AFL Canberra’s Garry Lawless to be inducted into ACT Hall of Fame

Originally published by the Canberra Times.

A badly broken leg suffered while playing Aussie rules started Garry Lawless on a path that would eventually put him in touch with the ACT Sport Hall of Fame.

Playing seniors for Ainslie and working as a public servant, his rehabilitation led to him playing touch at lunchtime with colleagues.

Next minute, he was playing for the ACT and at the start of a 33-year career that included representing his country 53 times.

Lawless was awarded the Australian Sports Medal in 2000 and was named in the World All Star team for the 1988 World Cup.

He’s widely regarded as one of Australia’s best ever touch players, which will be recognised by his induction into the hall of fame on November 30.

“Obviously it’s an honour. I grew up playing footy in Canberra, lived in Canberra all my life, and in my time there were people like Bradley Clyde, Ricky Stuart, they were plying their trade in rugby league,” Lawless said.

“Geoff Didier, Michael O’Connor in rugby union, local Canberrans who made it up to the next level.

“James Hird played at Ainslie a few years behind me, he went on to Essendon. To be thought of in the same sort of bracket as those sort of people.”

Touch, and sport, has played a big role in his working life as well.

From the public service he got a job with the touch association, where he worked for 11 years.

He was also the football manager at his old club Ainslie for a few years, before taking up a role with AFL Canberra where he’s still working today.

But for his snapped fibula he might not have even started playing touch in the first place.

“My second year of senior footy I broke my leg early in the year and I started working in the public service … and part of my rehabilitation was they were playing this game called touch footy at lunchtime and I went out and had a run,” Lawless said.

“Then they invited me into a team and it sort of went from there … just sort of fell in love with the game.”

It wasn’t just the broken leg that got him hooked on the sport, but his move to Tuggeranong also played a role – putting a bit of travel time between himself and the Ainslie footy club.

The fact every year you could travel to a different part of Australia to play in the nationals was another hook that helped touch get under Lawless’s skin.

Those hooks are clearly still there with the 58-year-old currently playing in the Pan Pacific Masters Games up on the Gold Coast.

“The big fascination was they held the national championships in every capital city around Australia, which is sort of something I didn’t see happening with AFL,” Lawless said.

“It was just a massive attraction – going away on a tour and playing with your mates, and representing Canberra.”

When he started touch, it was a game on the rise.

He feels the modern game has taken a hit from all the other non-contact sports introduced by various codes since – OzTag, AFL 9s, ultimate frisbee and the like.

But back when he started, it was almost everyone’s second sport.

Lawless recalls big names like Stuart, Craig Bellamy, Tim Sheens and Clyde all playing back in the day.

“When I was playing men’s open with ACT, [Clyde] was an under-16s ACT touch representative,” he said.

“Blokes like Bellamy and Ricky Stuart, those guys were playing social touch footy. Tim Sheens, he was the coach of the Raiders back then.”

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