Australian football is mourning one of its fiercest competitors and most vulnerable souls after long-serving St Kilda captain, former Richmond coach and popular media personality Danny Frawley crashed his car into a tree on a quiet country road.
Frawley died about 1.30pm on Monday, the day after his 56th birthday, when his four-wheel-drive left a single lane road and hit a tree outside the western districts town of Millbrook, east of Ballarat.
He died not far from the family potato farm in Bungaree where he was raised and learned to play football.
Frawley had spoken candidly about his battle with mental health over many years. In recent weeks he confided in friends and family that his marriage was over and personal finances were under severe strain.
His death comes as an immense shock to the football community.
During a time of chronic instability at St Kilda, Frawley was a constant.
He led the club for a record 177 games and anchored the team from full back. Although he played in far more losses than wins, his bullocking strength and timely fist kept the Saints in contests that otherwise would have been forsaken causes.
"He was the most competitive, passionate bloke I played with," former teammate Nathan Burke said. "He is just one of those blokes, whether you were there for a year or 15 years, you wouldn't say a bad word about him.''
Off the field, Frawley was the sensible Saint, the dependable one who made sure the other Ballarat boys - Tony Lockett, Greg Burns and Geoff Cunningham - got to Moorabbin in time for training and matches.
In his final year of football, he played a small, important role in one of the game's greatest moments.
When a dying Ted Whitten farewelled the MCG with a final lap of honour at a state of origin match, it was Frawley who introduced him to each of the players in the Victoria rooms. Whitten's whispered words stayed with him for the rest of his life.
Frawley's coaching career saw him take over Richmond in 2000, a time when Tigerland was notorious for devouring its own. In the five seasons he coached, his hair turned white and a young man seemingly grew old.
"He was an incredible man, the energy he had, no matter where he was he would have 40 people around him because of his infectious personality and his ability to tell a story,'' former Richmond captain Wayne Campbell said.
"He was the essence of a true leader because people were drawn to him and followed him."
It was in his years at Richmond that Frawley publicly revealed his frailties, alongside his strengths. He spoke last month of the toll the job took on his family and mental health. He also revealed the breakdown he experienced at the height of the Essendon doping crisis, when as chief executive of the AFL coaches' association he was torn between his responsibility to the game and the welfare of coaches implicated in the scandal.
The doping crisis became a highly personal one, with Frawley unable to sleep and increasingly, to function in his broadcast job.
"The most frightening thing happened when I was at the MCG one afternoon,'' he told the Herald Sun in a recent podcast. "I was sitting in the car park, behind the wheel. I had no idea where to go, or what to do."
His wife Anita had to drive to the ground from their bayside house to pick him up.
In recent months and weeks, Frawley's poor mental health became acute.
He continued to work in the media, hosting Fox Footy's The Bounce with Jason Dunstall, and helped out as an assistant coach at St Kilda and St Bedes, the amateur club where Luke Beveridge coached before embarking on his AFL career.
In quiet moments, he told those he trusted that he was struggling to cope, his marriage was failing and his finances were shot, the result of a big investment gone bad. His problems were well known to his family.
Andrew Plympton, a president of the St Kilda Football Club during Frawley's time as captain, said Frawley's fight against depression showed the fickle nature of mental health.
"He came from a fantastically steady family,'' Plympton said. "I can't even try to understand where Danny had issues from."
Frawley was raised in a big, supportive family. His late father Brian was president of the local football club, his brother Michael now runs the family farm. His problems were well known to his siblings, some of who were making emergency dashes home from overseas on Monday night.
Danny Frawley is survived by his wife Anita and three adult daughters.
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