THE 29th Legend of the Australian Football Hall of Fame changed the game in a way different to all of his illustrious predecessors.

While 25 great players have lifted themselves above their peers with their combination of skill, tenacity, desire and bravery, and three coaches have defined the eras of their time with sustained success, the standards of John Kennedy senior bent an entire competition in the face of his will.

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Coming to Hawthorn in 1950 – a club that had been an easy beat for the full quarter-century of its VFL existence – his influence over an entire club would stretch to the manner in which all would conduct themselves both on and off the field, with no deviation.

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How all at Hawthorn are still expected now to conduct themselves. 

He would become the father of the 'family club' and is now officially a Legend of the Game.

03:42 Mins
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Hall of Fame Legend: John Kennedy snr

Hawthorn's spiritual father John Kennedy becomes the 29th Hall of Fame Legend

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'Set the example by your actions. Let your deeds recommend you'

As a fierce ruckman, four best and fairests across a 10-year career saw him captain the club and direct the lowly Hawks into September action for the first time in their history.

As a coach who both felt he could lead men and completely trust his philosophy on the game, a maiden flag came in his second year in charge in 1961. The drought broken, two more flags were annexed in 1971 and 1976.

His core values, both of life and of football, of team-first, don't complain, be humble, think of others, get up when you are down and never shirk an issue, on or off the field, were lived every day.

HAWTHORN PASSION Read John Kennedy's famous 1977 testimonial speech

The power of his standards radiated through an entire club and have lived in every senior Hawthorn person that has followed him.

Standards lived so strongly the traditional on-field power structure of the entire VFL and now AFL competition was altered forever.

A club that waited 36 years for its first premiership, has risen to be the pre-eminent power of the past 50 years, with a further 12 flags notched since 1971.

John Kennedy snr talks to Hawthorn players at Glenferrie Oval. Picture: AFL Photos

It cannot be argued this most recent half-century of Australian football at the elite level has been the age of the Hawks, with a tone established by the game's elder statesman, and the game's newest Legend.

Rising 92, Kennedy was nominated as a Legend at the February meeting of the Hall of Fame selection committee, with the honour immediately ratified by the AFL Commission and Chief Executive Gillon McLachlan dispatched to the Kennedy home in Camberwell to inform him in person. 

While he has slowed somewhat physically, his recall is sharp across seven decades of memories and the voice remains unmistakable. Powerful and commanding respect.

Kennedy was AFL Commission Chair in 1996 when the Hall of Fame was instituted, and he is the living jigsaw piece connected to all bar one of the game's 12 original Legends, missing only a link to Cazaly. 

He saw each of Bunton, Dyer and Pratt as a youngster, played against Barassi, Coleman, Farmer, Nicholls, Reynolds, Skilton and Whitten, and led Matthews as his coach.. 

John Kennedy snr runs out on the ground after Hawthorn's 1976 premiership win. Picture: AFL Photos

The tough beginnings

Named to debut in round one of the 1950 season, a first game 70 seasons ago is still clear in the mind.

"I thought I was a chance to make my debut when I first joined Hawthorn, but I wasn't sure.

"On the Thursday night, I made it into the side and I ran home from the club and my father and mother and their friends were playing cards in the house. I came in the door, didn't even pause to say 'good evening' or 'hello', but just ran into the room and yelled out, 'I'm in'. Goodness knows what they must have thought of me."

Even now, the lack of manners in his excitement still makes him wince, as he laughs with the memory.

More than 40 years after last coaching the Hawks, and more than three decades after a thoroughly enjoyable stint at North Melbourne, the Kennedy principles on how you win games remain the same

Best and Fairest in his first three seasons of League footy, a feat unmatched by any other Legend, the hunger for success grew quickly with just nine victories across those three years. Defeat was a regular companion, and it burned. 

It was three years before he experienced a win over Carlton. Five years to play in a win over either Essendon or Collingwood. The power clubs of the time were happy to beat up on the minnows, but Kennedy would invariably leave them with physical reminders of their day.

"I always liked the contest. Individually it was nice to win the best and fairest, but I didn't say any of that. 'When is the team going to win,' I used to say.

"When are we going to have a win? 

"It was three best and fairests in a badly losing side. There's nothing in it (the award) when you're in a losing side."

John Kennedy snr, with Alan Martello in the background, pleads to his Hawthorn troops. Picture: Archive

The coach, part one: A drought-breaking flag

The drive, which some of his teammates had, was what he wanted for all of the players, all of the time. He wanted to lead and at 31 was ready to coach, even if his first five games in charge were all losses.

"I was ready to coach because I wanted to coach so much.

"I had the desire to be captain and then I had the desire to lead and to be coach. I felt that I had something to give in the way of direction, and the way we should play.

"I wanted to stress the importance of the team winning, and not so much the importance of the individual success."

Once in charge, change came.

His words are always with me and guide me. He had such a strong code and never asked us to do something he would not do himself.

- David Parkin

Despite that early stumble in 1960, the Hawks headed the ladder going into the September of 1961, and belief surged through the group when they beat reigning premiers Melbourne by seven points in the second semi. A fortnight later, a comfortable win over Footscray in the Grand Final taught Kennedy the lesson of what the game really meant to so many people.

"Beating Melbourne in that second semi-final after they had won five of the last six premierships, I felt then we could do it in the Grand Final, no matter who we played.

"When we did win the Grand Final, little children as young as five and older people past 80 were coming up to me and saying thank-you and talking about our premiership and what it meant to them.

