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.”