IN MANY respects, Danny Frawley was the epitome of Australian Rules football as we knew it growing up.
A hard-nosed footballer who grew into a legend without losing connection with his roots. He came when footballers were born, not manufactured and where a sense of community and larrikinism was encouraged and celebrated.
The son of a potato farmer, nicknamed Spud.
Through his career as a player at St Kilda and later as coach of Richmond and as a commentator, Frawley's heart-on-his-sleeve attitude never dimmed. The flood of tributes from within the AFL community in the hours following his tragic death in a single vehicle accident near Ballarat on Monday are testament to the positive impact he had on so many people.
But in recent years, it was his work as an advocate for men's health and specifically opening up on his own mental health battles which put new focus on his life.
In a recent podcast, he spoke candidly about the treachery of dealing with depression in an environment where showing weakness is not an option.
"Manning up in the past was to suffer in silence. Manning up now is to put your hand up," he said.
"I have got no problem talking about mental health and what I went through because I hope I help a lot of people in that."
In many respects, he was giving others experiencing mental health problems a licence to talk about an issue which has been hidden, and tragically endemic, in regional and rural Australia.
It was a message he regularly brought to back to the country communities where he had an affinity and where he recognised cultures need to change.
When someone who can connect with people at all levels of a community - with a platform that being an AFL champion provides - the impact on important issues cannot be underestimated. This will undoubtedly be a major legacy beyond his achievements on the footy field.
To take up this point, we need more leaders to advocate for those suffering mental health problems and we need greater investment in support services in regional and rural Australia.
It's impossible to encapsulate Danny Frawley the footballer and person is so few words but as editor of The Courier some years ago, there's one example I remember which speaks volumes.
In the midst of McCain Foods dropping potato price returns to farmers in 2011, he was not happy. Not happy with the paper for what he saw as insufficient support for the local and not happy at the threat to the livelihoods of his family and friends in the farming sector. He was passionate about a fair go and his views were made clear.
He ended up fronting a picket of trucks outside the McCain factory and addressed the farmers: "I think, like any great partnership, there has got to be some give and take and the farmers don't ask for the world, they just want to be able to provide for their families."
A few months later our paths crossed at a function he placed a gentle hand on my back and, with his trademark smile, apologised for the earlier rant. He thanked the paper for helping give the farmers a voice, adding that the war may not have been won but the battle had been worth the fight.
Today, our sympathies and thoughts are with the Frawley family. The communities he loved - and those he was loved within - are in mourning.
A great of the game and of the human spirit taken too soon. Rest in peace Danny Frawley.
If you or someone you know needs support, help is available:
- Lifeline 13 11 14
- Mensline Australia Line 1300 789 978
- Kids Help 1800 55 1800
- Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
- Andrew Eales is a former editor of The Courier, Ballarat