Bill Shorten Opinion Piece: Daniher's discovery of hope
The 1990 State of Origin Victorian Football League match was famous for two things: NSW beat Victoria by 10 points and it was the first time the four Daniher brothers, Terry, Anthony, Neale and Chris, played together in the one team.
The legendary football family from West Wyalong in NSW's Riverina region played a combined 752 VFL/AFL games, with all four brothers eventually playing for the Bombers at Windy Hill in my electorate of Maribyrnong.
It would not be until Round 22 of that same year that the brothers Daniher would all play together for Essendon against St Kilda at the old Moorabbin Oval.
The town Ungarie, where the Daniher family of 13 lived on a farm, is six hours from Sydney and five hours from Melbourne.
For any other family, it could have been an each-way bet on what sport they'd end up playing.
But thanks to their dad, Jim, the brothers' passion was Aussie rules. The 1970s and 80s, when the Daniher brothers were making their names, were heady days for the family of talented players.
Despite a life-long fervour for the Pies, in my opinion, it is impossible not to be moved by the Danihers' football legacy.
Then there is the life-changing work Neale has made as a campaigner for motor neurone disease.
It has almost been a decade since Neale was diagnosed with MND in 2013. The same number of years the National Disability Insurance Scheme has been running since its inception. At the time of his diagnosis, Neale stood down from his football operations role at the West Coast Eagles, citing health concerns.
It wouldn't be until the following year that he would reveal he was battling MND, the incurable brain disease that about 2100 Australians have been diagnosed with.
Motor neurone disease is the term used to describe a group of diseases in which the muscle-controlling nerve cells (neurons) die. The disease can be slow to progress but devastating.
For the brave former Essendon player and Melbourne coach Neale, the onset of the disease, meant suddenly, he was unable to hang the washing on the line.
A simple task that most of us take for granted, but when you suddenly can't do the simplest of household chores, there is something very wrong.
Neale and his family have raised almost $50 million for MND research through his FightMND Charity.
On Monday at the Collingwood versus Melbourne game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the beloved "Big-Freeze at the G" charity event was able to be held for the first time since 2019.
Tennis champ Ash Barty, former Carlton player Eddie Betts and comedian Hamish Blake all donned crazy costumes and were plunged into a freezing water in support of the cause.
The Big Freeze has become so ingrained in football culture that I counted no fewer than 10 MND Big Freeze beanies on cold heads at the early voting polling booths in Melbourne.
Each day, two Australians will be diagnosed with MND and two people will die. The average age of onset is 50.
The average life expectancy following an MND diagnosis is 27 months, which puts Neale Daniher's decade long fight with the disease into perspective.
To be struck down in one's prime, I would like to think, is one of life's great injustices.
The NDIS has about 1400 people with a primary diagnosis of MND as participants.
The onset of a chronic and uncontrollable progressive disease requires a lot of support.
The NDIS is able to provide people with a MND diagnosis with the care and support they will need to live their lives to the fullest, while they can.
On Monday, Labor announced it would give $4m in funding over the next two years to the FightMND charity in its quest to better understand the causes of this devastating disease and pursue potential treatments and a cure.
While the quest for a cure continues, the NDIS will support Australians with MND and their families who care for them.
Neale Daniher has proved having a disability is not the death of hope - and certainly not of courage.
He is a legendary footballer, but his real legend will be helping to find a cure for MND.
I would like to see Daniher be forever recognised for the work he has done to find a cure to the disease he's battled with so much dignity.
New York Yankees and World Series baseball legend Lou Gehrig, whose career ended at the age of 36 when he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, another form of MND, encouraged the change of name to Lou Gehrig's disease.
Wouldn't it be great if we had Daniher's Discovery to remember in the century to come?
To buy a beanie, make a donation or learn more about MND, visit fightmnd.org.au.
This opinion piece was first published in The West Australian on Wednesday 15 June 2022.
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