For how long have you been hearing about this record?
Tony (313 games): It’s been coming for a while, hasn’t it? As it’s been getting closer and closer I’ve been getting a few smart little text messages from him, letting me know all about it. He’s used the public arena very well when he’s been interviewed, and talked it up there as well. But it’s a great effort. He says he’s going to have bragging rights coming into our Christmas function now, but I do need to remind him that he’s not a premiership captain and that he’s never been King of Moomba.
Rhyce (237 games): To be honest, we’ve spoken about that kind of stuff all the way through and always known how many games each other has played. There’s been lots of talk over the years. I knew I had absolutely no chance of keeping him from getting past me. But I think last year was the year where we thought, Heath’s going to break it, and no-one’s surprised because he’s such a tough bugger. People don’t understand how much he’s gone through over the years from a physical point of view, so he’s done a great job to play this many games and I’m really proud of him. It’s a huge moment for us as a family. A couple of years ago I think we were the first family to get to 1000 games, and it was a really special thing for us to achieve that and to share that as a family. So to see Heath go on and break the record this weekend is bloody awesome.
Ray (146 games): He’s been going on about it for a couple of years now. All in a jovial way, of course. Once he started to see in his sights that he was a chance to topple Tony, I think it made him more eager to keep getting through preseasons and keep trying to get a game.
Neville (43 games): He’s been carrying on about it for at least two years now, all in good fun. I feel a bit bad for him that there won’t be a big crowd there on the day. He’s a bit of a show pony, Heath, and no crowd makes it a bit hard for him. I actually think it’s a good thing, because we won’t have to listen to Tony go on about it anymore. And don’t worry, Heath will make him cop it. We all will.
What do you admire most about Heath as a player?
Tony: He’s a competitive beast. He hates getting beaten. You can see it in him any time he goes on the ground, he loves being involved in the contest. And aside from that, he’s just a very good player. He uses the wall beautifully, he reads the play well, he does it all. He waddles like a duck, but he’s super quick. And he’s been so durable. He makes his mistakes, but you couldn’t want much more in a player. He’s got the lot. I would have liked to have played with Heath.
Rhyce: I don’t think it’s actually a physical skill that I like most; what I love about my brother is something we were taught from a young age about knowing the game and reading the game. I know Heath is a ratbag and I know he’s a bit of a clown, but I think he has one of the smartest footy brains in the game. His understanding of where to be and when to be there, and his understanding of where his teammates need to be, is just exceptional. I admire that about him. He sees stuff no-one else does, and that’s what makes him such a good player. Even with the Smother of the Century, as he calls it, the decision he makes 10 or 15 seconds before that actual moment is even more special. He made a really quick decision to go, and he got there and made the play, but I love that he saw it coming and decided to do it more than the actual act, in some ways. It wasn’t just “I’m coming,” if you look at the replay he’s actually snuck up behind Nick Riewoldt so that if Riewoldt had turned left initially, he wouldn’t even have seen him. People don’t see that and people really don’t care, because all Heath talks about is the bloody smother. But it was very clever.
Ray: Even when he was playing in the under-10s at Diamond Creek he’s just had this passion to play and passion to win. He was a little buddha back then, a little tubby thing, but he used to love getting in there and having a go, and he was always noted for being tough and hard. I think he enjoyed tackling more than trying to get a kick, back then, and that could still be the case. His passion for the game and his will to win, that’s stood out all the way through, it really has. I’m a terrible watcher because I sit there and fidget and watch every kick, not just Heath’s, but you just want your boy to go out there and do his best and he’s done that for a long time now. Heath’s always been one of those blokes who always puts the team first. That’s how it should always be, but I love that about him.
Neville: He’s fearless, there’s no doubt about that. I love the way he gives directions to people and looks after his teammates all the time. I like to call him a traffic cop. If he makes a blue he gets over it, and he just seems to love his footy and enjoy the good times. He’s been talking about that smother in the grand final ever since it happened and he’ll be going on about that forever, I’m sure. I love how he’s relaxed and nonchalant but courageous and competitive and passionate at the same time. He’s good fun to watch, Heath.
What do you love about him as a person?
Tony: He’s the complete opposite to Rhyce. Rhyce is fairly quiet and sort of humble, and you don’t get that with Heathy. But he’s great with people. Socially, everyone loves Heath, he’s a bubbly sort of bloke and everyone likes being around him. He likes a joke and is a bit of a character. As a kid he could never sit down and he was always going. He was like a fart in a bottle, if I’m allowed to say that. And he’s always good fun. They called him part of the Rat Pack and he stuffed up a couple of times, but geez, if you had him at your club you’d love just having him there. You feel happy when you’re around him.
