Ulverstone/Sandy Bay/Melbourne/Clarence, Defender, 1968-85
> 19 games for Melbourne, 1970-73
> 43 games for Ulverstone, 1968-69
> 85 games for Sandy Bay, 1974-78
> 98 games for Clarence, 1979-85
> Clarence playing coach, 1979-83
> Sandy Bay TANFL premierships, 1976, 1977, 1978
> Clarence TANFL premierships, 1979, 1981, 1984
> Sandy Bay ‘Bay’s Best 25 1948-97’
> Clarence ‘Team of Champions 1947-2002’ (half back)
A tough and dogged defender, Noel Leary’s promising VFL career was unfortunately ruined by injury, but after returning to Tasmania he played a valuable role in multiple premierships with Sandy Bay and Clarence as both player and coach.
Born in 1949, Noel Leary began his football journey in Ulverstone on the north-west coast at the age of 18, and after only two seasons with the Robins Leary was signed by VFL side Melbourne, joining the Demons ahead of the 1970 season as one of four high profile recruits along with Ray Carr, Graham Molloy and Peter ‘Crackers’ Keenan. Making his senior debut in Round 4, Leary played eight consecutive games before injury struck him down, although he recovered in time to play in Melbourne’s thrilling two-point reserves premiership win over Richmond. Over the next three seasons injury consistently hampered Leary’s career; a broken leg in a practice match against Port Adelaide in 1971 was followed by a dislocated shoulder in a pre-season match the following year. In 1973 his form was enough for him to take out the Best and Fairest award for the reserves, but he was still restricted to just seven senior appearances for the year. As a result, Leary departed the Demons at the end of 1973 after just 19 senior games.
Upon his return to Tasmania Leary headed to Hobart to join 1970s TANFL superpower Sandy Bay under master coach Rod Olsson. The Seagulls were in the middle of a golden era that would produce eight consecutive grand final appearances from 1971-1979, and after a shock loss to Hobart in the 1973 decider Sandy Bay must have been ecstatic at the prospect of adding a defender with VFL experience to their side. After playing in grand final losses with the Seagulls in 1974-75, Leary would play a starring role in a hat trick of premierships against Glenorchy between 1976 and 1978. In 1979 Leary left Sandy Bay to accept the coaching job at Clarence, a club who had won just a single premiership in their 32 years in the TANFL. Leary’s appointment had an instant impact, and in his first season he led the Roos to a premiership. In one of the most famous matches in Tasmanian history, Clarence met unbackable favourites Glenorchy – led by Tasmanian icon Peter Hudson – and stunned the Magpies by three points in front of a record TANFL grand final crowd of 24,968. In the following four seasons Leary would steer his side to another premiership in 1981 before resigning as coach after the 1983 season. He would continue with the Roos in a purely playing capacity for two more seasons, playing in a premiership in 1984 before calling time on his playing career after Clarence’s 1985 grand final loss to Glenorchy.
After retirement Leary continued to contribute to Tasmanian football with stints as both state coach and selector. In later years he was honoured by both Sandy Bay and Clarence football clubs with inclusion in their ‘Best 25’ and ‘Team of Champions’ respectively.