Ben Kavenagh is relishing his new role as Head of AFL Victoria. He goes Under the Auld Pump with Tim Auld.
At a glance: Ben Kavenagh
Born: Camperdown on August 3, 1974.
Wife: Emma. Children: Josh, Jesse, Ava and Zoe.
Parents: Ann and Paul. Siblings: Bridie, Jessica and Nellie.
Education: St Patrick's Primary School, Camperdown, before going to Mercy Regional College and then St Joseph's Geelong.
Sporting highlight: playing in an under 17 football premiership side with St Patrick's Camperdown against Noorat.
What are your memories of the under 17 premiership win by St Patrick's Camperdown?
David Lane was our coach and our captain was Clinton Baulch, who sadly passed away a couple of months ago. We were playing in the old Mount Noorat Football League. I played in a forward pocket but I must say, I was just a very average footballer.
Where did your footy career begin?
I can remember playing footy as a youngster at the Camperdown showgrounds on Saturday mornings before playing under 16s and then under 17s at St Patrick's. My career then went to Ballarat and Geelong where I played footy with my mates.
Did your family grow up on a dairy farm when you lived in Camperdown?
My dad Paul was a vet. He was in the ownership of a vet practice in Camperdown with Greg Darcy and Andrew McKenzie. My family moved to Geelong to live in 1990 but not before I played cricket with Pomborneit when I was 15. Once again, I would have to say I was an ordinary cricketer but I loved playing the game. I was the opening bowler and got a couple of wickets on a few occasions before we moved to Geelong. My career in administration really started in the late 1990s when I joined the Werribee Football Club.
What was your position with Werribee?
I went and worked in a voluntary capacity for the club on anything that was needed. Donald McDonald was the coach and also the general manager of the club back in that era. I ended up joining the board in my second year at the club. Alastair Clarkson, who had been an assistant coach at St Kilda, took over as the senior coach at Werribee after Donald joined Box Hill as its coach.
I got a job as a marketing assistant with Greyhound Racing Victoria. I loved being involved in sports but footy was my passion. The Ballarat Football League was looking for a general manager and I put my hand up and got the job. The league had 10 sides in it back in that era.
I've got fond memories of the BFL coming down to play the Hampden Football Netball League at the Reid Oval - I think it was in 2001. We went home the losers after players like Shane Garner and Troy Dixon tore us apart. I stayed with the BFL for three years before getting the job as membership manager at the Geelong Football Club in 2004.
I enjoyed my time at Geelong before the job as CEO of South Adelaide in the South Australian National Football League came up. I put in for the job and was lucky enough to get it. People in South Australia are really passionate about their footy. They get big crowds at their local games. It's like community footy at its best. In my time with South Adelaide, I met plenty of characters who were passionate about footy and one of those was Jack Cahill. I'm still a member at South Adelaide. Unfortunately, the club hasn't won a flag since 1964. I've got my fingers crossed that the long drought may be over sooner than later.
Which path did your working career head down after your time with South Adelaide?
I was appointed the regional manager for the International Cricket Council at the end of 2012. There were 16 member countries in the group and I was based in Toronto. It was an amazing experience to live and work over there.
There are more than 10,000 registered cricketers in the USA, which surprises a lot of people. I held the job for five years. In that time, Emma and our children lived in Toronto for two years, and for the rest of the time, I would spend two weeks in the States before flying back to Adelaide for two weeks to be with my family. It was a stressful time for our family and we received a lot of help and support from friends and family. Emma has been sensational. She was born in Warrnambool and is the daughter of Brian and Clare Callaghan. Emma has been really supportive of my working career.
Ben, in October 2021, you were appointed the head of AFL Victoria. How's the job going?
It's pretty hectic as one could imagine. There are 92 leagues across Victoria and in that there are 1300 clubs. We've got more than 180,000 registered players and then we've got Auskick and school programs, so we're kept pretty busy.
Many clubs across the western district are struggling for players and volunteers. Does the AFL have anything in place to stop this happening?
There are pockets across the state that are struggling for numbers and one of those is down in the western district. We value the work and time that all volunteers put in for footy and netball in the country. We can blame COVID for the problems but that doesn't solve the long-term issues. We're listening to what people in the country are saying. We've found people's lives and traditions have changed pretty dramatically over the last few years, for example, we've found that more tradesmen work on Saturday and that has impacted our playing numbers. We know there have been problems at clubs like Port Fairy and there have been issues at my old club Camperdown with players in the under-18s. In the country, there's been a massive population shift. Years ago there used to be six children growing up on a 200-acre farm but sadly those days are gone as bigger farming operations are taking over and children are not there.
Ben, one of the areas for concern in the western district has been that no AFL players have been in the local schools to promote footy for a few years are you working on fixing that problem?
We are looking at that issue and, as I said the COVID-19 pandemic, has caused issues and that has been one of them. We hope to announce a program to have AFL players back in the country areas at schools in the future.
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