HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE
John Edward O'CONNELL
|Date of Birth||8th March 1932|
Games 248 (Claremont 156, Geelong 81, WA 10, Vic 1)
Goals 195 (Claremont 126, Geelong 65, WA 4)
Honours: State Representative 11 times (WA 10, Vic 1) 1951 to 1962, Geelong Captain 1960, Claremont Assistant coach 8 seasons, Claremont Football Club President and Director 14 years, President WA Football Media Guild, WAFL General Manager 5 years, Life Member Claremont 1954
Its an overused cliché that “the game is richer for his contribution” but it never applied better than to John O’Connell. Brilliant ruckman/forward in 2 states, coach, media commentator and administrator – virtually every area of the game benefited from his involvement and very few others have gained the level of respect afforded to this modest and devoted stalwart of the game.
Arriving at Claremont Oval in 1950 as a shining light from the unbeaten 1949 Claremont Metropolitan Juniors side, the lanky and athletic ruckman was an instant success in partnership with Les McClements and Noah (Dixie) Lee. His meteoric rise culminated in interstate selection in his second season, as a 19-year-old, for 2 games against Victoria. He was listed in the best players in both matches and in the following season he formed part of a 3 pronged ruck battery with Merv McIntosh and Jack Clarke when WA put on one of its best ever performances on the MCG to lose a stirring game by only 9 points. John O’Connell went on to represent WA on 10 occasions and also wore the Big V on one occasion against Tasmania in 1960.
A champion schoolboy track and field athlete, O’Connell had held a junior Australian record for a relay and state junior marks in the long and triple jump. On the football field he combined this athleticism and mobility with a keen intelligence, ability to mark well around the ground, and kick reliably. He became equally effective stationed in the forward line as in the ruck. After being largely injury free and missing only 2 games in his first 5 seasons at Claremont, John moved to Melbourne in the Public Service at the end of 1954. A hot contest for his signature among VFL clubs was won by Geelong, the counter move of Geelong star John Hyde to Claremont as Captain Coach and the connection of club great George Moloney to Geelong, being strong influences.
After a tough first VFL game against Melbourne’s Don Cordner, John became a key player at Geelong, playing finals in 1955 and 1956. His best season however, 1960, when he captained the side, represented the VFL against Tasmania, and finished third in the club fairest and best, was to be his last. After 81 games for the Cats, O’Connell received a work promotion back to Perth and was appointed assistant coach to his former Geelong team mate, Peter Pianto at Claremont. Although it was a turbulent 3 year period for the club, John regained a place in the State team and played a further 54 games before retiring at the end of the 1963 season with 156 games for the Tigers.
With Claremont winning a drought breaking flag in 1964, the timing of his WAFL retirement might be considered unfortunate but John then had an excellent and enjoyable 3 seasons as Captain Coach of Maddington. The team won a premiership, and was also runner up after a drawn grand final and John won the club fairest and best award. He also attracted his old club Geelong to play against a combined South Suburban team before a packed house at Gosnells. A short period as captain coach of South Perth completed his on field football career but after having commenced on radio with Jack Sweet at 6PM in 1964, a burgeoning media career now blossomed. After 6PM, he joined Tim Flynn and Les Mumme on 6KY, followed by stints at 6NR and the ABC. His authoritative calls and comments were popular with listeners in a strong era for football radio. He has also held the presidency of the WA Media Guild.
John again returned to coaching ranks in 1969, serving as league assistant under both Denis Marshall and Verdun Howell. A new phase in football administration began in 1987 with his appointment as General Manager of the WAFL. In a critical transition phase in WA football, John earned credit for the foundations he laid in a hard working 5 year period. The pace barely slackened when he was elected President of the Claremont Football Club and in a rewarding six year term, the Tigers played in three league grand finals, winning two, and the colts dominated, winning five flags. He served another 6 years thereafter as a director and today, with his 80th birthday imminent, John O’Connells busy life still revolves around football in various volunteer capacities at Claremont. He and wife Pam have been thrilled to see three sons succeed in senior football including two at the West Coast Eagles. With his renowned humility, John O’Connell will be reticent about joining the Western Australian Football Hall of Fame but his induction will receive the universal acclamation of the football community.