CHRIS McDERMOTT ON THE BATTLE OF WILLS THAT DESTROYED A 35-YEAR FRIENDSHIP
McDermott was in a commentary box high above Brisbane’s famous Gabba ground on August 15, calling the Crows game against the Lions for Five AA, when his mobile phone began to buzz. It was the message he’d long been hoping for: Tony McGuinness would be resigning from the board of the McGuinness McDermott Foundation at 9.30am the next day.
The text – brief and to the point – marked the end of a brutal five months for the pair. Five months that saw a 35-year-old friendship crumble amid rumours about McGuinness’s relationship with the wife of a former Hells Angel and fierce disagreement about what it meant for the future of their charity. McDermott believed the foundation could not survive if McGuinness remained, while his partner believed it could.
As promised, McGuinness appeared at the foundation’s North Adelaide office the next morning. It was a meeting that lasted 15 minutes and, according to McDermott, “was probably as social and respectful as we had been to each other for a while”. “At that stage he was resigned to the outcome,” McDermott recalls exclusively to “One of the things he said was, ‘I understand that it’s the right thing to do’. It wasn’t confrontational, it was sad. It was genuinely sad.”
In an email, McGuinness confirms McDermott’s recollection of the last meeting but puts his comment in a different context – it wasn’t that he was right to go, it was just right that the pair had to split. “This remark was made in the context that the relationship between Chris McDermott and me meant that we would not be able to work together. One of us had to go.” It was him. In a city coffee shop McDermott searches for the right words to describe his emotion as his old friend walked out the door and out of a charity that has raised about $13 million for children with cancer in 14 years. At his first stab he comes up with “sad, but weirdly joyous”, but he backs away from that thinking it isn’t right. He settles on “relief”. “It was an ordinary five months for me. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for him,” he says.
McDermott had believed for some time that the foundation he built with McGuinness would have to evolve to survive. It would have to become less blokey, less focused on the duo whose names were on the door, more oriented towards the kids they wanted to help. But the crash of notoriety that hurried the change was not in the master plan. That it came at a time when the State Government is considering changes to the way charities operate, driven by a notion that the sector needs more scrutiny, only increased the tension.
Of course, it wasn’t always like this. For a long time McDermott and McGuinness appeared to be opposite sides of the same coin. Both shot to fame as footballers at Glenelg in the 1980s. Their paths diverged when McGuinness chose to pursue his career in Victoria with Footscray but they were re-united in 1991 for the birth of the Adelaide Football Club. McDermott was captain of that first Adelaide team and McGuinness followed him into the post four years later.
They both finished playing AFL at the end of the 1996 season when Malcolm Blight’s new broom swept the older players out of the club. However, by then they had started the McGuinness McDermott Foundation, borne out of their experience of helping sick kids during their time at the Crows.
McDermott is taller and leaner than you expect in
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