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Joe Daniher on the ties that bind

Joe Daniher was born into football royalty. Between them, his father Anthony and uncles Neale, Terry and Chris played in 752 games, including a 1990 match when Essendon created history by having four brothers in the same team.

But at 22, Joe is too young to have seen any of that previous generation play: “I was born in 1994, which was the year dad retired.”

He’d heard snippets from his older brothers and watched the odd bit of video footage, but it wasn’t until he began taking his football serious in his mid-teens that he really started to look into the famous quartet’s careers and achievements.

“Football was always my enjoyment and release from doing everyday things, and I only played football to have fun and meet new friends,” Joe said.

“For me growing up as a kid, obviously I’ve got a really big family and a really strong family, so coming together at Easter and Christmas time, when there’s 35 grandchildren and the aunties and uncles everywhere, it was really exciting times for us.

“We used to play sport as a part of just enjoying each other’s company, but the fact that we were from a football family was quite irrelevant at that time, until I grew up a little bit and I could understand what dad and my uncles were able to achieve at the Essendon Football Club.”

“We used to play sport as a part of just enjoying each other’s company, but the fact that we were from a football family was quite irrelevant at that time.”

– Joe Daniher

Family trumped football, never more than during those holidays back at his grandparents’ farm in Ungarie, a small town in central New South Wales. “There were beds everywhere and kids running around crazily,” he said.

Joe’s father Anthony may have had three brothers, but he also had seven sisters, so “the really refreshing thing about going and catching up with the family was that football often got pushed aside – it was more important about netball and which girl was the best”.

It meant that Joe evoled as a footballer at his own pace, supported but never pushed. “As far as my own development in football came, the family left me to my own devices and I think that was the best way for me to learn – to just enjoy it and make mistakes and make errors and grow that way. The family was always there for a bit of support, but as far as technical guidance went they just let me go and let me find out, and I’m really thankful for that.”

If Joe felt a tangible link to the AFL system during his teens, it was through his uncle Neale, who had turned to coaching after hanging up the boots.

“Throughout my childhood Neale was at the Melbourne Football Club for 10-odd years and I always had a little soft spot for the Dees and loved to watch them play,” Joe said.

Neale would later become the footy operations manager at West Coast, and was the family member best placed to understand what Joe was going through as he prepared to be drafted by Essendon in 2012.

It was during Joe’s first AFL season, in 2013, that he was sitting at home with his brother when the phone rang. He vividly remembers his father’s unusually sober tone down the line as he explained that “something wasn’t quite right” with Uncle Neale.

“Obviously I heard the news and for myself I had no idea what (MND) meant,” Joe said. “I didn’t know anything about the disease and I don’t think anyone in our family truly knew the circumstances that Neale was going to be facing.”

The first thing Joe did was to jump on the internet and research the disease. “After that we all came together and it was a tough time, but the lucky thing for us is that we’re in a big strong family and whenever you’re feeling a little bit down you can bounce it off someone else and they can help you out.

“For Neale and his immediate family it was about giving them some space but giving them as much support (as we could) at the same time.

“It says a lot about Neale’s character, the way that he’s really got on the front foot and been so open about the whole situation. He didn’t have to do that but the support that’s given to a lot of people around the country who are going through the same situation as Neale has been fantastic.”

AFL 2016 Portraits - Neale Daniher
Neale Daniher earlier this week

In keeping with the Daniher trait of finding a light in the gloom, Joe feels blessed that he has been able to have some meaningful discussions with his uncle and spend quality time by his side.

“My relationship with Neale has always been fantastic and I’ve loved him as an uncle forever, and having the chance to work with him a little bit closer about trying to spread the word about the MND foundation has been a really good time for me.”

Joe intends be at the Melbourne-Collingwood match at the MCG on Monday, and in particular for the second edition of the Big Freeze, where football and media personalities slide into a pool of icy water to raise awareness and funds for MND. ”I’ve just got to run it by the coach to try and leave training a little bit early, but I think it should be fine,” Joe said.

“It’s going to be a fantastic day for a lot of people who’ve put in a lot of hard work, and they’ll get to see a little bit of reward come Monday.”

“Not only has the general public got behind it, but more specifically the AFL community has really embraced it, and it is really overwhelming to see a player just Tweeting about it or a photo on Instagram. It really does make a difference.”

He is also stoked that the Essendon players have donated $5000 to the cause as part of theAFL Players Care initiative.

“Three weeks ago the boys sat down in the changerooms to decide where we were going to spend our funds, and for the boys to choose to put it towards the Cure for MND Foundation is something that is very touching, not only for myself but my extended family and all those who have been affected by MND,” Daniher said.

To find out more about Motor Neurone Disease and what you can do to help, click HERE

To find out more about the causes your club supports through AFL Players Care click HERE

AFL 1990 - State of Origin


1) Terry and his father Jim played in a grand final together for Ungarie in 1973. Terry was 15, while Jim was 44.

2) Neale spent four years at boarding school in the New South Wales city of Goulburn and became one of St Patrick’s College’s finest rugby union players.

3) Terry made his VFL debut with South Melbourne three months before Fiona, the youngest of his seven sisters, was born.

4) Anthony was so laconic when playing in the juniors at Ungarie, Edna once walked onto the field during a break in play and told him to start “having a go!”

5) When Neale kicked three goals in the last quarter to almost single-handedly defeat Carlton at Princes Park in 1981, up at the farm his younger sisters were unaware of his achievement. Rather than listening to the footy, they were roller-skating around the concrete floor in the shearing shed.

Courtesy of The Danihers biography, written by Adam McNicol