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Blues mourn the loss of Brave Heart Baird

Australians are mourning the passing of the nation’s 40th Digger to fall in Afghanistan - amongst them the Carlton Football Club family for whom there is a direct connection.

Corporal Cameron Baird MG, the 32-year old member of the 2nd Commando Regiment killed in a firefight in the Khod Valley last Saturday afternoon, was the son of Doug Baird, a six-game Carlton player through 1969 and the Premiership year of 1970.

Corporal Baird’s courage was previously acknowledged with his awarding of the Medal for Gallantry six years ago. He had braved Taliban machine-gun fire to lead his men in recovering a mortally-wounded Private.

In particularly trying circumstances, Cameron’s brother Brendan contacted the club this morning to confirm the link and to say that all members of the Baird family, Cameron included, “have been Carlton to the core from day dot”.

The Carlton-Baird connection can be sourced to the late 1960s, to when Doug was recruited from the Paramount Football club in Melbourne’s north.

Doug plied his craft at Under 19 and Reserve Grade level at Princes Park through the Barassi years. From full-forward he took out the League’s Under 19 goalkicking honours with 40 goals in 1968 (to tie with Richmond’s David Droscher) and he was adjudged fourth in the reserve grade best and fairest award just two years later.

At senior level, Doug donned the No.27 now worn by Dennis Armfield, and while his senior career was all-too-brief the interest in Carlton never wavered – in part through the lifelong friendships with Robert Walls, Andy Lukas and the late Vin Waite.

“Wallsy” would act as best man at Doug’s wedding, and Andy and “Vinny” as groomsmen.

With Alex Jesaulenko the resident Carlton full-forward through the period, senior appearances for Doug were unfortunately all too few. That said, Doug’s contemporaries like the four-time Premiership player David McKay remember him as a very capable footballer.

“Doug was a good strong mark and an accurate, but as a full-forward he was probably in the wrong place at the wrong time with ‘Jezza’ there,” McKay said.

“He led the goalkicking in the Under 19s and reserves and I remember playing alongside him in ’69 when the reserves were runners-up in the Grand Final against Melbourne.”

Doug’s son, Corporal Baird, was born in Burnie, for this was a time when Doug captained and coached Cooee and later Ulverstone. On the family’s relocation to Melbourne, Corporal Baird, at just 15, turned out with the Calder Cannons’ 17 year-olds under the watch of the former Northern Blues coach Robert Hyde. There he played alongside Jude Bolton and Ryan O’Keefe (later dual Premiership players with Sydney) and Paul Chapman, a three-time Premiership player for Geelong.

The 1970 premiership squad. Doug Baird stands at the rear, second from the left, between Kevin Hall and Phil Pinnell. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)

On being overlooked at the 1999 AFL National Draft, Corporal Baird joined the Army. At the time of his death, he was on his fifth tour of Afghanistan, having previously served in Iraq and East Timor.

Corporal Baird’s standing as a dedicated, selfless and disciplined soldier has earned the highest of commendations from his peers. Said the Chief of the Defence Force David Hurley: “In combat and as a team commander, he was the man to watch and never happier than when the situation demanded decisive action and courage”.

“His mates describe him as one of the most iconic figures in the regiment.”

Robert Walls, whose friendship with Doug can be sourced to the Under 19 days at Carlton, said that Doug, Vin and him “were all good mates”.

“I’ve known Doug since we were 14. He was one of those local kids in the local comp (and every comp has them) who was an absolute star. That was Dougy Baird,” Walls said.

“This is just so sad. On Sunday I was in the car when I heard a soldier had been killed and last night when I saw the news and it was reported that the soldier was Cameron Baird I said to Julie (Walls’ wife) ‘I think that’s Dougy Baird’s son. I then rang ‘Sticks’ (Carlton President Stephen Kernahan) who said that the club will do all that it can to honour him.

“They say there are heroes in football and that’s bullshit when you read about men like Cameron, where they have been and what they have done.”

The Bairds, who now live in Burleigh Waters, have closed ranks in the wake of their deep personal loss.

But Doug took time to say that he and the family were deeply appreciative of everyone’s kind thoughts.

“All I can do is thank the people at Carlton from the bottom of my heart,” Doug said. “I thank the players past and present, and everybody connected with the organisation for their thoughts. We’re still Blues supporters and Cameron was a dinky di Blues supporter as well.”

Corporal Cameron Baird MG is survived by his father Doug, mother Kaye and brother Brendan.

The Carlton footballers will wear black armbands into Friday night’s match with Sydney at the SCG as a mark of respect for the late Corporal Baird.