Among the wave of tributes to the life of St Kilda great and former Richmond coach Danny Frawley, perhaps the most heart-rending was a video uploaded to YouTube in December of Frawley’s own words about his family and tough times on country footy fields.
Frawley, 56, died in a single-vehicle car accident at Millbrook 20 kilometres east of Ballarat on Monday, sending the AFL world into shock.
The 240-game St Kilda backman played in an era of little success for the Saints, but stayed on as a loyal captain for 177 games before become a coach and leading Richmond for 113 games.
As a media commentator Frawley’s humour and ability to speak to the lives of ordinary people endeared him to the entire football community and gave him a platform as a public speaker, particularly on the need for greater assistance for footballers struggling with mental illness.
Frawley had spoken publicly with NewsCorp about his battle with depression, saying he had sought help after juggling roles at the time of Essendon supplements saga.
“I had a nervous breakdown … I did a game for Triple M and I was losing a lot of sleep, and then I completely fell apart,” he told News Corp.
“I was really battling with it all. I started losing some sleep, and the more tired I became, the more I had to work.”
A former teammate at St Kilda and The New Daily columnist Nathan Burke paid tribute to Frawley’s passion and perspective on football.
“As much passion and effort he put into the game and his club, he still maintained perspective and clearly knew that family and friendship came first,” Burke said on Monday.
“This extended to knowing that a good game of football does not make you a better person and a bad game does not make you a bad person. He was enthusiastic, loyal and at times fallible.
Danny was a pleaser and wanted everyone to have a good time and perhaps this pressure was a factor in his well-known mental health issues.
“Whether you played 200 games alongside him or was a volunteer at the club, Danny had time for you.”
That side of Frawley was clearly evident in a video prepared by the corporate travel company CT Connections, which uploaded a video of Frawley addressing their team in December.
Apparently filmed around the time of Frawley’s father’s death towards the end of 2016, the AFL life member speaks with passion and humour about his family’s Irish heritage, their famous potato farm at Bungaree, and the toughness of life on country football fields.
“My father passed away on Saturday, and look it is sad, but it is a great celebration because he is 83 and the last four or five years he has had dementia and alzheimer’s,” Frawley says. “So it was a tough time that period, but he had a great life.”
Frawley said he was born with “121 first cousins” and relates a story about playing his first game against his “Uncle Frank” who stuck an elbow out and “carved my right cheekbone in”, leading his father to do a hamstring running to even up against his brother.
“They all called me young fella … I’m pretty old now, but in those days I was the young fella. They are great memories,” Frawley says.
St Kilda president Andrew Bassat said the club was incredibly saddened by Frawley’s passing and said the club’s thoughts was with his wife Anita, and daughters Chelsea, Keeley and Danielle.
“He was a larger-than-life character, a generous and warm personality, and a favourite son who has left an indelible mark on St Kilda,” Bassat said, indicating the club would endeavour to provide an opportunity for fans to share personal tributes in the coming days.
On FoxFooty, where Frawley worked as a commentator, former Brisbane Lions spearhead and fellow western Victorian Jonathan Brown broke down when describing meeting Frawley as a boy at a kids country footy clinic.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews also paid tribute on Twitter.
But, given Frawley’s many media moments over the years – as both tough-nut footballer, media clown and mental health advocate – the man himself had told so many of his own stories that remembering who he was will not be difficult for those he touched.
In this case, the St Kilda football club asked Frawley about the famous extended coin toss with Collingwood skipper Tony Shaw on elimination final day 1992, and the result was – as usual – insightful and hilarious.
On his own Twitter account, Frawley summed himself up with two sentences.
“I’m a simple spud farmer from Bungaree that’s made his way up to the big smoke. Love talking the big footy issues”.
VALE DANNY FRAWLEY
240 games for St Kilda 1984-1995, kicking 13 goals.
177 games as St Kilda captain.
11 games for Victoria 1987-1994.
Six games for Australia, 1987, 1990.
St Kilda Best and Fairest 1988.
All-Australian team member 1988.
113 games as Richmond senior coach 2000-2004.
All-Australian selector 2011-2019.
St Kilda Football Club Hall of Fame Inductee.
AFL Life Member.