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Ron Barassi (file photo/AFANA)

The semi-finals weekend was bittersweet, not only for the teams which were eliminated but for the sad news of the passing of the legendary great Ron Barassi. Ron Barassi was 87 and suffered complications from a fall. Tributes from the AFL and the four clubs with which he was involved poured in. His story is well-chronicled, from the time he went to live with Melbourne coach Norm Smith after his father was killed in World War II to his recruitment to the Melbourne Demons, his shock move to Carlton, and his coaching career at Carton, North Melbourne, and Sydney. He was actually retired when he was coaxed to take over at the Swans after their move from Melbourne to Sydney. He coached the Swans from 1993 through 1995 (59 games). He was a board member for seven more seasons.

Sydney chairman Andrew Pridham said the AFL has lost a pioneer, "The Sydney Swans are saddened by the passing of one of the game's all-time greats, Ron Barassi. Ron was a wonderful person and had a huge influence on the Swans, for which we are forever grateful ... ".

AFL Commission Chairman Richard Goyder lauded Ron Barassi as the most important figure in Australian football since the second World War. Goyder said that while Barassi’s extraordinary record of 10 premierships as a player and coach made him a talisman for success, it was his vision for the growth of the game to be the dominant national sport that would define his contribution to football, “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. 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 revolutionize 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.”

Barassi played 254 games for Melbourne and Carlton across his senior career, winning six premierships as a player with Melbourne under his mentor Norm Smith. In 1965, Carlton lured him away from Melbourne with an offer that he would be captain-coach of the Blues. When he retired as a player at the end of 1968, he remained as coach for three more seasons. In 1970, he famously led the Blues back from a 44 point half time deficit in the 1970 Grand Final for a ten point victory. He left Carlton to take the coaching reins at North Melbourne, coaching the Kangaroos to two premierships in 1975 and 1977. He returned to the Demons as coach in 1981. When to he finished at North, he worked in the media for a time before heading to Sydney to lend his name and title to the struggling Swans and buttress their platform in the national competition. He was named as one of the 12 inaugural Legends of the Game when the Australian Football Hall of Fame was instituted in 1996.

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan said he had been privileged to spend time with Barassi in his role as CEO and was constantly struck by his relentless enthusiasm for the game and its evolution, “Ron Barassi always wanted to see the next development, the next step and the next achievement for footy, while loving the game and what it took to play at the highest level. He was fierce, challenging and determined and he loved most of all, the next contest for the ball, and watched games with an eye for the skills of the game and the courage and desire to play it well. Every time in recent years when we would see him at the MCG watching a match, our game was better for his presence and we have lost a hero of our sport ... ".

Melbourne CEO Gary Pert said, "Everyone ... is extremely saddened to hear of Ron’s passing ... 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."

From Carlton president Luke Sayers, “Arguably our game’s greatest name, a giant of Australian Football, who left a legacy at every club whose doors he walked through, of, none more so than our own. It was late 1964, that Ron donned the Navy Blue, and for the proceeding decades, the Carlton Football Club never looked back. He coached Carlton to our drought-breaking flag in ‘68, and to what is considered the greatest victory of them all, the 1970 Grand Final comeback win over Collingwood. Ron transformed the game and indeed the clubs who were privileged to be graced with his presence."

North Melbourne president Dr Sonja Hood said Barassi’s legacy would loom large long after his passing, “Ron was a giant of the game and for a time he was ours 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 ... For us, Ron will always be our first premiership coach and he’ll always be a North Melbourne legend... ".

RON BARISSI
Playing career: 1953-69 (Melbourne 1953-64, Carlton 1965-69)
Games: 254 (Melbourne 204, Carlton 50) Goals: 330 (Melbourne 295, Carlton 35)
Player honors: Melbourne best and fairest 1961, 1964; Melbourne leading goalkicker 1958 (equal), 1959; Melbourne captain 1960-64; Melbourne premierships 1955, 1956, 1957, 1959, 1960, 1964; AFL Team of the Century; Melbourne Team of the Century (captain); All-Australian 1956, 1958, 1961 (captain); Victoria 19 games, 26 goals; also played for Port Melbourne (VFA) 1972 (3 games, 1 goal), Melbourne Life Membership 1962, Melbourne Hall of Fame 2001, Melbourne Hall of Fame Legend 2003

Coaching record: Carlton 1965-71 (147 games, 99 wins, 47 losses, 1 draw), premierships 1968, 1970; North Melbourne 1973-80 (198 games, 130 wins, 65 losses, 3 draws), premierships 1975, 1977; Melbourne 1981-85 (111 games, 34 wins, 77 losses); Sydney 1993-95 (59 games, 13 wins, 46 losses).

Australian Football Hall of Fame Legend.

Source: Loretta Johns, Sydney Media Release, Stacey Oates, North Melbourne Media Release, Georgia Ahern, AFL Media Release, Matthew Goodrope. Melbourne Media Release, Will Botoulas, Carlton Media Release ​

Article last changed on Sunday, September 24, 2023 - 11:49 AM EDT


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