Rhyce: His care for his family and friends is exceptional. He’s the most caring person I know and he puts everyone before himself. I know some people wouldn’t think that, seeing him from the outside, but he does. He cares about everyone and that’s his most endearing feature. We’re obviously really tight and it’s been really hard over the last two years because I’m obviously coaching at North which takes up a lot of my time, and Heath’s still in Sydney, so we don’t have the same amount of time for each other that we’re used to having. That’s been hard to deal with because he’s my best mate and I love him to bits. But he’s always checking in on me, making sure I’m OK, and he’s a champion like that.
Ray: Heath is a very generous person. And I’m not talking about money, it’s about what he does, and who and what he cares about. He has time for everyone, he does things for people, and the other thing is I just enjoy his humour. I always have. He can be serious - and as soon as he gets across the line he’s serious - but he’s a happy, jovial person who loves to play footy and wants to have a bit of fun. It makes life easier for him, when he’s having fun. So his generosity plus the humour that he brings to our family and brings to a lot of people’s lives, that’s what makes Heath special. It’s a credit to him and it’s something about him that has never, ever changed.
Neville: He loves a beer and I like a beer so we have that in common, but he might more be into the red wine now. And he’s just fun to be around. Nothing ever troubles him, he’s always cracking jokes and when you’re around Heath you know it’s going to be good fun. You can hang shit on him, he’ll hang shit on you and it’s all good fun. That’s the way he is. He’s also stupid, but stupid fun is still good fun. I love the kid.
Where did you have him covered as a player?
Tony: Well, look, he plays in defence and doesn’t man up. And he kicks it to himself out from the goal square and runs on and gets a stat. I had to work for my stats. I don’t know if he could name any of his opponents over his whole career, really.
Rhyce: I was definitely faster than him, no doubt. He’ll say otherwise but I was way faster. And he claims the bouncing trend but I reckon I started it, so I’ll take that as well. But he’s a way better player than me and I want you to write that because then he can’t keep asking me if he’s better than me.
Ray: Well, I captained Collingwood, put it that way…. But that’s the only thing. If I think about football ability, I was known for having a bit of pace and being a good kick, things like that. But I think Heath has both those areas covered. I don’t think Collingwood or the Giants could imagine what life would be like if he was captain, so that’s one thing Tony and I have over him. Whether he wanted that or not I don’t know, but it definitely would have been interesting.
Neville: Geez, probably nothing. I might have been a better kick than Heath. Not as many out-on-the-fulls. But that’s about it, I think he’s got me covered in most other areas. He’s watched a lot more and he’s under a lot more pressure than I ever was. I enjoyed my footy but I was in and out pretty quick. He’s lasted forever and he could go again next year, no doubt.
What do you see for Future Heath?
Tony: I think he could play for another year. It depends on him and if he won a premiership he’d probably pull the pin, but because we’re not going to have as much football this season and the games are shorter, I think you could get another year out of him. I’d just love to see him go out on top, with a premiership or just doing it his way, because that’s how Heath has always done things. And past that, who knows. Maybe the media. But I saw the video he did after the game in the rooms the other week and Heath, you really need to get a new joke book.
Rhyce: I’m not sure actually. I think it’s a bit up in the air for him. He has a really smart footy brain and I actually think he’d be a really good footy manager. He sees that side of it, he’s confrontational and wouldn’t be scared to have those hard conversations, but he’s also got empathy and he’s smart. He’s good with numbers because he’s been counting his money ever since he went to GWS, so that wouldn’t be an issue. I could see him doing that but he also loves his property and has a couple of properties with his mates, so he might get more into that. Whatever he does he’ll be successful, because he’s just a competitor and he has that drive to do well.
Ray: I was only thinking this morning, could be go ‘round again? The way footy’s going these days, if your body is good enough you can just keep going. You’re not playing 120 or 130 minutes, like it used to be. So you never know. But past playing, I could see him staying involved in footy. I nearly fell over one night when Bruce McAvaney was commentating and said Heath was one of the smartest players to play football. I thought, ‘Bruce, you haven’t lived with him!” But he’s matured and he’s been around footy clubs for a long time, so whether he wants to go down the coaching path or get involved in the media somehow, I could see him hanging around. The one thing he’ll do is make up his own mind, whenever the time comes.
Neville: Heath will go missing for six weeks, maybe eight. We won’t see him, we won’t hear from him and he won’t worry about nothin'. Then he’ll resurface with some big idea for what he wants to do next, and he’ll go and do it. I’m sure that when footy finishes he’s going to enjoy life, with no pressure on him whatsoever. He’ll get out there and enjoy himself, there’s no doubt about that. He’s a great kid.