Neale Daniher recipient of 2022 Outstanding Contribution to Victorian Sport Award

The most prestigious honour bestowed at the Victorian Sport Awards, the Outstanding Contribution to Victorian Sport Award is presented to an individual or organisation in recognition of outstanding achievement in, or contribution to, sport in Victoria.

The recipient of the 2022 Outstanding Contribution to Victorian Sport Award is co-founder and patron of the charity FightMND as well as a 220-game coach of the Melbourne Demons, Neale Daniher AO.

Since diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND) in 2013 and going public the following year, Neale has dedicated his life to educating Australians about the disease and raising money for research to treat and ultimately cure MND.

Neale has inspired the entire country through his determination to live life to the fullest and face the challenges that MND brings with courage and humour. He is also devoted to helping others who are suffering from the disease and those who may be diagnosed in the future.

Part of a famous footballing family, Neale and his three brothers, Terry, Anthony and Chris combined to play 752 games during their careers, the second most by a set of siblings. The foursome also made history in 1990 when they became the first quartet of brothers to play for the same team in a single VFL/AFL game.

Neale played 82 games for the Essendon Boomers before recurrent knee issues saw him make a move to the coaches box, serving as assistant coach during Essendon’s 1993 Premiership and at the Fremantle Dockers during the club’s first three seasons.

Neale then took the head coaching reins at Melbourne in 1998, holding the position for ten years which included a run to the Grand Final in 2000. In 2004, with Melbourne facing tough times both on and off the field, Neale earned the nickname, ‘The Reverend’, due to his impassioned preaching skills which not only boosted membership numbers and raised the profile of the club, but helped spark a streak of 14 wins from 18 games to start the season.

After 223 games, his time at the Demons came to an end in 2007. Neale wrapped his coaching career with a five-year stint as General Manager of Football Operations at the West Coast Eagles but was forced to stand down due to health reasons.

Co-founding FightMND in 2014, Neale and the organisation have raised over $50 million through donations, merchandise sales and a number of national events. These include the FightMND 27 Challenge which encourages Australians to set physical goals involving the number 27 (recognising the average life expectancy in months for a person diagnosed with MND) and Daniher’s Drive which is a four-day road trip around regional Victoria.

The organisation’s most recognised initiative is the Big Freeze which, now in its ninth year, is held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground prior to the King’s Birthday AFL match between Melbourne and Collingwood. Raising awareness and funds by sending celebrities down a slide into a pool of icy water, the event has attracted past and present AFL and AFLW players as well as coaches, commentators and Olympians. In the ensuing King’s Birthday match, the player judged best on ground is awarded the Neale Daniher Trophy.

The initiative has become a staple of the AFL calendar while Big Freeze beanies are now a common sight throughout Victoria with the entire state rallying around the cause.

While seeking a cure for the disease they call ‘The Beast’, FightMND has also invested $7 million into vital assistive equipment to help improve the quality of lives of Australians living with MND. Aiming to tame ‘The Beast’ as well as defeat it, they have helped develop national guidelines and frameworks of MND care for health professionals and carers, researched ways to improve and inform care for people living with MND and targeted support for those individuals as well as their families.

Neale Daniher AO says:

“It’s a wonderful honour to be named amongst some of this state’s great sports men and women, including my old mate Sheeds and Dees greats Jim Stynes and Ron Barassi.

“I think I owe sport more than it owes me, as it has been a huge part of my life since I was a teenager and given me such terrific life experiences.

“In many ways, my family and I feel we have received so much from sport, even more than we have contributed, but I do appreciate this award and thank the State Government of Victoria and Vicsport for the honour.

“This award allows me another opportunity to highlight the battle against The Beast, and I thank everyone who has been a part of that Fight and has purchased beanies and donated. We need to maintain our focus on beating this and for everyone to be ‘all-in’ to make sure that we find a way to overcome this insidious disease.”

The Hon. Daniel Andrews, Premier of Victoria says:

“Neale made his name on the sporting field, but his contribution to Victoria continues through his tireless work to fund research and find a cure for MND. He is an outstanding Victorian.”

The Hon. Ros Spence, Minister for Community Sport says:

“Football legend and tireless FightMND campaigner, Neale Daniher has made an outstanding contribution to Victorian life.

“This award provides us all with an opportunity to not only honour his achievements as a champion footballer and coach but also his outstanding efforts to tame the ‘Beast’.

“Neale has made a difference to the lives of thousands of Victorians and is thoroughly deserving of this accolade.”

Vicsport CEO Lisa Hasker says:

“Neale’s achievements within sport as a player and coach were amazing yet his work with FightMND has been even more incredible. Neale has worked tirelessly to support the cause and use the power of sport to promote the FightMND campaign while encouraging the entire Australian community to back his efforts.”

In addition to this accolade, Neale was previously named 2019 Victorian of the Year and was acknowledged with a Member of the Order of Australia in 2016 before being elevated to an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2021. As a player, he was named VFL Recruit of the Year in 1978, Essendon Best and Fairest in 1981 and captain of Essendon in 1982.

Neale Daniher will be presented with the Outstanding Contribution to Victorian Sport Award at the 2022 Victorian Sport Awards on Wednesday 7 June.

Tickets are now on sale for the 2022 Victorian Sport Awards and can be purchased via the Vicsport website, email or on (03) 9698 8100.

Event details:
Wednesday 7 June, 2023
Victory Room at Marvel Stadium

Finalists in the 19 nominated categories of the 2022 Victorian Sport Awards were announced on 18 April and can be found here. Winners will be announced on 7 June.

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