Eric Williamson

Peggy O’Neal ’76, the first female president of an Australian rules football team, made history again in September — and put some history behind her.

O’Neal helmed the Richmond Football Club — the Tigers — through a season that cul­minated in its Grand Final win over the Adelaide Crows. More than 3.5 million fans watched.

For the Tigers, it was a renaissance year. The team had not won a premiership match since 1980.

"We have made our own history today,” O’Neal told The Age upon the game’s outcome. “We don't have to talk about 1980 as our last premiership or [our] 1982 failure."

Just a year earlier, it seemed she had a tiger by the tail. The team slumped that season.

O’Neal weathered two board challenges for her seat.

But the club stood by her, and she by their head coach.

O’Neal started on the Tigers’ board in 2005. At the time, the team had financial and other organizational difficulties, she said.

“The club was in a bad way,’’ O’Neal told The Australian. The organization was $5.5 million in debt and had lost $2.5 million in 2004.

She applied her legal, financial and management skills as chair of the board's risk and compliance committee and as a member of the governance committee. She also chaired the Tigers in Commu­nity Foundation.

She was appointed president in 2013.

Today, the team is prosperous and structured for greater success.

“We have a board charter, [and] we delegate things to the CEO and his man­agement team,” she said.

O’Neal reportedly sought a low profile when the pros­pect of becoming the first female club president began to materialize — to avoid the novelty of her gender be­coming a distraction.

She has since embraced the distinction in interviews.

“I’ve been asked, ‘Don’t you think you might be a token?’” she told a reporter with The Australian. “All I can remember is a lot of hard work led to being a token. So what if you are? It gives you the chance to help an organization change, if they want to.’’

O’Neal is a consultant to Lander & Rogers and has specialized in superan­nuation and financial services law for more than 20 years. She is on the board of several financial services companies and was previously a partner at Herbert Smith Freehills.