He drafted Patrick Dangerfield, against the tide of South Australian opinion, and plucked Rory Sloane from the lees of the draft 12 months later. But Matthew Rendell's impressive record as recruiter did not buy him immunity from the COVID-19 crisis that has scuppered so many AFL careers.
Late in the week after the strange crowd-less round one, Collingwood informed Rendell, 61 next weekend, that his position – already downgraded to a part-time role assessing under-16s and 17s – was a casualty of the coronavirus shutdown, as even the powerful Pies were compelled to shed staff.
Matthew Rendell pictured speaking to Saints players as assistant coach in 2005. Credit:Getty Images
Without a job for the first time since his football journey began in Adelaide in the late '70s, Rendell is among the multitudes who've applied for the government's JobSeeker allowance. While he doesn't know what comes next, he's prepared to do whatever's necessary.
"Like a lot of people out there, nothing's beneath me. I don 't care. I've done labouring … It doesn't worry me. You just do what you've got to do," he said.
Rendell's preference, obviously, would be to remain in recruiting, which the former Fitzroy captain, St Kilda assistant coach/football manager and ex-Adelaide recruiting boss loved more than coaching. He knows this will be hard.
"Hopefully I can stay involved in one way or another somehow, but it's going to pretty difficult next year so, I would have thought," he said.
"Impossible this year, highly unlikely next year."
Rendell's exit from Collingwood barely registered outside of Collingwood and the clubby recruiting fraternity. It was a contrast to the sound and fury that accompanied his departure from the Crows in 2012, when The Age's Michael Gleeson revealed that Rendell had told AFL community engagement manager Jason Mifsud that the difficulties facing Indigenous players had reached the stage where it was preferable if they had one white parent.
These ill-chosen comments resulted in Rendell's removal as recruiting manager of the Crows, a decision Adelaide made at the behest of then AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou, who placed great store in the league's record on racial tolerance. Rendell acknowledges he chose his words poorly, but insists his intention – the whole conversation with Mifsud, whom he knew from their St Kilda days – was about assisting Indigenous players in making the grade.
"My whole thoughts and conversation and everything was about trying to help, you know, get Aboriginals through the system easier, because it is difficult for them, especially early," Rendell said.
Matthew Rendell playing for Fitzroy in 1991.Credit:The Age
The exit from Adelaide was the nadir of his career, which had also seen tumult at Fitzroy, where he played in strong teams and captained the club from 1985 until 1987, at Brisbane (1992) as player and Melbourne, where Neil Balme was sacked and Rendell lost his reserves coaching job to Chris Fagan. There was further turbulence at the Saints, where he was aligned with Grant Thomas – the greatest influence on his career, Rendell said – prior to the coach's sudden sacking.
The high point – certainly an event Rendell can point to as an unconditional success – was the first player he ever drafted, with Adelaide's first pick of 2007: Dangerfield. Rendell and his offsider Hamish Ogilvie went against South Australian exhortations for Brad Ebert, a local (albeit from Port Adelaide), instead of the Moggs Creek kid, who had told them he would stay home on the surf coast for another year to finish year 12. "[It] caused a fair bit of angst for the first few months there," he said.
Rendell recalled that he'd also sought to draft Sloane, another Victorian, with a late pick in the same year (2007). "I went to pick him that year actually, as a late pick. I got trumped by the coach [Neil Craig] at the time," he said.
"Fortunately he was still there at pick 44 the following year."
Phil Davis was another success (pick 10 in 2008) and another gun the Crows lost. Rendell counted on Davis a) captaining the Crows and b) assisting them in keeping Dangerfield. "I thought picking Phil Davis would help that connection there. And certainly they became great friends … best-laid plans," he said.
Rendell is renowned for his forthright views, a candour that has given him grief.
"He's an open book," said old Fitzroy mate and fellow recruiter, Scott Clayton. "If you asked for his PIN number on his [bank] card, he'd give it to you."
Rendell predicted that the Suns and Giants would win multiple flags, and reckons coaches matter less than recruiters and fitness/conditioning experts. He felt Collingwood, prior to the club review of 2017, had "a culture of mistrust".
And he is staunch in his defence of "Thommo", a commanding, yet polarising figure at St Kilda when "Bundy" – a nickname derived from monstrous wrestler King Kong Bundy – combined assistant coaching duties with the role of footy manager. It was a low-cost footy operation that, in Rendell's mind, demonstrates that clubs can succeed without the likes of game analysis staff. "Lovely people, don't need them," he said.
Rendell himself wasn't needed, as Collingwood, like all clubs, began slashing. "The phone call didn't really surprise me … they're going to have to find $3 million in the footy department. I won't be the only one going," he said.
He won't be.
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