HIM ORME

CHRIS

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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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Chris McDer­mott

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