Family matters: Getting to know Roughy

Peter Hanlon, who writes for us, is also an award-winning sports journalist. He was the 'ghost writer' for former Hawthorn football star Jarryd Roughead's autobiography 'Roughy'.

Here, Peter tells about getting to know Roughy, and why family and respect matter so much.

Jarryd Roughead doesn’t take 100 words to say something when he can get there in 10.

Verbally he kicks long down the guts, which makes his ‘Note on the Co-Author’ at the end of his autobiography, Roughy, so special to me.

‘The respect you showed for me and my family made working together a pleasure,’ he wrote. Okay, that’s 14 words, but just two of them lay bare what he prizes most: family, and respect.

When Jarryd took me on to be his ‘ghost’ in 2018 we’d never properly met. My picture of him was typical of any arm’s length observer: classic country boy, bit of a dag, hell of a footballer and, given what he’d overcome, a person of great inner strength.

At our first meeting he made two things clear: if he hadn’t been through cancer, he wouldn’t have been writing a book – no matter how many people tried to convince him that four Hawthorn premierships and a starring role in one of the greatest AFL teams ever made him a worthy subject. But he knew sharing his melanoma story would help people, so he did it.

The other thing he said was music to a ghost writer’s ears. ‘I’ve got a good memory – I remember everything.’

For two years we fell into a routine. Two-hour drive to Melbourne, navigate he and Sarah’s narrow, dead-end street (mercifully just the one broken tail light, backing into a brick wall), sneak down the side of the house so as not to wake Pippa from her late-morning nap, boots off at the back door, catch up with Jarryd and Sarah, glasses of water at the dining table, tape on … then sit back and listen as he remembered everything.

Some people are simply better at retaining information than others, and he’s certainly got that. But as we worked through his life – from the branches of his family tree, heavy with their own tales of resilience and survival, to the cherished bonds football gave him – it became clear it wasn’t only his body that had been fine-tuned by an athlete’s self-discipline and training, but his mind too.

It was like watching someone take their brain for a run.

Memories big and small were benchmarked by football – who Hawthorn had played that week, how he’d performed, how many goals his mate ‘Buddy’ Franklin had kicked. Incidents and moments in games from 10 or 15 years ago were relived like yesterday.

Of course, most of this was too mundane to warrant mention in the story of his life. But these mental meanderings would invariably open doors to times and events that were genuinely interesting and influential.

His cancer nurse, Donna Milne, describes him as ‘a fantastic historian’, and it was during his treatment that Jarryd’s ability to absorb and retain became match-winning traits. ‘He could give me the rundown of everything – dates, times, dosages,’ Donna says.

Any change in his condition – such as when peripheral neuropathy left his feet feeling as if they were on fire – were documented and reported in fastidious detail. He treated cancer like a football injury, because that’s what he knew. And of course, he knew how to win.

Those dearest to him offered delightful insights. Best mate Jordan Lewis outed the ‘neat freak’ who walks around the house with a bottle of Spray `n Wipe; brother Cam shone a light on his grumpy side, which makes an appearance for anyone who forgets their manners when asking for an autograph.

And of course Sarah, who spoke of her own devastation, her anger at the world, her struggle to remain as upbeat as her husband. Jarryd’s illness was her challenge and triumph too. Their reward is family time, with newborn Will recently joining Pippa in a home that’s warm and bright and without hint of the dark days and nights of treatment mid-renovation.


The pandemic forced Roughy to hit the shelves without a launch; a celebration will have to wait. A long lunch was often mentioned as a carrot, invariably followed by a parting gesture that says a bit about Jarryd too.

‘Fancy a traveller for the trip home Pete?’ he’d ask as the tape was switched off.

‘Ah, better not thanks mate, it’s barely midday.’

When we drove to Leongatha for a wander down his childhood memory lane, the same offer was made as we parted ways outside his Nan’s. I pointed out that it was a four-hour trip from Leongatha to Birregurra, so best not.

The ritual wasn’t about drinking, rather an innate reflex, a country generosity that says, ‘You’re my guest, what can I get you?’ Each time he’d tell me to text him when I got home, so he knew I’d made it safely. It was strangely comforting, like something a mother would say. I wished mine was still around so I could tell her.

Mums love Roughy. They’re big on family and respect too.

About the book

Roughy, the autobiography, by Jarryd Roughhead, with Peter Hanlon, is published by Penguin Viking.

You can find out more about where to get it by clicking here.

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