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December 18, 2017 8:40 PM

Neil Balme as GM of Football in 2014

Neil Balme as GM of Football in 2014

The Geelong Football Club has recognised the nearly 50-year contribution to the game made by Neil Balme by awarding him the RJ Hickey award at tonight’s Annual General Meeting.

Balme who has enjoyed success as a player, coach and administrator, has made significant contributions at every stop in his career.

“This is a tremendous honour and I am humbled to have been recognised for my contributions to the game by the Geelong Football Club,” Balme said.

“It is significant in many ways, particularly as I’m now working at Richmond. I have been lucky to spend so much of my life as part of this great game and to be seen to have made a positive contribution.

“My time at Geelong was among the best that I have had in the game. There are so many great people here, many of whom are attending tonight. The relationships that you build through the game in are in many ways the best thing about working in football. My time at Geelong is very dear to me, the friendships that were built and endure regardless of where we work later on, are meaningful beyond the wins and losses.

“I would like to thank the club for this honour and for what they did for me during my time here. Both Carmel and I have nothing but great memories of our time at the Cats. This is a truly great club.”

As a player Balme broke into WAFL ranks as a 16 year old, taking on Polly Farmer while playing for Subiaco. A move east by his family saw the teenage Balme heavily recruited, and he chose Punt Road as his new home.

Balme went onto play 159 games with the Tigers, and was a key member of the 1973 and 1974 premiership teams. He was at his best in finals, booting 30 goals in 16 finals matches. Knee issues saw Balme retire as a player at just 27 years of age, and he immediately entered the coaching ranks, taking over at SANFL club Norwood in 1980. He immediately led the Redlegs to the Grand Final and then landed premierships in 1982 and 1984. Over his tenure with Norwood, the club contested the finals in all 11 seasons. Balme then took on the challenging task of guiding the merged Woodville-West Torrens club through its inaugural season, staying for two seasons that saw the new club in the finals both years.

After turning down multiple opportunities to coach in the AFL, Balme took up the reigns as Melbourne coach in 1993. In five seasons, Balme led the Dees through 98 games before moving onto the world of football administration. Balme joined Collingwood as its general manager of football operations, and remained in the role until the end of the 2006 season. During his period with the club, Collingwood rebuilt its list and twice made it through to the grand final.

He made the move to Geelong at the end 2006, and oversaw a football department that enjoyed unpanelled success over the next eight years. The Cats won three premierships and won an amazing 79.2% of its matches. He returned to Collingwood in 2015 and spent two seasons as the head of football, before moving back to Punt Road for the past season, where he was at the helm as Richmond broke a 37-year premiership drought.

Over his 49 years at the highest levels of football, Balme has seen his teams reach the finals 33 times, play in 13 grand finals and win eight premierships.