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Phil Walsh: My Mate, My Mentor

Has shock turned into reality? Fog is still drifting through my head.

My mate, my mentor – it’s just too hard to talk about you in the past tense.

So I won’t.

AFL 2015 Rd 10 - Carlton v Adelaide

Walshy, 15 years ago when I walked into our great club as a naïve 18-year-old, my destiny was put into the arms of many great people, one of them being you.

My initial thoughts were ‘This bloke walks to the beat of a different drum.’

I was intimidated but intrigued, as I became one of your many students and my journey began.

It is an understatement to say that you were my – our – teacher.

You are a genius who revolutionised the game with the biggest dose of humility.

Sitting next to you in your office – your classroom – watching hours of footage, was tedious at the time, but the habits you instilled in those early days will carry me through the rest of my life.

Throughout your life, you have been committed to seeing your pupils improve both on and off the field – if any of us were prepared to put the hard work into our craft, you’d reward us.

If we were prepared to be a sponge – you’d never let us dry out.

As tactical as you can be – the thing I loved is that your fundamentals never waivered.

Work hard, play team-first footy, and when it’s your turn to go (for the hard ball) – make it a winner! Win the critical contests!

You were hell-bent on winning a premiership and with the environment that Choco and you created, well, it was always going to happen.

I got the premiership medal out of the closet last night. It’s never looked so beautiful.

From that time onwards, our relationship went from student and teacher to, simply, great mates.

The post-season bottles of wine we’d polish off around your barbecue with Chad and Kane, the catch-ups we had in Perth when I went back home, the effort you and Meredith made to attend our wedding, the gifts you and Meredith would send us to celebrate the birth of the girls – the cord between us never got pulled too far apart.

The enjoyment I got when I knew you were coming back to Port to kick off the 2014 campaign brought a whole new level of enthusiasm to an old man’s game.

My legs felt lighter but bloody hell, I was still slow!

Knowing you were by my side as my coach in my debut game in Perth as well as my retirement game last year pulls at my heartstrings.

Your football brain is genius-like, but the daily life lessons you share with “your boys” are unparalleled.

These are the things that, to me, sum up your character, spirit and will during our time at Port.

The way you started every opposition meeting by giving a quirky life lesson. They were a mixed bag of good and bad – but still refreshing.

Standing up at our camp in New Zealand and speaking about a Japanese leader in fluent Japanese. While we all had no idea what you were talking about, it typified your wealth of knowledge.

The way you finish every leadership meeting by saying, “Has everyone said what needs to be said? Because if you don’t have the balls to say it here in front of your mates then it doesn’t get mentioned in the corridor.”

When you speak of respect to us: “There are 44 of you boys in this team, you can’t be best friends with everyone but when you walk in the front door of the club, you respect each other.”

The way you challenge players to study their own game, the opposition, identify problems and provide solutions. The way you challenged us at times to study the tactics of leaders in war and present our findings to the group. It is demanding. But it is you.

Your method behind some of this ‘madness’ stands tall.

It epitomises your will to see us improve on-field but, more importantly, add layers of substance to the lives of many naïve young men.

Mate, writing this to you has just made me realise that even though we are great mates, I will always be your student. You will always be the teacher. It’ll never change.

This was your last message to me:

“I’m moving around the corner from you – fire up the BBQ please.”

I’m ready when you are mate…

Love you and thanks,


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