Kick-off the key to Des's world September 27, 2008 http://www.leaguehq.com.au/news/news/kickoff-the-key-to-dess-world/2008/09/26/1222217523970.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap1 Behind the quiet and private exterior lurks a tough rugby league competitor, writes Andrew Stevenson. There are three different wooden doors in Des Hasler's life, although he approaches them all with the same bow-legged shuffle that has carried him through his 47 years. One door leads to the embrace of his closely guarded family, his wife Chris and children Campbell and Matisse, and their beachside home in Collaroy, where Hasler walks the rocks of Long Reef - at one with the magnificence of Sydney's coastal ecology. Hasler's love of the sand, salt water and fishing led him once to run for Warringah Council, No. 2 on an anti-development ticket ("Just as long as I don't get elected," he said). Football belongs outside the Hasler home. His son is a talented musician and the family is likely to spend spare weekends visiting museums in the city. A second door, opened with a more deferential air, is to a very small, quiet space in which Hasler, an old-fashioned Catholic layman, makes his peace with God on a weekly basis. But it is after pushing through the third door - the one marked "Coach" - that Hasler finally bares his soul. The outer shell of extreme diffidence is shrugged off and dumped in the corner for an hour-and-a-half each week and, although the world gets to peek in through the looking glass, Hasler holds nothing back. The shuffle is parked, the mumble is replaced by full-throated instructions, the reticence by overblown exhortations to the footballing gods. All the social restraints and Catholic repression that have marked his upbringing and shaped his personality are gone. As he rides the Sea Eagles home tonight towards a second successive grand final and, perhaps, the ultimate prize, the inner core of Des Hasler will burn intensely enough to power the lights of the Sydney Football Stadium. And they used to call him "Sorry". Tales of Hasler's shyness and reserve are many. The nickname derived from the apologies delivered to opponents turfed. On Mad Monday, Hasler would go to work, teaching schoolchildren, before wandering in late and doing his best to leave early. Once, said his biographer, Tom Keneally, the Manly boys chained him to the bar. "Often, to avoid post-match celebrations, he would zip off to evening mass, carrying all of his injuries up to the altar to take communion," Keneally said. But something happened on the journey between player and coach. "You would have expected him, had the team not played well, to shuffle from foot to foot and say, 'Well boys, you better play better than that'," Keneally said. Instead, hulking prop forwards tremble at the thought of facing Hasler's fury. "He just drills you," one said. Keneally said: "I think he's discovered an eloquently savage voice since he became a coach. There's a lot of banked fire in there and, when it blazes forth, I'm sure it's like being zotted by an alien." Hasler will share nothing of himself with the media and there are few people who know him; many who think they do only know the part he's willing to share with them. Keneally admitted as much. Instead of getting to know Hasler when the retiring player asked him to write his life story, Keneally said he got "to know that he's very private". A neighbour, Phil Coleman, knows another Hasler, or another part of him. "He's a very reticent sort of fellow. You never know what he thinks until he says it. I've never seen him get riled in his life," Coleman said. "The kids around here don't worship him because he's a Sea Eagle but they like him because he's Des Hasler. I don't think fame washes over Des very well." The Hasler reserve is a family trait. His brother Danny, like Des a teacher trained by the Christian Brothers, deflects inquiries with the same determined deference. "Aah, no, sorry mate," he replied. At teachers' college in Strathfield, Hasler was taught by Brother Julian McDonald, now chancellor of the Australian Catholic University. Hasler was no great scholar, a fact McDonald has suggested made him a better teacher. "He's got a great sense of compassion for people who struggle, a great sense of justice," McDonald said. But the Christian Brothers helped forge Hasler's work ethic. McDonald said Hasler learnt to "get in and do it rather than stand back and watch". That was certainly Hasler the player, fast when younger, always organised and relentlessly committed to the outcome, no matter the score. Hasler the Dazzler was never quite true and the unwanted kid from Penrith arrived at Manly in 1984 and took the job off Phil Blake, the halfback who had electrified the competition by scoring 27 tries the year before. In his place, Hasler scored nine but coach Bob Fulton had found the dependable centrepiece he wanted. Manly now played in Hasler's image, said Blake, who described Hasler as one of the people most determined to succeed he'd met in 30 years of football. "You can see the steely tenacity and the way they compete, not just every week but every half, every play," Blake said. "It's no coincidence they've had success and the way they play resembles the coach and the way he played. "On the field, he had this steely resolve that, no matter what the score or what the circumstances, he was going to compete on every play. And you see that more than ever now in that side. "They compete at every tackle. He will stop at nothing for success: that was him as a player and that's him as a coach, now." Greg Alexander shared Blake's assessment. "There's competitors and competitors and Des was at the top of the tree," he said. "The will to succeed, that driving ambition. You can tell it still lights a fire in Des. I think it's in you, you've either got it or you haven't. It's one of those things coaches can't influence." Alexander is perfectly placed to describe Hasler. As a 10-year-old he was ballboy to Hasler's team at St Dominic's, Penrith. They've played football and roomed together, and now live around the corner from each other. The fact that he can't says a lot about Hasler. "I couldn't say I know Des intimately," Alexander admitted. "He keeps things pretty close." But tonight, five years after he set out on a journey to restore the fallen club to its former glory, Hasler will open the third door for another time. But it's not just another time. This is Manly's moment and Hasler knows how close he is. He'll tell anyone who'll listen it's just another game, but watch him tonight and see the truth; the coach stripped bare.