Danny Frawley's send-off encapsulated the life of the man: It was raw and passionate, funny and irreverent. It brought so many people together, yet was underpinned by an immense sadness.
At the very end of an at-times harrowing service where 800 people gathered at the old Moorabbin Town Hall - a remarkable collection of AFL figures, Bungaree family and friends, media mates, even the actor Eric Bana - Frawley's wife Anita spoke directly to camera. "We're going to give him a hell of a send-off," said Anita, in a tribute filmed after the former St Kilda captain, Richmond coach and media commentator and AFL figure died when his car struck a tree outside Ballarat on Monday last week. "He deserves that, for sure."
Anita, who has long worked in events management, succeeded, though on occasion the sadness was overpowering to many in the room, as they struggled to come to grips, not only with the abrupt death of the beloved "Spud" but also with the apparent nature of his passing, which had followed his decision, eight months earlier, to take himself off the medication he needed to treat his depression.
"Bullet-proof Danny decided he was all fine," Anita said in the powerful concluding video, when she and their daughters Chelsea, Danielle and Keeley, spoke directly to camera. "Mental health is such a tough, tough thing."
The secular, yet richly human service, hosted by Channel Seven's Hamish McLachlan - brother of the AFL boss - was for public consumption, having been preceded by a much smaller private family service with Catholic rites. It framed the life of the widely beloved Frawley into six parts, with speakers representing each of those spheres of Frawley's life.
First, there was the local and family perspective, provided by his close mate from Bungaree, Danny Quinlan, and Michael Roberts, a St Kilda teammate. Part two covered his time at St Kilda, with tributes from champions Stewart Loewe and Robert Harvey, whom "Spud" had captained for nine years at nearby Moorabbin, and his teammate and then coach Ken Sheldon.
"He was literally one of a kind," said Harvey. "The best kind."
The third phase of Frawley's life to be celebrated was his five-year term as coach of Richmond, for which Wayne Campbell, the former skipper, and Brendon Gale, the Tigers' CEO, spoke, along with Frawley's close mate, Noel Duncan. Campbell noted that Frawley was "ahead of his time" in his intimate connection with players. "Spud, from your players ... you were a bloody good coach."
Frawley's legacy as a mental health ambassador was spoken for by fellow sufferer and advocate, the former North Melbourne and Sydney star Wayne Schwass, who exhorted men who carried mental health issues to "man up" by speaking out. "Proud of you for helping others," said Schwass, his voice wavering often as he spoke of Spud's struggle.
The service, thus, implicitly posed everyone a question consistent with Schwass' message: Why had someone who was so loved by so many found his life so painful?
In the fifth quarter, media mates and on-field rivals Garry Lyon and Jason Dunstall spoke with poignant affection. "Let's be honest, his primary focus was to punch holes in the back of my head," said Dunstall of their on-field jousts, which would continue on Fox Footy's light-hearted Bounce program.
"I loved working with him. I loved his company. I loved him," said Dunstall, a man not noted for public displays of emotion.
The service concluded with a video tribute - one from an AFL documentary made about coaches when "Spud'" was running the AFL Coaches Association, in which he and Anita spoke candidly, and finally the wrenching video in which Anita and the girls said their goodbyes.
Reiterating a theme from several speakers, Anita said that her husband "absolutely" loved his girls. "What we have been discussing the last few days is he was a real Peter Pan, a king of the kids."
- SMH/The Age