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Blast from the past – Rod Grinter

Almost 20 years have passed since Rod Grinter played his last game for Melbourne, but it’s fair to say the former hard-man has found ways to keep busy in the last two decades.

Grinter has maintained an involvement with football; he’s won premierships, coached, worked as an AFL runner, and stays in touch with former-teammates and coaches from his Demon days. His life away from the game has been just as eventful, having moved states numerous times, worked for some of the world’s biggest companies and raised a family.

During his playing days, Grinter was a fairly anti-social footballer – his philosophies on the game haven’t changed.

“That’s the way footy is,” he says. “You can’t be nice. The nice people get pushed aside too easily.”

But away from the footy field, his world-view is very different. Put simply, he’s a people person.

“The thing I loved most about playing footy and being at Melbourne was the mateships you create along the way, and the camaraderie that comes with a team environment,” he explains.

“I certainly miss the day-to-day interaction that you have when you’re a player.”

It’s something he’s tried to replicate in a number of facets of his life – both socially and professionally.

“I endeavour to do as much as I can to bring the blokes back together. I’m on the committee for past players at the Melbourne Football Club. I run a couple of events; one on my own, once a year where I get 40-50 blokes to catch up for a bite to eat and a couple of drinks.”

Just hours before our interview, Grinter was playing golf with former-teammates Gary Lyon and Guy Rigoni, as well as Darrell Fenton – a former assistant coach at Melbourne. Grinter clearly loves being around other people, something that’s proven important in his professional career.

“You can’t be nice. The nice people get pushed aside too easily” – Rod Grinter

“Managing people is something I enjoy doing because it brings you back to your footy days when you’re all working together for one goal.”

The word ‘soft’ isn’t one that springs to mind when Grinter’s name is mentioned, so it might surprise some to learn he’s spent 16 years working in beverage sales – specifically, selling soft drink.

“When I was down in Tassie I worked for Coca Cola,” Grinter says. He moved to Spring Valley, then Frucor Beverages – the company that produces the energy drink V, and Mizone sports water –where he became the State Sales Manager.

“Then I spent four years with Fosters, where I was an account manager for distributors and wholesalers nationally, selling their Cascade soft drinks and mineral waters.”

For the last year, he’s worked for SITA – a waste management company.

“I’m looking to try my hand at something different because I’ve been in the beverage game for 16 years. I didn’t find my niche there, so in terms of what I want to do moving forward; it’ll be in the sales environment – account management. Whether you’re selling soft drink or a bag of dog food, it’s all very similar and managing people is something I really enjoy.”

Given Grinter’s passion for managing people, it’s no surprise to learn he’s currently the football coach at St Kevin’s College.

“It’s very enjoyable – working with kids at a level of footy that’s a really high standard. They only play ten games a year but the whole system and program is a very professional one. That will continue as long as I can make time for it.”

It’s also not surprising to hear the way he likes his players to perform.

“The more people you have in your team that have got that bit of mongrel [the better],” he says.

“Guys run around and bash into each other, and are all great people, but you’ve got to have that desire to really want to win. When I’m coaching at the school it’s something I certainly get the guys to try to carry out. Working hard and doing everything you possibly can to be as good as you can – it’s all about being the best you can be.”

Grinter talks about the importance of footballers simply playing a role – something he’s well-versed to speak about, having performed almost every role imaginable in footy in the past 30 years.

After his AFL career finished in 1994, he played for New Norfolk in Tasmania, becoming captain-coach between 1996 and 1998, before moving back to Melbourne.

“Then in ‘99 I played at East Burwood in the Eastern Districts Footy League, where I was coached by Alan Richardson and won a Premiership.”

Asked about his experiences with the now St Kilda coach, Grinter reflects, “He was terrific. It’s actually a surprise that he hasn’t become a senior coach sooner. He’s a terrific people person and that’s what football is all about – good people.”

In 2000, his footy involvement headed in a new direction.

“I stopped playing local footy and Neale Daniher asked me to be the Melbourne runner.”

The Demons had a great year, but were beaten by the Bombers – who lost just one game for the season – in the Grand Final.

“It was a good experience for those involved but we didn’t have things go the way they needed to. Everything needs to click to win a premiership.”

It was a similar story to Grinter’s playing career. He played in a Grand Final in 1988, but the Dees were belted by Hawthorn by 96 points.

“I’m proud to say I’ve played in one, because not many people get to play in a final let alone a Grand Final, but the result was not one to be proud of.”

“That’s what football is all about – good people” – Rod Grinter

A year earlier, Grinter gave away the free kick that gifted Gary Buckenara a shot for goal after the siren. Infamously, teammate Jim Stynes ran across the mark, resulting in a 15-metre penalty. Grinter remembers it vividly.

“The crowd was going crazy and we couldn’t hear the siren,” Grinter recalls.

“Nobody on the ground could hear it. Robert Dipierdomenico ran around the wing to try to get a short pass and we all thought the game was still on. Jimmy obviously saw Dipper and ran between me and Bucky.”

What happened next has become football folklore.

“Even though it was against the rule… if Jim had’ve heard the siren there would’ve been no need to run across the mark to try to pick up Dipper. You never know whether he would’ve kicked the goal from there.”

Grinter can’t help thinking about what might’ve been, but he’s not stuck in the past. For now, he’s enjoying coaching St Kevin’s, and is looking forward to watching the Demons in action this year.

“I think it’s really exciting,” he says.

“From a supporter’s point of view, which is what I am now, I’ll go to the footy with a lot more hope than I had in the last five or six years. I’m really looking forward to what the future’s going to bring.”