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Vale Phil Walsh, 1960-2015

IN the wake of the tragic death of Senior Adelaide Crows Coach, Phil Walsh, there has been an outpouring of countless tributes across social media from current and former AFL personalities, colleagues, friends and family.

The Adelaide-Geelong match, which had been scheduled to take place at Adelaide Oval on Sunday July 05, has been abandoned, and the teams share two points each (the same as for a draw), as the official rules dictate. The rest of the Round 14 games go ahead as planned.

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan expressed it would “not be fair to ask the young men at the Adelaide Crows or the Geelong Cats to play in these circumstances,” and while the postponement of the seven other matches was considered, McLachlan and the rest of the AFL decision-making body agreed to give the games the green light.

“Clubs, members and supporters will gather in the spirit of respectful mourning in support for the family and friends for a great football man,” he said.

So it is July 03, 2015 that marks another sad day on the AFL and Australian sporting calendar, as football and sport are put in perspective in the greater scheme of events, and Australians around the world are once again reminded of how quickly a human life can be taken away.

While there was minimal deliberation between clubs and AFL officials over whether or not the Adelaide-Geelong match should go ahead, debate among the general public echoed far louder, with a myriad of Twitter comments and responses to news articles suggesting both to play out the game, ‘as that is what Phil would have wanted,’ and to postpone the match, ‘to give family, friends and players time to mourn and grieve.’

Rightfully so, the decision to postpone the match is largely made based on whether the players are in the right frame of mind to compete and concentrate on a game of football under such circumstances.

While life goes on, it doesn’t necessarily have to go on within 72 hours – and time is required to shed tears for and mourn the passing of a mentor, father, husband and respected individual.

And while there may have been players who’d have felt a desire to play for their coach, allowing for some respite at a time where such heavy-hearted emotions are involved, is no doubt the most sensible resolution.

Following the death of former Adelaide senior assistant coach Dean Bailey on March 11, 2014, the Crows Round 1 match, scheduled for Thursday the 20th of March, went ahead as planned (coincidentally, it was against Geelong, too).

While difficult to resolve, shocks such as the passing of high profile individuals inherently force swift judgements to be made from the organisations those people have associated themselves with, and as caring and compassionate humans, we do as best we can when such tragedies strike.

But what is the most important message we learn from another needless act of violence?

The murder of sports athletes and other professional sports profiles is not new – a long line of frightening and harrowing events detailed and broadcasted in the public eye have taken place.

The Oscar Pistorius case, Steve McNair’s murder, the 1972 Munich Massacre and the O.J. Simpson case are just some notable adversities in sporting history.

Superintendent Des Bray, who was at the scene of Phil’s murder in the early hours of the morning, said the incident was tragic, regardless of Walsh’s status.

“It’s not even just that he’s a high profile person, it’s just absolutely terrible when families are torn apart in such tragic circumstances,” he said.

“For any family, regardless of who it is, [this is] one of the worst things you could imagine that could happen to you. The pain and suffering of the family is no different.”

We must also realise, while terribly distressing and disturbing, alarming incidents such as these are unfortunately, not uncommon.

And while ‘disbelief’ is so often the immediate reaction, such events are in fact something we must understand and deal with as effectively as possible, as opposed to responding with an inability to accept.

All those who knew, worked with and loved Phil Walsh have spoken of a man who truly cared for those around him, who truly got the best out of himself and who was truly passionate about football, life and his family.

He will be greatly missed.

Phil Walsh played 22 games with Collingwood, 40 games with Richmond, 60 games with Brisbane, served as a fitness coach for Geelong, an assistant coach and midfield manager for Port Adelaide, a strategy coach for West Coast and a senior coach for Adelaide.