"You could see the joy. I thought then that if it can affect those groups, who were so different, in that way, it's something that other pastimes haven't got. I took that memory and I've never lost it," as he reflected on that first success.

"As a kid, I just wanted to play football. As I've grown older since that first premiership, the best thing you take out of football is the friends you meet and the memories you make."

John Kennedy snr celebrates a North Melbourne win in 1985. Picture: AFL Photos

The coach, part two: 'Don't think, do!'

Unimaginable now, Kennedy stepped away in 1963 after just four seasons in charge, coming off a Grand Final loss to the Cats, when he gained a significant promotion to be a school principal that required a move to the country. Back then, football fitted around working life.

Three years later, he would return to the role seamlessly and the ebbing of the tide in favour of Hawthorn, driven by their coach and leader, would grow to a tidal wave across the competition as a crop of young greats were nurtured under him.

All those great Hawthorn Hall-of-Famers at one time or another over the last 50 years have spoken of Kennedy setting their moral compass

He demanded the highest of fitness standards, trained with his players to set the example he wanted followed and moulded this youth into champions – Scott, Tuck, Matthews, Hudson, Knights, Moore among them.


"We had fine players and it was my job to set the example.

"Don't talk too much but set the example by your actions. Let us be judged by our actions as the winning or the losing is the ultimate satisfaction or disappointment."

Players gave him what they didn't know they had.

Six decades later, queries to his players on what Kennedy meant to their football and their lives, prompt immediate chimes from their past. A Kennedy story bounces into mind, or a line they've never forgotten.

"Don't think, do!" still echoes across the decades.

All those great Hawthorn Hall-of-Famers at one time or another over the last 50 years have spoken of Kennedy setting their moral compass.

David Parkin, who was given his debut by Kennedy in 1961, rose to be his premiership captain of 1971 and inherited the coaching role in 1977, goes further.

"Outside of my parents, John is the most important person in my life," Parkin says.

"His words are always with me and guide me. He had such a strong code and never asked us to do something he would not do himself."

More than 40 years after last coaching the Hawks, and more than three decades after a thoroughly enjoyable stint at North Melbourne, the Kennedy principles on how you win games remain the same.

"Firstly, you can't be anything unless you can get the ball.

"Secondly, you have to be in a position to get the ball and then use it properly. It's been said so long, but you still have to put it into practice."

John Kennedy snr with Alastair Clarkson and Hawthorn's 2013 premiership cup. Picture: AFL Photos

'Family and faith first, then comes the football after that'

Son John would play in the four flags in the 1980s, while grandson Josh now captains Sydney with distinction, and is a premiership player with the Swans.

He wanted each to make their own way in the game, without the burden of his time hanging over them.

"I've much preferred to stay at a distance and Allan (Jeans) used to say I was too much in the distance for John.

"Once or twice, I said what I thought was right, but then I got out of it and let them make their careers.

"They've done very well."

The football lineage is strong but of much greater importance to Kennedy is the strength of the full family unit, across children Maureen, John, Bernard and Patrick and their families – a brood now expanded to six grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

His beloved Dulcie passed away three years ago, leaving a hole that cannot be filled, but what the honour means to the family name is received gratefully.

"I think Dulcie would have had some pride, but she wouldn't have made a great fuss of things. She always expected I would be doing my best.

"Family and faith first, then comes the football after that. That is what we say."

Luke Hodge and John Kennedy snr at the 2013 Grand Final. Picture: AFL Photos

Footy's greats and lessons learned

Across more than two hours of questions filmed across several weeks for his ease, he is always engaged, but still wary of being led down tricky media paths he still won't travel decades after his last coaching days.

He won't separate out his players, lest he forget one, but concedes Matthews is the pea of the Hawks. 

He doesn't wish to offend any opposition greats by failing to laud one, but Coleman was a freak, Bartlett always gave his Hawthorn teams plenty of trouble, he would have loved to have had Hutchison in his side and Lockett was a player he always wanted to watch.

"What I valued in a footballer is that I wanted total commitment to the team winning, then some skill and then the capacity that after something may go wrong for him, that player would still want to fight on later to win the game." 

And what has learned from the longest time in the game of any of us.

"I hope I've learned to be tolerant. Winning and losing is both part of football and it is part of life, so you must be tolerant of what you have and what is in front of you."

As taping concludes, the manners he may forgotten 70 years ago in front of guests when he was named for his first game, come swiftly to the fore.

"Thank you for your courtesy and your goodwill."

Thank you to the 29th Legend of Australian Football.

John Kennedy career record

Played 164 games and scored 29 goals for Hawthorn: 1950-59
Club Captain: 1955-59
Club Best & Fairest: 1950, 1951, 1952, 1954
State Captain of Victoria: 1957
Played four State games for Victoria
Coached 412 games for Hawthorn and North Melbourne: 1957, 1960-63, 1967-76, 1985-89
Three-time VFL/AFL premiership coach: 1961, 1971, 1976
Two-time Night premiership coach: 1968, 1969
Coach of Victoria: 1973
Hawthorn Team of the Century: 2001 (Coach)
Inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 1996 (Coach)
Inducted into the Hawthorn Hall of Fame as a Legend in 2003
Chair, AFL Commission: 1993-97

Telstra Live Pass subscribers can watch the remaining three nights of the event on the AFL Live Official App from 8.30pm AEST on Tuesday and Wednesday, and 7.30pm AEST on Thursday. Fox Footy will also be broadcasting it at the same time.