The fighting styles, physiques and sportsmanship of both Barry Hall and Paul Gallen – by default – represented their respective football codes, with the fight itself being promoted as the Code War.
Gallen was microcosmic of the NRL player. Straight forward with his head down, he drove continuously and with almighty torque – a low centre of gravity, minimal lateral movement and eyes lasered while his wide-frame followed.
Hall was fleet of foot, eyes wide and alert – ready to pounce on a target that could bob and bounce in all ways. Opportunity could come at any one moment or from any direction – also like the arena of an AFL player. The ensuing Code War was intense throughout – a dangerous and intense game of six rounds, it was physical, skilful and fast.
At the bout’s end and after the announcement of a drawn result, Hall – seemingly as instinctively as a swinging left hook – deferred the importance of a rematch to his role as a father. That response might be considered ironic given Hall’s own pugilistic upbringing.
Arguably, those experiences gave rise to actions which placed the star St Kilda forward and premiership player for Sydney at the centre of controversy several times in a high-profile career.
One such infamous moment came while playing for the Swans. A reflexive strike to an opponent was abhorrent for its look as well as effect.
Perhaps had that moment been witnessed from the perspective where abhorrent physical acts are valued, such as that of caged fighting, Hall’s makeshift weapon, his left hook, might have been viewed as poetry in unbelievably swift motion.
Nonetheless, at that point of his career ‘Big Bad Barry’ Hall’s popular nick name had seemingly swung in its interpretation – from endearing to indelibly bad. No adult athlete would be prepared for that. Moreover, no child should ever need be.
Since that time, Hall has taken ownership of those on-field errors. “It wasn’t great.”, said Hall in 2017 as he was inducted into the AFL’s Hall of Fame. “I’m a father now and I don’t want my boy seeing his dad do that.”
In response to the announcement of a drawn Code War Hall admitted – albeit with a moment’s hesitation – that the fight in a sense could have readily belonged to Gallen, given two of three judges had called a draw and the third favoured Gallen 58–56.
Hall also offered to have a beer, or “even buy one” for Gallen, despite Hall’s knowledge the NRL star had declared he would not drink with Hall. Credit where credit is due, Gallen at least smiled at the prospect.
Barry Hall came off the couch to tackle this incredible challenge. He took it on being four years senior to his opponent, with the prized fighter Gallen training on from this year’s NRL season.
In the Code War, Hall represented the AFL with aplomb. He also claimed at fight’s end that he had wanted to do justice to the sport of boxing by taking on a credible opponent, which he did so with courage, honesty and perspective. He also chose the best arena to test those attributes.
Well done, ‘Big Bad Barry’.