Gerard Healy – 1988 Australian Rules Brownlow Medal Winner
Gerard Healy (1 March 1961) epitomises the type of Aussie rules footballer that would make an excellent prototype for any up and coming juniors who want to make their mark in the AFL.
Yes, he won the Brownlow Medal in 1988, considered the most significant of the individual awards for rules footballers, but he was more interested in the success of for whichever side he played.
By that measure, he may have considered his career anticlimactic, but for millions of Australian football fans, his contributions will long linger in their collective memories. He would have to be credited with a large measure of perseverance. His first seven seasons with the Melbourne Demons would be the very definitions of frustration and futility. Over the course of seven seasons and 130 games with the Demons, Healy never came closer than eighth position on the home and away ladder and he posted entirely respectable statistics in all statistical categories in the 1981 season that saw Melbourne walk away with the wooden spoon after managing only one win.
Healy’s 81 games with the Sydney Swans that he joined in 1986 were more productive from a team perspective, but that distinction is a narrow one because the Swans, only four seasons after abandoning South Melbourne for relocation to the capital, managed to make the finals, only to lose a qualifying final to the Carlton Blues by a narrow 16 point margin, followed a week later by an even narrower five point loss to Fitzroy in the semifinals.
The two finals appearances for Healy in 1986 saw him posting a total of 34 disposals, two goals and three behinds. Unfortunately, those two finals games represented 50 percent of his career finals appearances. Going into the finals, much was expected of the Swans, because they finished second on the ladder with 16 wins against four losses, behind only perennial powerhouse Hawthorn.
Healy and the Swans were again formidable in the 1987 VFL season, finishing third on the ladder with a record of 15 – 7 in the newly expanded league of 14 teams that had added the West Coast Eagles and the Brisbane Bears. Healy was again a reliable presence, but the finals of that season would have been a low ebb to the pride of a player of Healy’s professional calibre.
The Swans were embarrassed by 99 points in the qualifying final by Hawthorn, meaning that Healy’s 21 disposals and one goal were wasted. The Swans were only marginally better in the semifinal game against Melbourne and that 76-point loss must have stung Healy to the core, coming as it did against his old Demons side.
Healy’s decision to leave Melbourne after the 1985 season came on the heels of the failure of Ron Barassi’s five-year plan to restore the Demons to the stature that had produced 12 impressive premiership victories between 1900 and 1964, including three consecutive 1939-1941 and four of the five 1955-59.
He was the target of a Swans spending spree heading into the 1986 season in their quest to improve their ladder position after 1985’s 10th- place result. Other clubs had sought his services, but Healy maintained in a 2010 Herald Sun article that the money offered by Sydney was not all that superior to what he would have received had he chosen to remain with the Demons. Healy would say that the prospect of living on the coast was one factor he found attractive, but that the main consideration in his mind at the time in moving north was the prospect of team success he anticipated due to the Swan’s having obtained the services of Geelong stars Greg Williams and Bernard Toohey, along with Merv Neagle of the Bombers.
Healy spent the bulk of his time with the Melbourne Football Club in the role of a forward pocket, one he fulfilled admirably. He kicked 77 goals in 1982 to lead the team and tallied 99 marks, both career high water marks. His seven seasons with the Demons would produce 189 goals, an average of 1.45 per game, impressive on the surface and even more so considering that he switched to the role of on-baller/midfielder where his goals per game average plunged to .85 in his last two seasons of 1984 and 1985 with Melbourne.
After the heartbreak that a team-oriented player such as Healy experienced in his four finals appearances with the Swans in 1986 and 1987, he went on to have his finest season in 1988. Not only did he win the Brownlow Medal as league best and fairest, he won his third consecutive Sydney best and fairest to go along with the one he received from Melbourne in 1984. Also in 1988, he received an award that he would have held in high esteem. In winning the Leigh Matthews Trophy, the recognition of his peers from across the VFL would have meant a lot, possibly even providing a modicum of consolation over the lack of team success. He also received recognition in the form of being named the Media Association Player of the Year and he took home the E.J. Whitten Medal and the Simpson Medal for his contributions in representative footy.
That year of 1988 was also his third time for being named to the All-Australian Team after being recognised similarly in 1986-87.
After 10 seasons of the rigours of the VFL, Healy began to wind down in 1989, playing only the first eight rounds. He was again limited in 1990, making 11 sporadic appearances. He retired at the relatively young age of 29 from a serious wrist injury, but he was still so highly thought of that Collingwood picked him in the 1991 pre-season draft based on the hope that his wrist might recover and he could be lured back onto the ground, but it was not to be.
Healy moved into the role of commentator and would spend over 15 years with different media outlets, including Seven Network and 3AW. He served as the host of Sports Today and did voice-over work for computer games such as AFL 2007. He concluded his commentating career with Fox Sports in 2007, but had the microphone in his hand again in 2013 when he achieved a different kind of notoriety from the kind he had enjoyed as a player when a slip of the tongue during a lead-up to a Gold Coast game at MCG where he substituted a misogynistic word for a part of the female anatomy. We will leave it to our readers’ imagination to figure out what word he substituted for Coast, but the remark went viral and survives to this day on YouTube, should anyone be interested.
Healy was inducted, quite rightfully, into the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 2000. In 2009, he was named to Sydney’s Team of the Century at centre half-forward, arguably the most demanding role on field.