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The Age

Tigers' history backs Miller

Date: 04/12/2004
Words: 1058
Source: AGE
          Publication: The Age
Section: Sport
Page: 4
Greg Miller is seen by success-starved Tiger fans as a potential saviour, reports Rohan Connolly.

AS REVERED as are the many champions who have pulled on the Richmond guernsey over the years, some of the most important figures in the Tigers' history have left little or no impression upon the club as players.

Tom Hafey coached Richmond to four premierships after an unspectacular 67-game career as a dour defender.

His right-hand man as coach, the late Graeme Richmond, widely regarded as the club's father figure, became one of the most powerful men not only at Punt Road, but the football world, after failing to make it past the Tigers' thirds. And 30 or so years on, history seems to be repeating itself.

Greg Miller was a young defender who arrived at Richmond looking for a game in the early 1970s, but found only rejection. Now an administrator saddled with the enormous task of revitalising a former giant chronically unsuccessful for more than two decades, Miller has the chance to leave an impression upon the Tigers far exceeding anything of which he was capable on the field.

The Richmond football director's decision to run for the board on president Clinton Casey's ticket could force him to fall on his sword and accept rejection from the Tigers a second time.

But victory will leave Miller not only employed, but with power and influence over the entire club the likes of which haven't been seen since the passing of Graeme Richmond nearly a decade-and-a-half ago.

For an army of frustrated Tiger fans, Miller has come to represent a potential saviour of their club without having ever earned a kick on their behalf.

He is the man who masterminded possibly the greatest recruiting coup in football history, the delivery of Wayne Carey and John Longmire to North Melbourne for chicken feed from Sydney's own recruiting backyard.

Later, he oversaw an outfit that continued to outperform the more resourced clubs despite running on the smell of an oily rag. The sort of credentials the Tiger hordes believe can finally drag their club into the era of professional football.

Casey did not need much convincing when two years ago he spoke to Miller's old mentor, and the man who lured a then highly disenchanted Swans' official to North in the late 1980s, Ron Joseph.

"Clinton came to see me and asked who he might reach out to to get help for Richmond on the football side of things, and I had no hesitation in recommending Greg," Joseph recalled.

"He was a top recruiter, and still is, and his great strength is the ability to see 15-year-old kids and see something in them that a lot of recruiters can't. His only equal in the AFL is Scott Clayton (who works for the Western Bulldogs)."

It was an ability that certainly came to the fore in helping the Roos snaffle the signatures of one of the best handful of players the game has seen in Carey, and a Coleman medallist in Longmire, a deal that remains the masterpiece of Miller's catalogue of work.

"Greg first saw Wayne and I when we were about 12, playing for NSW in the primary school state carnival in Darwin," Longmire said.

"He saw us again a few years later when Wayne was playing in South Australia and I was in Corowa, and realised it was the same kids."

Miller also knew both were residentially tied to the Swans, but pressed on regardless. He pleaded and won a release for Carey from then Sydney general manager Ron Thomas on the steps of the old VFL House. Then he and Joseph (North's general manager) went to work on Longmire.

"I met them in the social club at Lavington after a trial game. Greg and Ron both went into their recruiting modes, which was very interesting," Longmire chuckled.

"They just went as hard as they could as quickly as they could, they didn't leave any stone unturned."

That "strike while the iron is hot" mentality has occasionally seen Miller the administrator criticised for failing to dot the I's and cross the T's, examples cited by the Kangaroos' botched push into Sydney a few years back, and last week's failed bid to install Rex Hunt on the Casey ticket when it emerged the broadcaster was ineligible because he wasn't a paid-up member.

But his weight of football knowledge and the workings of the industry still win him far more admirers than critics. "In those days, he probably knew the AFL rules better than the AFL," says former Kangaroo coach Wayne Schimmelbusch.

"He always knew the rules back to front, which meant North was always doing things that probably no other club had thought of. The AFL would say: 'You can't do that', and Greg would just say: 'We can, go back and check the rules'."

Schimmelbusch also remembers Miller's loyalty to both he and his club. "He was very supportive. He worked long hours, and hard, didn't get a lot of pay, and at times didn't get paid at all because the club couldn't afford it. That's the sort of thing he was prepared to do to help the club."

The former North great believes Miller would have been better off not throwing his hat into the Richmond election fight, but understands why. "He can see it destroying the club, and that if Richmond is going to be any good next year, he has to get this thing sorted out one way or another pretty quick," Schimmelbusch said.

That is Miller's way, one of which the Tigers will see a lot more should his electoral gamble pay off. Longmire says an appropriate motto for the man he has known since childhood is: "Do whatever it takes."

It won't be lost on Tiger fans desperately hoping for their club to once more become a feared giant of the competition, that is precisely the sort of creed by which the Tigers' last great powerbroker, Graeme Richmond, also lived.

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