Norths Devils are mourning one of the club’s much-loved characters following the death of former coach Tommy Raudonikis.
The man who brought a bullock’s heart into the change rooms for the 1990 grand final also brought belief into a squad that almost pulled off one of the Devils’ finest moments.
In his first season as Devils coach, Raudonikis brought together a team not mentioned among the premiership favourites and sharpened them into a competition force.
The Devils finished fourth that year and stunned Easts in the knockout semi-final before toppling Redcliffe in the preliminary final.
Tommy’s men were again rank outsiders in the grand final but he had more tricks up his sleeve, producing a bullock’s heart from an old bag to use as his prop in a stirring pre-match speech at Lang Park.
The bullock’s heart hit the floor in the change rooms as Tommy urged his players on and the Devils shook the life out of Valleys, falling 17-16 when a late field goal sailed over despite Norths’ desperation.
“Tommy coached our club for two years but they’re two years we’ll never forget,” Devils chairman Peter Fraser said.
“It was a great experience for our players and supporters to watch Tommy up close. He was beloved around the club and he produced on the field.
“As a testament to Tommy, he left the club almost 30 years ago but he is still mentioned regularly when people talk about their favourite figures at the Devils and their favourite moments. He was one of a kind.”
Backrower Peter Elmore played for Raudonikis in the 1990 and 1991 seasons and recalls the influence that Raudonikis had on the Devils.
Elmore, now the principal at nearby Padua College, said Raudonikis left a strong impression on his players at Norths.
“He really was a unique character and his passion for football was matched by his passion for people off the field,” Elmore said.
“He did so many good deeds for people and he never sought any attention for those. He was a very thoughtful bloke who always kept an eye out for others.
“Players really played for him. He knew how to motivate a team and to get people playing together.
“Everyone has their stories about Tommy. There were different versions but they were all about the same legend.”
The nature of Raudonikis’ personality meant that the stories of his time at the club grew by the year as he went on to coach the Western Suburbs Magpies and the NSW State of Origin team.
Like the rumour that he had to send the bullock’s heart back to the butcher because it didn’t have enough blood in it.
Or the pre-grand final confrontation with Valleys coach, and late former Devil Ross Henrick, after Raudonikis reacted to some negative quotes to journalists.
In the end, the stories grew the legend of Raudonikis’ stint at the Devils.
“We’ll keep talking about him for years,” Fraser said.
“We were privileged to have him as a Devil.
“We send our deepest sympathies to the many people dear to Tommy.”