Tears, hugs and tributes to Tommy from his beloved Jets
WITH his distinctive voice, down-to-earth qualities and fearless approach, Tommy Raudonikis was the first coach to take the Ipswich Jets to a Brisbane Rugby League grand final.
Although the Jets lost that historic encounter to Valleys in 1988, Raudonikis remains one of the most colourful coaches in Ipswich sporting history. He worked with Jets teams from 1985-88.
As Ipswich regional people join the wider community mourning his loss, close friend and former coaching partner Jim Landy shared why Tommy was such a valuable member of the Jets family.
“Tommy was a true gentleman,’’ Landy said, having last spoken to him just before Christmas.
“He showed us a new dimension in coaching for the Ipswich Jets in those early years - as a mentor and as a coach and as a character.’’
After being lured to Ipswich by former club official Les Stokes and the Jets board, Raudonikis introduced a hard nosed, player focused approach to coaching.
His motivational speeches were legendary, including one of his most famous pre-game gee-ups.
The keen greyhound follower once brought a blood-soaked bullock’s heart into the Ipswich team dressing room.
Life member Landy was there in 1987.
“This particular day we were playing Brothers,‘’ Landy recalled, “and Tommy spoke about his dislike for Brothers because they had sacked him before he came up to the Jets.
“I was coach of Reserve Grade and I was in the dressing room listening to Tommy’s pre-game talk. I was watching him carry around this paper bag.
“As he went on with his talk, he said: ‘This is what I want from you blokes, a bit of heart and blood and guts’.
“That is when he pulled out the bullock’s heart and jammed it on one of the coat pegs.
“Blood sprayed all over Allan Langer and Glen Haggath and all of the younger players coming up. It was quite a spectacle.’’
But that was Tommy - a straight-talking footballer who inspired those around him.
“Alfie’’ Langer was among Tommy’s favourite players along with Haggath, who was Jets captain at the time, and other regulars like Gordon Langton and Kerrod Walters.
Jets chairman Steve Johnson said Tommy’s loss had a huge impact on people like former Ipswich and current Broncos coach Kevin Walters and Langer.
“I spoke to Kevvie this morning when he first got the news and he was going to grab Alfie and sit him down and give him a big hug because those two lads loved Tommy,’’ Johnson said.
“It is a very sad day for our club.
“One thing about Tommy was he was always available for us.
“If we had a function, Tommy would turn up. At our Old Boys days, Tommy would come and join in and be available to talk to our younger players.
“He was just a fabulous man to have as part of the fabric of our club.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with (his partner) Trish. He loved Trishy so much.’’
The couple lived at Runaway Bay in recent years.
Johnson said Tommy will be remembered for taking the Jets to a new level during his coaching stint from 1985-88.
“He was one of the fellows who really laid strong foundations in our club,’’ Johnson said.
“He took us from a state league team into a full-time BRL side.’’
He guided the Jets to their first grand final in that 1988 season.
Landy, who guided the Jets the 1989 grand final after taking over from Raudonikis, said the Ipswich visitor helped his players achieve higher level success.
“He paved the way for a lot of their careers in those early years ,’’ Landy said.
“Tommy gave a lot of the local players a good opportunity and created a good team that was able to match it with all the Brisbane sides.
“That’s what Ipswich needed at that time - to get a few of our younger players through and create legends themselves.
“He instilled a great belief that was needed by Ipswich at that time.
“Tommy often says that we gave him a lifeline with his coaching career here but he certainly added a different dimension to the football played by Ipswich.
“He had a great partnership with the club, through our sponsors and all the players in those early years.
“He never forgot people on the streets - the local public or all the players.
“He was a good motivator and truly loved by everybody as well - both the fans and the people involved in the Jets sides.’’