Off Season Odyssey – Part 23: Spent… Cooked…Content

Off-season Odyssey Pt. 23

Old Dog gets the drop on Leo Barry

Leo Barry was a good player, no doubt. 200-odd games for the Swans. A struggling forward, and honest backman. A ripper full-back! With nothing more than the build of a flanker. He’s smaller than me, for Christ’s sake!

Had it over Gehrig. Knew Fev was a confidence player, so whacked into him early. Ran, as best he could, with Richo. Took on monsters, mountains and Legends. Did his job.

Then he did more.

 

Took that grab.

 

The Jezza of his decade, of three decades. Not just won a Premiership, but, better for all us backmen throughout history, throughout the land, of all shapes and sizes, far better, he saved it. Plucked the pill with about seven blokes charging in the other direction, on the siren, on the biggest stage. Just as it was floating into one of those damn pretty-boy midfielder’s outstretched arms. Just as another forward was going to cast himself in bronze and gold.

Underdogs took to bars, hairy back pockets out-marked the dance-floor. Centre-half-backs took on bus stops. Yong tearaways marked goon bladders. KIDS WANTED TO BE BACKMEN! I can’t stress it enough. For once it was legendary to be honest. To be a bloke who does his job.

Everybody across a nation repeated that grab.

I did.

Took on a shop sign in the city, busting one of its bulbs. Was left hanging above the foot traffic, unable to let go for the nail in my hand, yelling what we all would for months…

“Cox marks… kicks long… LEEEEEEEOOOO BAAAAAARRRRYYYY!”

The two words still echo as if they’re the one. A chant for the defender. And now, years on, as if it were yesterday, here I am, drinking with him in a pub under the Opera House.

We’ve talked abut all sorts of stuff for a good while. One of his teammates. The best mark he’s ever seen, but a grub of a player. A grump of a bloke. The people he liked, the tough, no frills sort like Ben Matthews. The ones he’s still in contact with today. How Lockett once knocked out a kid who kept cutting in front of him in a practice match. The kid learnt. All sorts of on the inside stuff.

All gold.

But it’s in the way he tells it. In the way his voice sounded when he called while I was clunking and rattling down the highway in my ute. Straight up.

It’s his shout. He comes back with more beers. This is mighty of him. Leo Barry is meant to be on a short lunch break.

He no-longer has the twang of a country boy raised on a rice farm outside Deniliquin, rural N.S.W., but so what? Everything about his says otherwise. He still has that way.

Of talking down the line. Of looking you in the eye. That easy strength.

He’s telling me about his work.

“They’re an international mob,” he says.

I try, but I’m a monkey, now and always. I only talk in one in three words of it.

Something about finance, in one of those glass towers they build cities and countries around. Near as I can figure, his job is to convince big time players to invest millions.

“Yeah, they were Swans sponsors, so it just flowed on from my playing days.”

Not that he was a gift. Even while playing AFL he studied. Got three degrees.

Sports/Science

Business Masters.

Grad Dip in Securities.

Almost as if practising work ethic. Giving his mind plenty of ground time, so when something post-football hit, he’d be match fit.

My brain keeps whispering as he talks.

 

   Leeeeooooo Barrrryyyyyy…! it says.

 

“The long hours are pretty full on,” he tells me. “Not seeing daylight. Having kids.”

“So you’re ambitious?” I ask.

And, for the first time I see up close the footballer who took on giants and made history, saving a Premiership by a point.

He drops all manner, all expression, becomes direct and plain, like the best fighters. And, in that, shows me his heart and bone.

“Yes.”

Then we’re back talking footy and life, and laughing at shit. Drinking one more. Full strength, always full strength. Like any good backman, he knows footy is footy, I tell him as many stories as he tells me.

I wonder, while we talk, what drives him to work so much at whatever he does? What sort of person his father is? What sort of person his mother? People this driven are meant to be arseholes. Hard, selfish.

Yet here he is, all straight up about anything and everything.

I spin shit about my injuries. About playing on.

“I don’t miss it,” he says. “When I was done, I’d left nothing in the tank.” He fumbles for the exact word. “I was

spent…

cooked…

content.”

He played his junior footy as a forward. Was recruited as a forward.

“Now it’s done, what do you see yourself as?” I ask, as casual as I can. As if his answer is no big thing, even though it bloody well is.

“Oh, a backman.”

Oath!

The more we talk, the more he sound just like Leo. A good bloke who had a bit of luck.

I tell him about a kid from the Otways called Liam, a Sydney Supporter doing a builder’s aprentership in Apollo Bay. Since ‘That Day’, he’s been called Leo Barry. Leeeeooooo, to his mates. The real one laughs.

“Yeah, people named their kids and pets that. It was pretty full on. Very humbling.”

I can tell he’s stoked. In good ways. That ‘the mark’ is no shrug of the shoulders. That he’s still a bit amazed by it all.

He hears my next question before I’ve asked it.

“Nah, I’ve got no problem with it. Being remembered for one thing. When you think of all the champions, the truly great players, the blokes who never got the recognition they deserved, or premierships, or even finals. I’ve left my mark. I was just an honest player. Athletic, but… I’m pretty damn happy.”

I tell him about the nail. He laughs.

“My wife caught our kids acting it out the other day, against a mattress in the garage. She came in, and they were even doing the commentary… ‘Cox, marks it on the wing… Kicks long…’”.

He grins that baffled, stoked grin again.

Then the farm boy from the N.S.W border region, with three degrees, the most genuine of people, is gone. Up the stairs, through the suits and stunning women, into glass towers. To his new work ethic. His new challenge.

His new thing to be driven by. Monsters to take on.

 

No shit attitude in sight.

 

No, Leo Barry was never a Champion, but that’s what made that moment so special to us backmen. Us honest players and battlers. The ones who’s biggest skill is simply how hard they can go.

 

The fact he’s obviously a champion bloke, though, is what makes the echo of it so damn sweet.

No, wait! Leo spoils!!

Comments

  1. Damien Holloway says:

    Giving his mind plenty of ground time, so when something post-football hit, he’d be match fit.
    Brilliant! One of the best things I’ve read about footy and about a bloke for a long time.
    Thanks Matt.
    Cheers.

  2. Malby Danlges says:

    Great again Matt! I hope the writing and ‘doing’ of your Odyssey gives you as much pleasure as it is giving the readers of it.

  3. Matt Zurbo says:

    Cheers, Damian! Thanks heaps.

    You too Malby, always.

  4. Surely the umpire paid you the free for the blatant arm hack?

  5. Love it Matt. Great insight.

  6. Matt Zurbo says:

    Gus!!! How’s the Middle East footy?!?!
    Thanks Cookie.

  7. Look at the photo , see Sampi being held by the jumper.We can see the free kick now .The umpire saw it then and didn’t pay it.I’m still baffled. Good mark though

  8. Haha! Who’d want to win a final on a dodgy free anyway, Greg!

  9. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Sensational Story A v humble man and who wouldn’t want to be remembered for that mark ! Spot on re How many kids and adults screamed Leooooooo Barrrryyyy as they
    Attempted to take the hanger Good to read of a guy who didn’t get ahead of himself and realised how important his studies were Ripper Yarn of ob a good bloke well told as always Matt

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