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Winning mattered most for Leigh Matthews

MOTIVATING: Leigh Matthews at the Link Lunch held at The Waves yesterday. INSET: Leigh Matthews playing for Hawthorn in the 1970s.
MOTIVATING: Leigh Matthews at the Link Lunch held at The Waves yesterday. INSET: Leigh Matthews playing for Hawthorn in the 1970s. Mike Knottcontributed

SUCCESS did not follow Leigh Matthews through his playing and coaching days; he created it through an almost mindless approach to each game of which he was a part.

He arrived at Hawthorn Football Club in 1969 as a 17-year-old boy, and left 16 years later (in 1985) at 33 with 332 games, eight best-and-fairest awards and four VFL premierships to his name.

The year after he retired, Matthews took over the senior coaching job at Collingwood, led the Magpies to a premiership in 1990 and was sacked in 1995.

In 10 years at the helm with the Brisbane Lions, Matthews coached the team to three consecutive flags from 2001-03, moulding a team of champions into a champion team.

Matthews is one of the AFL's most respected commentators now and, reflecting on everything he had achieved both directly involved with football and now in the media, he said there was only one part he wanted to repeat.

"In my football life playing was what I liked doing and I could only do it when I got to my late teens, at the highest level," Matthews said.

"If I had a choice that is what I would do again.

"And clearly once I got into my 30s it was finished; I was a coach who coached because I couldn't play any more."

Dubbed "Barney" on his arrival at Hawthorn because of a perceived resemblance to Barney Rubble from the Flintstones, he left with the title of 'Lethal Leigh' after a career of sometimes brutal acts on the field.

Matthews approached his footy as if he was going to war, and with a fierce desire to win burning inside him he was suspended numerous times during his career.

Footballers today claim they play for enjoyment, but Matthews said that was the last thing on his mind when he played his 332 games.

"I played footy in a sense for the challenge; I never wanted to play footy after I finished at Hawthorn," he said.

"Footy for me was a bit like going to war - whether that's applicable to that level I don't know - I didn't want to go and play footy for fun.

"Footy for me wasn't fun; footy for me was the challenge of the contest."

Matthews is a grandfather now and looks back on parts of his career in horror.

He might have been callous, brutal and nearly lethal at times, but his legacy of hard work, courage and ability to get the best out of a team will live on.

Topics:  afl, brisbane lions, hawthorn hawks, leigh matthews




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