As a shocked AFL community and Adelaide Crows supporters try to make some sense of the tragic death of coach Phil Walsh, who appears to be the victim of a domestic dispute involving his 26-year-old son, tributes have begun flowing in for a man who played for three AFL clubs, yet didn’t become a head coach until this year.
His career ended after just 12 games.
The Australian’s Patrick Smith wrote a moving tribute this morning about the toll demanded by professional sport, but for a prophetic insight, a profile of Walsh by The Age’s Caroline Wilson on February 24, as he prepared for his debut season leading the Crows, is hard to beat.
It’s moving insight into humanity in a sport that prizes aggression and power, offering this anecdote from the coach about his home life.
“One of the biggest things I’ve tried to change over the years, and I haven’t been very good at, is taking work home,” said Walsh, who turns 55 next month. “I remember one year I snapped at my son over something and he said: ‘Footy’s started again has it, dad?’ That really rocked me.
It recounts how one of his players, Brent Reilly, fractured his skull during training a few weeks before the interview. It was touch and go. Walsh learnt a lesson, as Wilson recounts.
“Part of the old Phil Walsh might have screamed at Brent Reilly to get up,” said the new Adelaide coach.
Walsh was involved in a bus accident in Peru in 2012 that almost claimed his life. He gave up booze, coffee and preferred cycling to driving.
He offers Wilson an insight into his own character:
“I’m too intense,” Walsh said, “too judgmental and I judge people by my own standards. I’m stubborn. I’ve got no patience. I can’t stand fishing, I hate golf.
“I’ve always believed knowledge is power, so during my career I’ve spent too much time working to get knowledge so I’ll have power over people. I should have been more inclusive.
Wilson ponders how 2015 will pan out in a manner that adds pathos to today’s events, writing:
Walsh admits he cannot predict how he will cope this season with the fifth quarters, the extra pressure, the Showdowns and all the trimmings that come with being a senior coach in Adelaide. But he does seem to learn from his errors and regrets.
Walsh talks about his regret at not speaking at his mother’s funeral:
“Later I spoke at my father’s funeral and I didn’t want to feel I hadn’t done the right thing for anyone who meant something to me.”
A few months later, Walsh talked to The Herald Sun about the difficulties he’d faced as a father and the “disconnect” his career caused with his son.
“I had a disconnect because of footy,” he said.
“I’m trying to reconnect with my son, which I have done.
“In a selfish way, I taught my daughter to surf, and that’s my release, so when I go surfing, I take her. Now I’ve got my son into it as well and that’s what I should’ve done a long time ago.”
His son, Cy Walsh 25, has been charged with murder and is expected to undergo a psychiatric assessment.
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