SHOW DOWN

THEY HAD BEEN MATES FOR 35 YEARS AND SET UP ONE OF SA’S MOST PROM­I­NENT CHAR­I­TIES. NOW CHRIS McDER­MOTT SPEAKS ABOUT THE BAT­TLE OF WILLS WHICH ENDED HIS FRIEND­SHIP WITH TONY McGUIN­NESS

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - FEATURE -

MICHAEL McGUIRE per­son. The foot­ball me­mory of him is of the nuggetty foot­baller, end­lessly dish­ing out hand­balls to the flashier play­ers run­ning past. McGuin­ness was of­ten that player. To­gether they built a foun­da­tion that quickly be­came an Ade­laide icon. It raised mil­lions for chil­dren with can­cer at the Women’s and Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal, hosted many suc­cess­ful fundrais­ers and in­sti­gated that sta­ple of South Aus­tralian sport­ing life, the an­nual Slow­down game fea­tur­ing past play­ers of Ade­laide and Port Ade­laide.

But as the foun­da­tion grew, the friend­ship stalled. In part it was in­evitable as their lives went in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions af­ter foot­ball. They had dif­fer­ent busi­ness and me­dia in­ter­ests. Both got mar­ried and had chil­dren. If it hadn’t been for the foun­da­tion, they may have drifted apart, meet­ing only at foot­ball re­unions.

Some close ob­servers of the pair be­lieve that in the past three years or so the friend­ship took a sharp turn for the worse, co­in­cid­ing with McGuin­ness be­com­ing the foun­da­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor af­ter he sold his in­ter­est in the Rowe & Jar­man sport store chain in 2006, mak­ing mil­lions of dol­lars in the process. Var­i­ously de­scribed by friends and en­e­mies alike as a “type A” per­son­al­ity and dif­fi­cult to work for, McGuin­ness over­saw a sub­stan­tial turnover in staff, up­set­ting many peo­ple, in­clud­ing McDer­mott, in the process. The up­side was steady growth in the foun­da­tion’s in­come and do­na­tions.

The first pub­lic cracks in the re­la­tion­ship ap­peared in March when McGuin­ness stood down from the dayto-day run­ning of the or­gan­i­sa­tion for “per­sonal and health rea­sons”. At the time it was pre­sented as an op­por­tu­nity for McDer­mott to be­come more in­volved in man­ag­ing the char­ity. Now he is the last man stand­ing and knows the next few months are vi­tal for the foun­da­tion’s sur­vival.

So, only 10 days af­ter McGuin­ness’s res­ig­na­tion, McDer­mott, a glass of red wine in hand, is work­ing a small con­fer­ence room in the Ren­dezvous Al­le­gra Ho­tel in the city. This is the start of his mis­sion to re­build and re-badge McGuin­ness McDer­mott as the Lit­tle He­roes Foun­da­tion. McDer­mott seems re­laxed, if some­what worn out, by the events of the past week. He is here to sell the new foun­da­tion to the peo­ple who have pro­vided the money which has driven the char­ity since it started in 1996. There are about 40 of them in the room tonight. Spon­sors, com­mer­cial part­ners, their hus­bands, wives and kids. De­spite the trou­bles of the past week he seems to be among friends. One man yells out “Good on you Chris” as he gets up to speak.

Dressed ca­su­ally in jeans and a white Lit­tle He­roes polo shirt, McDer­mott puts on his glasses and talks about the fu­ture. But he can’t ig­nore the past. “The last five months for us have been unique,” McDer­mott says with a de­gree of un­der­state­ment. “It has been a very dif­fi­cult time for the foun­da­tion. It has been a very un­com­fort­able place to work in.”

An op­ti­mist by na­ture, McDer­mott talks about his plans, how out of the ru­ins of the McGuin­ness McDer­mott Foun­da­tion the Lit­tle He­roes Foun­da­tion will emerge as a stronger, more na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tion that will help more sick kids. While he tries to bury the past, McDer­mott makes no at­tempt to air­brush it. “Tony” gets sev­eral men­tions and McDer­mott says their “his­tory is some­thing we will never ig­nore and we will al­ways be proud of”. McDer­mott leaves the lectern to loud ap­plause. He seems re­lieved it’s over. The crowd are happy for him and re­turn to their red wine and rare beef canapés. But there’s no doubt it’s been a very try­ing time for McDer­mott.

The talk about McGuin­ness had been go­ing on for

Tony McGuin­ness

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