Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Leahy, Thomas Joseph (Tom) (1888–1964)

by Mervyn Agars

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Thomas Joseph (Tom) Leahy (1888-1964), Australian Rules footballer, was born on 13 January 1888 at Goodwood, Adelaide, son of George Joseph Leahy, carpenter and West Adelaide football supporter, and his wife Annie, née McKenzie. Tom was educated at Christian Brothers' College, Wakefield Street, where he captained the football team. Like his brothers, he was also a handball player and at 19 represented his State in Sydney. As a lad he had played football for Albert Park and in 1905 he played his first games for the West Adelaide team, of which his brother George was secretary. Two other brothers, Bernie and Vin, also played and largely because of the Leahys the struggling club became a power and won the premierships in 1908 and 1909, confirming its quality by winning the Australian club championship in 1908.

Late in 1909 a rift in the club caused the Leahys to transfer to North Adelaide, with Bernie as captain. Already established as a top ruckman in interstate matches following the 1908 carnival, Tom Leahy was an automatic selection for the 1911 and 1914 carnivals. He won the Magarey medal for South Australia's best and fairest player in 1913 and captained Norths in 1915, the last season before World War I halted competition until 1919. A warehouseman, on 29 November 1917 he married Agnes Shannon, shop assistant; they had one daughter.

Leahy became captain-coach of North Adelaide in 1919, when it was runner-up to Sturt for the premiership; he guided it to the flag next year and was named 'best afield' in the grand final. He made his fourth appearance in a carnival in 1921. That year he was defeated by one vote in the election of the club committee and retired as a player.

The 6 ft 4 in (193 cm), raw-boned Leahy had an iron constitution and massive hands; he was famous for holding the ball in one hand when preparing to kick. Also acknowledged as the greatest ruckman in the game, he was a consistent matchwinner in 200 home and interstate matches. A key figure in three premiership teams, he had been selected in every South Australian team from 1906 until 1921. He was suspended once, after being charged with striking a Norwood player in 1914. Leahy wrote to the press alleging unjust treatment and protested his innocence for the rest of his life. He claimed that in 1935 he accepted a position on the tribunal which heard charges against reported players, so that he could protect them from unwarranted suspensions.

After retiring he coached Norwood (to two premierships and a second) and other league teams. He was belatedly appointed a life member of the South Australian National Football League in 1945 and in 1944-64 was the resident officer at Football House, Hindmarsh Square. In 1946 he helped to form the Past Players and Officials Association; he also lectured and wrote about the evolution of the game. Though retiring, Leahy was courteous, obliging and always ready to help a young player. Scrupulously fair, he ignored attempted bribes.

He died in Royal Adelaide Hospital on 7 May 1964 and after a requiem Mass in St Francis Xavier's Cathedral was buried in Centennial Park cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • South Australian Football Budget, 19 Apr 1980
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 27 Sept 1924, 11 June 1958, 13 Apr 1959, 8 May 1964
  • private information.

Citation details

Mervyn Agars, 'Leahy, Thomas Joseph (Tom) (1888–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/leahy-thomas-joseph-tom-7135/text12313, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 17 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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