Jeff Dunne was a footballer whose trademark was quiet calmness under pressure.
The dual best-and-fairest winner is being mourned today by teammates after his death from a heart attack on September 14. He was 64.
One of the many Saints who came from the strong North Ballarat club, his 101 game career spanned seven seasons starting in 1977. He was so adept in the back pocket that he was part of Victorian teams in 1980 and 1981.
His pinpoint anticipation and ability to sweep up the loose ball were the keys to his game. The image of the long-sleeved Number 48 (later No.8) collecting the footy and wheeling out of defence remains with Saint fans of that era.
He was recruited as a winger and the Saints also saw him as a possible rover. Originally his sporting interests also focussed on basketball. At 178 cms tall and weighing 74.5 kgs he wasn’t daunted by bigger opponents on the basketball court or the footy field. But a big spring meant that he was able to compensate for lack of size. As a 16 year old he set a Victorian under-age high jump record and played open age A Grade basketball in Ballarat. Along the way he won a school football prize donated by St Kilda and was invited to play in practice matches at Moorabbin. But he opted against playing in the Saint under-19s in favour of playing basketball.
He was the first country kid to make the Victorian junior basketball side in the national titles. A turning point came on his 18th birthday. He recalled later that once he was over the age limit he was approached by Melbourne-based teams, but they all wanted him to move to Melbourne. He was determined to live in Ballarat, but wasn’t content with the standard of local basketball and made a comeback to footy with North Ballarat. The Saints had always kept an eye on him and during 1977 he played on temporary permits for five games – two in the seniors and three in the reserves.
Later that year he returned to North Ballarat and playing on the wing was best afield in the losing side. Looking on was Allan Jeans who convinced him to play the second half of 1978 with the Saints. He was used as a forward pocket, half forward and rover in his first six games and a couple of years later told a reporter.
“A bloke was getting beaten in the back pocket and they switched me there. I did well, so was there ever since”.
Those last seven games resulted in him winning the Most Improved trophy for 1978. He then played all but one game across the 1979 and 1980 seasons winning his two best and fairests and state honours along the way.
His ball winning ability and efficient usage prompted the struggling Saints to try and utilise his talents further up the field. The move robbed the side of a strength as he was not always as effective in the new role, yet he still ran sixth in the 1981 best and fairest count. He had a patchy season in 1982 and there were rumours that Richmond was keen to sign him.
There was also a long stint in the reserves during 1983 and Richmond secured him for the following year, but he only had one senior appearance for the Tigers, and didn’t complete the season as his job required a move to Tasmania. He would later coach East Launceston and North Launceston and was a member of the Tasmanian team in 1985 and 1986. There is a photo on the internet of Jeff Dunne tackling the opposing captain in an NTFA game with a young teammate named Peter Gutwein in support. Today Peter Gutwein is the Tasmanian premier.
On one famous occasion Jeff Dunne was so incensed with the umpiring in an East Launceston game that he asked his players to stage a sit-down protest on the ground and 10 of the players complied with the request at the 25 minute mark of the last quarter. It must have been extremely poor umpiring to rile the mild-mannered Jeff to that extent.
He always looked after his teammates, and last year he came to Victoria with the intention of being at the Saints past player lunch for men from the 1980s. But when he heard his great mate Graeme Gellie was in hospital he went there to catch up.
That typified a man who has left us far too soon.
Vale Jeff Dunne.