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O Connell joins WA greats
John O'Connell and family. Pic: Ben Crabtree/WAN

Few people have contributed as much to WA football as John O'Connell.

Certainly few have had such an influence in so many different spheres.

At various times, he has been an outstanding player, an innovative coach, a lively radio caller and analyst, a broad-minded administrator, a premiership-winning president and the sire of three sons who would also make their mark at league level.

And when his name is announced this week as the latest member of the WA Football Hall of Fame, it is unlikely that there will be a more popular inductee, albeit a reluctant one.

"I'm dreading it," O'Connell admitted this week. "Is there any way they could just slip it to me and I could sneak off into the night?"

O'Connell will be joined by two other Claremont products in Ben Allan and Ashley McIntosh, who made their names as AFL premiership players and club champions, as well as WAFL premiership rovers Barry White and Herbie Screaigh.

The final induction will be umpire Grant Vernon, the first West Australian to control an AFL match and still the only local to officiate in 200 senior games.

Yet for all the many ground-breaking achievements of that group, it is unlikely they have been absorbed so deeply in football as the man who played for Claremont and Geelong, as well as both States, coached at Sunday league level, was WAFL general manager during the turbulent 1980s, was president of the Tigers when they won two flags and is still ever-present as a tireless club volunteer and adviser.

O'Connell will turn 80 the day after the presentation and has been intimately involved in football for most of those decades. But he still recognises that his elevation to the hall of fame will count among his most cherished achievements.

"My life in football has been full of thrills but of all of them, this is probably the biggest," he said.

"I remember vividly when I played my first league game and my first final game in Victoria as well as the thrill of any athletic achievement.

"Then there is the thrill of all the people you meet through football and the team spirit you try to engender and be part of. It has been a wonderful journey and I wouldn't swap it for all the tea in China.

"I still think it is the greatest game ever invented and while other people might argue, I think we owe a lot to Mr Wills and Mr Harrison."

Although a one-eyed South Fremantle fan as a boy, O'Connell joined Claremont, where he played 100 games before moving to Geelong as part of a swap with John Hyde.

His experiences were memorable but his timing was probably off, because he returned to Perth just before the Cats won the 1963 flag and then retired on the eve of Claremont's premiership success in 1964.

"I regret sometimes that I left Geelong when I did because three years later they won a premiership and then I retired at the age of 31 at Claremont and they won a flag the year after," he said.

"But we had a pretty indifferent year in 1963 and though (coach) Jim Conway asked me to come back, little did I know that it would be a premiership year.

"There are those little regrets but then again I might not have got a game with the new players coming through, especially in the Geelong situation with Polly (Farmer) going over there.

"They are mild regrets but then again other doors opened up. I went to Maddington and we won a premiership there and should have won another, and I coached a combined side against Geelong.

"One door shuts and another opens and that is the way it has been all my career."

O'Connell will be joined by wife Pam, their six children, including league-playing sons Peter, Michael and David, and most of their 14 grandchildren, including John Williams, who played for Essendon and Swan Districts, when he is inducted on Wednesday night.