What makes sport so special is emotion – the highs and lows, the euphoria and the heartbreak.
Danny Frawley, St Kilda stalwart and AFL legend, died on Monday.
All of the old and supposedly tired cliches uttered when someone passes from this earth always seem to spring up: “he was a great man”, “what a champion”, “he died too young”, and so on. But in the case of Danny, all that was true, as he lived a full life with plenty of spirit, spark, compassion, and quality.
I am fortunate to say that I knew Danny Frawley – who only just turned 56 a day before his passing – and we crossed paths together many, many times over the years, both personally and professionally. Whenever I was in his presence, I was always left wanting more – more stories, more laughter, more passion, and more pride in the sense of self and well-being.
Some would know Danny Frawley as a champion fullback of the St Kilda football club. Others would know him as a five-year coach at Richmond. Others would know him as an accomplished and astute radio commentator, on both Triple M and SEN.
Or as a footy analyst on television on Fox Footy. And others still knew him as a jovial, sometimes loud-mouthed, “golden fist advocate” larrikin on Fox Footy’s “Bounce” program following their late Sunday night game broadcasts.
If anyone knew him as any single one of those things, or perhaps knew him as more than one of those things, that is rather unfortunate, because he was so much more than that.
For those who know me, and others who are getting to know me, I have had two major careers in my life, in journalism and in hospitality (oddly enough, I am doing both concurrently right now). I first met Danny Frawley towards the end of my first run of duty in journalism, when I was writing for the Ballarat Courier.
I had a desk – a desk shared with many others, to be honest – next to his cousin Ray, who was a seasoned sport reporter at the paper. Ray, at some point, introduced me to his famous footy cousin when Danny was visiting the paper’s building.
Ah, Ballarat. Danny Frawley loved the Ballarat area, and would never let you forget that this is where he came from. A little country town just outside of Ballarat called Bungaree is where he hailed from – and where he got the loveable nickname “Spud”, from being a member of a potato-farming family.
He was a pure salt-of-the-earth type of person who moved up to “the big smoke”, as Melbourne was known, and made a life for himself and his family there.
He not only “made it” there, but made never forgot his origins there, in and out of football. He and his great Ballarat mate, the great Tony Lockett, would frequently share the long commute into Moorabbin from the Ballarat gold country, as if that was a sharing of togetherness, community and family. Those values were very important to Danny.
In my hospitality life, I also ran into Danny quite frequently, in working many functions as a waiter over the years, on match days in the suites at Marvel Stadium. Most significantly, I saw him over a couple of years, in the “tent city” in Yarra Park outside the MCG where his wife Anita – an accomplished event planner in her own right – helped organise the “September Club” corporate marquees.
In that last example, I helped look after Danny’s colleagues, friends and corporate guests in the Triple M marquee, something which after the second year of doing so, both he and Anita told me of their appreciation for my hospitality work. Even as recently as a couple of months ago, Danny and I had reminisced about those events.
But he always had a kind word, a joke, a smile, for me and others around me. And that’s what I am going to miss most about Danny.
Outside of our direct personal connections, I remember his last days coaching at Richmond, and feeling pain and anguish for him in the way that some Tigers supporters treated him – and moreover, Anita and their children – in some very bad losing times.
That series of episodes reinforced the personal belief that players and coaches in any circle of sport aren’t just players and coaches, they are human beings with really raw feelings and emotions.
Frawley wore his heart on his sleeve. And in recent years, he used that sense of passion to become a champion for men’s health issues, and also mental health issues.
Certainly in his own admissions of having recent episodes of depression showed a vulnerability that he shared with other men and a footy-loving community at large. At once where he was loved as being a footy personality, only recently he was being respected and admired for being a human being.
Danny Frawley was never afraid to laugh, joke, smile, or even cry. He displayed emotions openly, and was never afraid to do so. (A speech he once gave in tribute to his old friend Tony Lockett revealed all of these traits; the recording is widely available in Triple M’s annals and likely on YouTube now.)
I am just now coming to grips with a world without Danny Frawley. And the world is a lesser place without him.