965.
“We had a few mouthfuls of champagne out of it (the 1984 premiership cup), I know that, and beer of course. The first one’s always special. It was a special time, particularly after ’83 and after the long journey. It takes a lot of work and a lot of time to get there. From a club point of view, it was just great for the club to finally win one after ’65 - there was a bit of a gap, but then it rolled along not too bad; we seemed to win a few of them [under Sheedy].”
Indeed, the Bombers saluted again in 1985, then lost the 1990 Grand Final to Collingwood, before winning again in 1993 and 2000. It was a golden era at the club.
For Daniher, who played 294 games in red and black (for an overall total of 313 matches between 1976-92), was a three-time All Australian (1983, 1985, 1988), a VFLPA MVP winner (1983) and dual Essendon leading goalkicker (1979, 1983). Despite the joy of winning premierships and big matches, it was the mateships he developed through football that he’s most fond of.
“It was ground into me as a young bloke coming off the land, coming off the farm. It was the only means of getting into town - catching up with people and that sort of stuff. What better way to do it than playing footy? It was just a good way to get to meet people, and that sort of thing stayed with me all the way through. It still does today. Most of my mates are old footballers, people who’ve been involved in the game. They were the best memories - all the good times, fun times, the trips away and a bit of success.
“We’ve etched our bit of history at the club through the eighties. Our era was good, and I was pretty proud to be part of a real good bunch of guys. We stuck fat and worked hard through the tough times, and it was just good to get some success at the end of it, like all players are seeking.”
An avid watcher of the game, TD is eager to see his former club, where he was made a Legend in 1996 and was named on a half-forward flank in the Team of the Century in 1997, develop the close-knit, winning culture that he and his Bomber teammates enjoyed during the 1980s.
“I’d like to see them get a bit of success. We’ve had a fair gap now and we need to start challenging. We are challenging, but it would be nice to get a bit further. We’ve hovered around the eighth spot for too long now. Hopefully the club can make some good decisions with recruiting. You’ve gotta get good players, you’ve gotta have good players at your club to build and go forward with. We’re slowly putting the pieces there, filling it up, but it doesn’t hang around forever. You get a small window. You get opportunities, but, before you know it, that’s gone and you’ve gotta start again.
“I hope the players are having a bit of fun, [that they] get a bit of downtime and just enjoy each other’s company - that’s important. [You can] develop a good culture out there [at the NEC Hangar], but it needs good people around them. It’s gotta be a club thing, not just a player thing. That’s where the club have gotta keep chipping away, I think. And once they get that right, it’ll be a great place to be around.”
Fabric of the Essendon Football Club is a weekly 20-episode series powered by Liberty, featuring in-depth chats between club historian Dan Eddy and 20 of the club’s most adored names across multiple decades. You can listen via Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.