Mary Naish was a loving, saintly woman, who, besides looking after her husband Les, and their brood of six lively kids, had a variety of interests.
Football wasn’t one of them.
So when her son, Chris, a 15 year-old Year 10 student at Galen College, was selected for his first senior game with Wangaratta, she wasn’t exactly turning cartwheels. In fact, she was aghast at the thought that he would be thrust into the hurly-burly of Ovens and Murray football at such a tender age.
On occasions such as this, when her dander was up, her kids reckoned she was transformed into a 4 foot 11 inch firebrand.
It was Magpie coach Ray Card, who smoothed the waters. “Mrs.Naish,” he said, “I’ll give you my guarantee that I’ll keep him under my wing. He’ll be as safe as a church”.
Thus, a glittering career was born.
Naish was blooded for just the one game , against Myrtleford, as he had a busy program of Junior League and representative football that year, but the experts nodded sagely. It confirmed what they already knew – he was a star in the making………
Imagine a football-mad young boy, dreaming of emulating the deeds of his hero, Peter Daicos, being told that he was to refrain from any physical activity for three years.
That was the ‘torture’ inflicted upon the seven year-old Chris Naish when he contracted Perthe’s disease, a hip disorder that affects the top of the thigh bone.
And it was little wonder , when he fully recovered, that no-one could contain his enthusiasm and urge to improve his skills in the game that he loved.
It was obvious to junior followers that he had that something special . He was named in the All-Australian Teal Cup side, alongside Wayne Carey, Robert Harvey and Jose Romero and it was a given, after an excellent debut season with Wangaratta, that he would be keenly-sought.
Richmond picked him up with draft-selection number 5. Shortly afterwards, Tiger coach Kevin Bartlett paid a visit to the Park Lane residence of the Naish family to introduce himself to Chris’s folks.
“Mum had hardly heard of ‘KB’. All she was interested in was making sure her baby was going to be looked after. I wondered what she was going to say next. One thing she was adamant on, though. I had to do my Year 12 at Galen the next year “, Chris recalled.
Besides playing three or four Reserves games with the Tigers, he spent 1989 with Wangaratta and represented the O &M League during a fine season.
His AFL debut came on a sweltering March day in the underwhelming environs of the Brisbane Bears’ home-base, Carrara Stadium, in Round 1, 1990. It was one of four games that the developing youngster was to play in his first season.
From that point on he became a regular and lived up to Richmond’s high expectations of him in 143 quality games. He didn’t have the body to be a genuine mid-fielder, but made the forward flank his own, as a clever, inventive, creative player, with a penchant for kicking goals.
Under a succession of coaches – Bartlett, Alan Jeans, John Northey, Robert Walls and Geoff Geischen – he was involved in an era that didn’t yield a lot of success – apart from a memorable – 1995 season.
It was the Tigers’ first finals appearance since 1982 and they were to ultimately finish fourth, as they got on a roll under the guidance of the inspirational Northey.
Naish didn’t miss a game for three seasons during that period and probably produced the most outstanding football of his career.
At one stage he was pursued pretty keenly by the Sydney Swans, but rejected their advances and, soon after, experienced one of his greatest football thrills when he was selected to represent Victoria.
He had a mediocre 1997 season and played only 12 games, but, as a mild consolation, captained the Tigers Reserves side to the flag.
It was a bit of a surprise when Richmond released him to Port Adelaide. He produced steady form in his first season with the Power, but battled persistent hamstring niggles in 1998 and accepted the inevitable – that his nine-year AFL career was over.
He had played a total of 161 games in the ‘big time’ and booted 212 goals. There were few classier, or more opportunistic small forwards during his era.
Things fell into place perfectly for Chris Naish, post-football.
He studied Sports Business at University and was invited to do a traineeship with AFL Sportsready, an AFL-sponsored organisation.
Upon graduating, he permanently joined the group as a Project Manager, assisting AFL players in their transition to employment, post-retirement.
His expertise in this field led to his appointment as AFL Sportsready’s Chief Operating Officer, where he directs the advancement and implementation of employment and education programs across the AFL Corporate and Community Development sector.
That sounds like one hell of a mouthful, but he insists that it has been a terrific career-path and he’s gained great fulfilment from the role.
One of his passions has been the creation of opportunities for indigenous youngsters, and, to this end he has helped to develop an Indigenous Employment program. In 10 years, the number of trainees in this area has gone from 10 to 1,000.
Whilst still remaining a keen Tiger fan ( he is a Life Member of the Club and tied up with the Past Players organisation), his direct football involvement has been with Scotch College. He coached the Senior 18 in the Public Schools competition for fifteen years, during which 20-odd players under his charge were drafted.
Chris and his wife, Leah, live at Ivanhoe, just walking distance from the local football ground. Late last year he was approached to coach, Ivanhoe Amateurs this season, when the incumbent leader resigned after accepting an employment opportunity.
He liked the idea of a fresh challenge and has enjoyed working with a new group. He relishes returning to clubland and is excited about the coming VAFA season.
A fortnight ago, he welcomed Rovers skipper Tyson Hartwig and half-a-dozen of his city-based team-mates, who will use Ivanhoe as their base this season. The training arrangement was made with his brother-in-law, Chris Doyle, the Hawk Treasurer.
Chris’s eldest son, Patrick, is showing loads of promise and has been named in the Northern Knights U18 squad. The other kids, Xavier, Rose and Charlie are all footy mad.
On any given Sunday this season, when the Tigers are baring their claws at the MCG, the Naish clan will be there in force.
And, you never know, some time in the future, one of them could be donning the Black and Gold number 6 guernsey, worn with distinction by their old man.