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Sunday, October 1, 2023

AFL great Ron Barassi dies

“When our game was largely based in the south and west of Australia and revolved around the state leagues, Ron Barassi was constantly ahead of his time pushing for national development and a national league,” Goyder said.

“A champion of Victoria who relished the battles against SA, WA and Tasmania at state level, Barassi saw the potential ahead if the game could unlock interest in New South Wales and Queensland and constantly pushed the game’s administrators to dream big, plan bigger and be prepared to risk dramatic steps into the unknown.

“He revolutionised the game as a player – created the position of ruck rover – built premiership success at clubs as a coach and then was our first great evangelist to take the game north and grow it to become what we have today.

“He was known all across Australia when football wasn’t always known.”

Albanese said Barassi was a legend who will forever be remembered by the game.

“There is no more famous name in football than Ron Barassi and there is no-one who gave more to the game that millions love,” Albanese said in a tribute on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

“Ron Barassi was a legend in every sense of the word. A fearless player and leader, a visionary coach and a tireless champion for the growth and success of Australian rules football.

“Ron’s name and his legacy will be remembered as long as footy is played.

“May he rest in peace.”


Barassi, inducted as an AFL Legend in 1996, was a champion player for his beloved Melbourne, playing in all six of the club’s premierships during their dynasty in the 1950s and 60s under Smith.

The Demons said they were deeply saddened by the loss of one of their favourite sons.

“Everyone at the Melbourne Football Club is extremely saddened to hear of Ron’s passing. We send our sympathies and condolences to Ron’s family and friends at this incredibly sad time,” Demons chief Gary Pert said.

“Ron was a much-loved character and friend to so many of us around the club which is why he will be so deeply missed.

“Ron was more than a player and coach. He was an icon of the game, and a true Melbourne person. His legacy will forever be etched in the history of the game.

“The entire football community has lost a giant, but Ron’s spirit and impact will live on through the game that he loved so dearly.”

His shock defection to Carlton for the 1965 season stunned the football world but his success continued, this time as a coach, guiding the Blues to premierships in 1968 and 1970.

He delivered North Melbourne their first flag in 1975, and another in the 1977 grand final replay after a heart stopping draw during his reign at Arden Street from 1973-80. But he was unable to lift Melbourne’s fortunes during his five seasons back at his spiritual home.

He answered an SOS call from AFL and Sydney to come out of retirement and coach the relocated Swans, who were on their knees in 1993 but made a grand final three years later due largely to the hope generated by Barassi.

Champions Tony Lockett and Paul Roos headed north in 1995 to play in the red and the white, their first season in Sydney also Barassi’s last in the coaches box.

Blues president Luke Sayers paid tribute to Barassi, whose direction to his players to handball at all costs led to the club turning around a 44-point deficit at half-time to win by 10 points. It is one of the competition’s most fabled flags.

“Arguably our game’s greatest name, a giant of Australian Football, who left a legacy at every club whose doors he walked through, none more so than our own,” Sayers said.

“It was late 1964 that Ron donned the navy blue, and for the proceeding decades, the Carlton Football Club never looked back.

“The captain-coach of our drought-breaking flag in ’68, followed by what is considered the greatest victory of them all, the 1970 grand final comeback over Collingwood.


“Ron transformed the game and indeed the clubs who were privileged to be graced with his presence.

“How fitting that just last night, the two clubs in which he left such an impact, should play out a final that typified the toughness, ferocious competitiveness and passion that symbolised so much that was great about Ron.

“On behalf of the entire Carlton Football Club, our most heartfelt condolences go out to the Barassi family and we thank them deeply for allowing us and our game, the honour of having the great Ron Barassi as forever part of it.”

The Kangaroos, who held their best and fairest awards on Saturday night, said the club carried heavy hearts after the death of their first premiership coach.

“Ron was a giant of the game and for a time he was ours,” North president Dr Sonja Hood said.

“He famously guided us to our first-ever VFL/AFL premiership with a win over Hawthorn in 1975 and he backed that up with another flag in 1977, this time with a win over Collingwood.

“But he was much more than a coach – he was a man of the game and the game will forever owe him an enormous debt of gratitude.

“He gave his all for every club he represented – first Melbourne, then Carlton, North Melbourne and finally at Sydney.

“For us, Ron will always be our first premiership coach and he’ll always be a North Melbourne legend.

“Vale Ronald Dale Barassi.“

His death comes nearly two years to the day since the Demons broke one of the biggest premiership droughts in VFL/AFL, winning the 2021 flag, their first triumph since 1964 after decades of hardship.

That premiership was won at Perth’s Optus Stadium, and not in front of an MCG crowd, in a season impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Barassi, though, took part in unfurling the Demons’ 13th flag at a pre-game ceremony in round one last year.

Age sports writer Greg Baum spoke to Barassi in the countdown to that flag triumph.

“I feel very nervous. Nervous and excited,” Barassi said in the interview. “As long as they play their best. If their best is beaten, you’ve got to cop that. But if you play your best, you generally win.”

Two years ago the Melbourne Football Club sent Barassi a gift pack with a scarf and T-shirt, and president Kate Roffey sent him a personalised video message, standing in front of the recently rediscovered 1964 premiership pennant.

“The ’64 grand final was Barassi’s last game for Melbourne, that flag the last of six for him as a player,” Baum wrote.

“He said later he felt oddly wrung out and played poorly in the first half, better in the second in a four-point win. Reminded that he had 17 touches, he says: ’Seventeen! That’s not much. Not happy!“

Barassi, a member of Melbourne’s 1955, 1956, 1957, 1959, 1960 and 1964 premiership teams, is fondly remembered.

Barassi (a record 10 premierships as a player or coach) shares that record with Melbourne coaching icon Norm Smith, ahead of Collingwood coaching great Jock McHale (nine) and Leigh Matthews (eight), widely regarded as the best player of the 20th century.

Picked in the AFL Team of the Century when the league celebrated its anniversary in 1996, he was immediately awarded Legend status.

Barassi’s playing career spanned two decades – the 1950s and 1960s – at Melbourne and Carlton. His transfer from the Demons to the Blues in ahead of the 1965 season was one of the most notable player moves in football history.

He coached the Demons, Carlton, North Melbourne and Sydney Swans in 482 matches.
His move to coach the Swans in 1993 came in a low period for the club a decade after they moved north to Sydney from South Melbourne.

AFL coaching colossus Ron Barassi in Sydney.

AFL coaching colossus Ron Barassi in Sydney.Credit: Stuart Hannagan

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