Posted in Featured News , Front Page News , People of the SMJFL

Russell McMurray has been perhaps the most influential contributor to the successful and professionally-run league the SMJFL has become today.

During his time serving on the then Moorabbin Saints Junior Football League Board and Executive, McMurray battled stiff opposition and heavy criticism to help steer the League through one of its most turbulent periods, instigating change that has seen the competition flourish.

It was this remarkable work with the MSJFL/SMJFL, as well as his tireless work with Auskick and the Cheltenham Junior Football Club that saw McMurray honoured with an AFL Merit Award at Friday night’s AFL Victoria Community Football Awards.

The AFL Merit Award is one of the highest awards afforded to community football volunteers. It is recognition of the considerable service that volunteers have given to Australian Football in several capacities for at least a decade.

Just two Merit Awards are handed out per state each year, and fewer than 600 men and women have been recipients of this accolade since 1931.

This places McMurray in elite company.

But McMurray said that his award is a validation that his work helped ensure that junior kids could still have a strong competition to play in, despite the criticism he faced at the time.

“I suppose to some degree it’s some recognition that what I was doing was the right thing,” McMurray said.

“Some of the things I was doing, I came under a bit of criticism for, but to me it’s a little bit of recognition that it was the right thing to do and for the betterment of the kids.”

SMJFL General Manager Jake McCauley said McMurray was a deserved winner of the prestigious award because the League would not be where it is today without his work.

“On behalf of the SMJFL, we congratulate Russell for his AFL Merit Award. The Merit Award is the highest award a community football member can receive and Russell is a very worthy winner,” McCauley said.

“His contribution to local football in the region has been profound and we thank him for his services to the MSJFL & SMJFL.”

McMurray’s tenure at the League began in 2007 following his election to the MSJFL Executive.

In 2010 the MSJFL went through a hostile takeover proposal that had the potential to split the League into two or three smaller, less viable competitions. It was during this time that McMurray left an indelible mark on the history of the SMJFL.

During this period of turmoil, McMurray’s strong advocacy for change saw him ultimately become the League’s spokesperson and the interim President of the MSJFL.

McMurray recognised that the League had become too big to be run simply by volunteers, and championed changes in its management structure to maintain its viability and prosperity. However, he did not support the takeover proposal or the splitting of the League, as he knew this would be to the detriment of junior football, particularly in the higher grades.

As interim President, McMurray personally negotiated with AFL Victoria, individual Member Clubs and other key stakeholders, often to his own personal detriment. Ultimately, as a result of his persistence, independence, professionalism and vision, the League voted for reform whilst remaining as one entity to the betterment of the competition and the players.

He was then appointed to the Interim Executive Committee to assist with the transition to a reinvigorated, independent league with a new Board and Constitution.

Whilst many people may walked away thinking ‘job done’, McMurray continued on with the newly-formed Board for a further two years to assist with the creation of the professionally-run league that the SMJFL is today.

This tumultuous period has defined McMurray’s legacy in junior football. It is also McMurray’s proudest achievement.

“It certainly was the proudest. To see it through that turmoil, for the League to remain as one and for the kids to have a competitive competition (was a great result),” McMurray said.

Although this was his most significant accomplishment, it was by no means his only contribution to junior football. McMurray’s 11-year involvement with community football began in 2002 when helped run the Auskick at his son’s school, Cheltenham East Primary.

When his son made the transition to junior football at Cheltenham Panthers in 2005, McMurray immediately took up a position on the club’s Committee. He became the club Registrar the following year, and helped modernise the club with the introduction of a number of electronic systems, including, among others, EFT payment capabilities and computer-generated registrations.

In 2007 McMurray took on the role of Treasurer while continuing as club Registrar. He held both positions until the end of 2009, during which time the Panthers grew from a small, financially constrained junior club run solely by volunteers to a financially viable, independent and professionally-run organisation.

McMurray also did a mountain of work behind the scenes at the club that went largely uncredited. Many of his weekends were spent renovating the club rooms with assistance of a few other unnamed but dedicated helpers.

And throughout all his time in community football, it was not only McMurray’s love of the game that kept him involved. Rather, he wanted the kids to enjoy football as much as he did.

“To me it’s all about the kids, even though 90% of your time’s dealing with the parents,” McMurray said.

“I love football. I’ve always loved football. But most of all I love seeing kids getting out and having a crack at it.”

By Will Hunter

 

Russell McMurray

Russell McMurray accepts his AFL Merit Award.

Photo courtesy of AFL Victoria.