A MATE TO EVERYONE
Frawley was a Saint who wore his heart on his sleeve, writes Mark Robinson
WHO knows how it happened, or why, but Danny Frawley departs a much-loved although troubled man of football.
The St Kilda Hall of Famer, known always as the knockabout spud farmer from Bungaree, died just a day after his 56th birthday.
His car ran off the road in Millbrook, near Ballarat, about 25km from the small town where he grew up.
Word of Frawley’s death on Monday flowed quickly through the football world.
Some of his best mates were told the news by the football media. Their reactions were of disbelief and utter grief.
St Kilda staff were told about 4pm Monday that an accident had occurred and Frawley was involved.
The announcement floored staff who had worked with him for many years.
There were many parts to Frawley: The family man, the footballer, the coach, the media prankster. And then the one we got to know only in recent times — the one enveloped by a darkness he couldn’t shake.
What a tragic end it was for the simple spud farmer. He had moved to the big smoke from Bungaree, via Ballarat, to join his beloved St Kilda in the early 1980s and made his debut in 1984.
To everyone in football, he was known as ‘Spud’, the court jester with the smiling face who sometimes let his emotions get the better of him.
They might’ve got the better of him, but they endeared him to us.
His speech to welcome great mate Tony Lockett into the St Kilda Hall of Fame in 2010 was Frawley at his rawest and loving best.
“He’s humble, he doesn’t like talking about himself, he is the Don Bradman of our time … I’m sorry for getting emotional but … I’ve lost it, thank you.”
That was Frawley on stage with ‘Plugger’, who threw an arm around his mate.
His media mates took the mickey out of him for it — when didn’t they when they had the opportunity? — and he gave it back. But that night, the
St Kilda faithful saw a man who loved ‘Plugger’ and St Kilda.
His wife Anita and three daughters, Chelsea, Danielle and Keeley were his everything.
On Monday, just hours before being told of their father’s death, two of Frawley’s daughters were seen cheerfully buying him a shirt in South Yarra for his 56th birthday.
As his friend and long-time media colleague Brian Taylor said, Frawley’s family meant everything to him.
“He loved his family and was an absolute gentleman. He also had a wide circle of mates,” Taylor said.
“There was the Triple M crew like Jason Dunstall, Bill Brownless, James Brayshaw and Garry Lyon, but he had also kept his friends from his Ballarat days.
“Spud was a straight-shooting, knockabout country boy at heart.”
Frawley was a proud St Kilda and Victorian person, and a regular contributor to the Irish international series.
He played 240 games for the Saints from 1984-95 and captained them from 1987-94.
He was a fullback with menace, his lack of natural skill countered by all those traits which Teddy Whitten used to love: Guts, determination and, Whitten’s favourite phrase, “I want you to inspire me” .
Frawley was close to Whitten and was in tears in the rooms and on the ground on that famous day in 1995 when the coach did his final lap of honour of the MCG.
For a toughie, ‘Spud’ was a softie and boy he loved the Saints.
On Fox Footy’s Bounce program, which he shared with Dunstall, Frawley would don his famous No.2 whenever he could.
Kids who never saw Frawley play will remember him as funloving and playful, whether it be pulling faces, dressing up, faking injuries or — which happened sometimes — sustaining real injuries. The day he took a ping pong ball to the groin and collapsed in agony is legendary at Fox Footy.
After his playing days, Frawley was an assistant coach at Collingwood before joining Richmond as senior coach.
At the Tigers he was sometimes as combative in his postmatch press conferences as he was as a take-no-prisoners defender.
A passionate student of our game, being appointed coach of the Tigers in 2000 remained one of Frawley’s proudest footballing moments.
Leon Daphne was the Richmond president who oversaw his appointment.
“I liked Danny’s hard-working and at times aggressive approach as a player, and when coupled with a touch of emotion I thought it would be a good mix to coach Richmond,” Daphne said.
“Ultimately it didn’t work out but he took us on a very exciting ride to the 2001 preliminary final.
“I just feel so sad for Anita, their girls and extended family.”
Sacked by Richmond midway through 2004, he was spent. The toxic world of a failing coach had seeped into his family life. The night he was spat on by a Richmond supporter was shameful at the time and even more sickening now.
Those terrible Richmond days near the end never left him.
He joined Triple M and admitted this year he used his position to take pot shots at those he believed made his life hell at the Tigers.
His time as boss of the coaches’ association also took its toll.
One day, he had what he described as a mental breakdown when covering a game at the MCG. He had forgotten how to get home and had to call Anita.
“I was struggling with depression and I had no idea who I was,” he said.
“That was a by-product of being on this treadmill of life and not smelling the roses, trying to please everyone other than myself.”
His departure from Triple M and the company of Dunstall, Lyon, Brayshaw and Taylor at the end of 2015 was said to have further knocked the confidence out of him.
He did join SEN but that wasn’t really his environment.
In more recent times, Frawley had become a strong advocate for mental health and player welfare. He was booked to speak at a function tomorrow as part of RUOK day.
He was always a man of fun and care but, maybe at the end, to his own detriment.
If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
LEGEND: Former VFL/AFL footballer, coach and commentator Danny Frawley, (inset, top) in his playing days at St Kilda with Tony Lockett, and (inset, above) with Bounce co-host and former on-field rival Jason Dunstall.