AFLQ Hall of Fame Legend John Blair reached another significant milestone on the weekend when he coached his 400th game of senior football in Aspley’s win over Eastlake.
Blair, who has been one of Queensland football’s most significant figures since his arrival in 1981, achieved everything as a player including the Grogan Medal in 1982, but it is as a coach that he has left an indelible imprint.
After failing to secure a flag in his first stint at Morningside as a player coach, despite leading the team to three consecutive grand finals, Blair would have to wait until 1988 at Zillmere to taste premiership success.
However, it was his return to Morningside in 2002 as coach that sealed his legacy as one of the most respected figures in Queensland football.
From 2003 to 2011, Morningside would go onto win four premierships, while finishing no lower than third during that time.
However, before his triumphant return to Morningside, Blair had less successful stints with Sandgate and the Western Magpies as a coach, which left him initially “unsure” about taking up the offer from Aspley.
After spending 12 months out of the game following his retirement from Morningside, Blair said he initially doubted whether he had the commitment and passion to coach at another club.
“You go into (coaching another club) with a little bit of doubt even though you believe you can coach,” Blair said.
“I went in a little doubtful at Aspley, but the support people have been fantastic and it has been one of the best decisions of my football career.
“The people that I’m involved with in the football department are fully committed to development and success.
“They want to make the Aspley brand bigger and I’m more than happy to be part of that group that’s helping (to do that).”
Aspley’s Football Operations Manager Mark Perkins said Blair had been doing more than helping, and by securing him believed they had found the best available coach in Queensland.
“The club’s decision to secure the best coach in Queensland and coax him out of retirement has had a massive impact on Aspley as a whole.
“Having someone who is respected so much across Queensland is one thing, but it’s not just his ability to be a great coach, it’s also his ability to manage an entire group of people, whether it be coaches or players, which is his greatest attribute.”
Perkins said while Blair can come across as quite gruff to people outside the football club because of his reputation as a player, the internal image he portrays is completely different.
“He (Blair) has got the big deep voice, and the presence from the way he used to play but he’s a bit of a gentle giant,” he said.
“He’s not serious, we have a good laugh and we have a terrific environment at Aspley where we know when to take things seriously and when to lighten things up.
“’Blairy’ is terrific at being able to add that to the group, and to create an environment where players are comfortable to express themselves on and off the field which is part of the reason we’ve been so successful.”
In his time as a senior coach, Blair has mentored current AFL players including David Armitage, Courtenay Dempsey and Tom Hickey, amongst a collection of nine players in total, which is a reflection on Blair’s ability to mentor younger players.
The development of young talent is the area of coaching which Blair said he found to be the most “enjoyable” aspect of the job.
“The most enjoyable (part of coaching) is to see players develop both as footballers and human beings,” he said.
“To have a role at any level of coaching, you’re going to have some influence over how people develop as people and members of the community.
“It’s been tremendous to have a high number of blokes who have gone off to play AFL footy, although a lot of them would have achieved that no matter what because they are goal-oriented and well driven.
While Blair spent time with both the Queensland under-18 and under-21 teams, he said the opportunity to coach local football clubs to senior premierships was his most rewarding experience.
“I love what club footy represents, and that’s a sense of identity and having players caring and working for each other,” he said.
“I also get on pretty well with most of the players I’ve coached over the years, or been involved with, providing their fair dinkum about having a go.”
This has been evident in his time at Aspley where a number of players have followed him after experiencing his coaching at Morningside including John Williams, Austin Lucy, Henry Joyce and Ryan Holman.
And while there has been no official announcement regarding Blair’s coaching intentions for 2015, Perkins said both parties were interested in extending the relationship.
“It’d be fair to say that John Blair’s tenure at Aspley will be determined more than likely by John Blair,” he said.
“Unless something drastic happens, and he’s indicated that he’s keen to coach on, we’d certainly love to have him for a few more years.”