Almanac (Footy) Books: ‘Born to Play – The Barry Davis Story’ (excerpts)

Born to Play: The Barry Davis Story 
by Ken Davis
KenPiesse Football & Cricket Books
ISBN: 9780992522896



Here is a sneak preview to some extracts from Chapter 6 of the forthcoming biography about Barry Davis.



In 1955, Barry had his first taste of playing for Victoria in an under-13 state side that played and won a carnival in Launceston. It was freezing. That week he won selection  as a rover.


When next he represented the Big V, in 1967, he was 23 and playing exclusively at half-back, thanks to John Coleman’s foresight and keen footy brain. Having a ball-winner like Barry rebounding with booming drop-kicks running clear of his opponent helped to break up lines. Often he was kicking well clear of the wingers and centreline and finding a fast-leading Ken Fraser at half-forward. Footy wasn’t as fast then and there was less reliance on handball so having a skilful, long-kicking player like Barry was manna from heaven for Coley and the Dons.


State football was another level up on club play. Faster and more skilful, it also gave Barry access to some of the game’s master coaches and footy minds.


Once when travelling to Perth for a State game, he sat next to Tommy Hafey, a fellow fitness fanatic who was coaching Victoria. Tommy told Barry how he exercised every day, having a morning dip 365 days a year and running the ramps at Mentone before all his push-ups on the headland. He loved the endurance events and once when sprinting to the finish blacked out but still managed to cross the line. He always wanted to test his physical limits – dangerous, but nonetheless impressive. What a determined man.


Barry was captain once with John Kennedy as coach. John was wise and a very tough disciplinarian. As the team gathered in the rooms prior to the match, the players waited for Kennedy to address them, expecting to hear a loud and inspiring talk for which he was renowned. In a stroke of pure genius, Kennedy spoke just five words: ‘One handpass fellas… one kick’. It was pure gold for the players, many of whom were treating the game as an exhibition and may have been tempted to play accordingly, with an overuse of handball.


State football gave Barry and others a chance to play with and against so many champions. Many friendships were forged. Ted Whitten, maybe the most passionate Big V footballer ever, would make a point of looking after Barry, often warning opponents that there would be the fiercest possible retribution should there be any ‘incidents’.

Essendon played Footscray once with Barry at centre-half back against Ted.  Barry half expected Teddy to deliver a clip over the ears or unleash an elbow, as he was not averse at doing.  But he never did anything untoward, showing the great respect for his younger Victorian teammate. In that game, Essendon was winning and with Barry holding his brilliant opponent in check, suddenly Ted started to run off into defence. Somewhat mystified, Barry called to ‘EJ’: ‘Where are you going?’ ‘On the ball… I haven’t had a kick here.’ The Bombers won and EJ gave Barry one of his special handshakes afterwards. He said his right hand was sore all week.


Barry played in Perth the day when a young Leigh Matthews felled Barry Cable at a bounce. He is still angry about what he reckoned was a callous act. He recognises Matthews’ worth to Hawthorn, but never supported Matthews’ ranking as the best player of the 20th Century. He didn’t at the time and doesn’t now.

State football and the Gaelic football tour at the end of 1967 allowed him to mix with the very best players, some who the previous week may have been intent on knocking his block off. Strong bonds invariably develop when you play and travel together, share rooms, meals and social outings.


As a youngster, Roger Dean made a habit of niggling Bas every time Richmond played the Dons. In one game at a time when Barry was fast developing into a young champion, Dean started to lead away from the ball, wanting to negate Barry’s influence on the game. He and Dean roomed together overseas on the Gaelic football tour and became friends. The following season, opposed against each other again, Barry took a mark and Roger whacked him over the head. When he realised that it was Barry who he’d contacted, he immediately apologised. ‘Sorry Bas,’ he said. ‘Didn’t realise it was you.’


Over the years the two of them have enjoyed each other’s company, often meeting socially on the tennis court and at AFL functions. Roger and his wife later lived in the same street in Strathmore in which we were brought up. They’d walk past our house and greet our Mum in the frontyard.  Roger has a great sense of fun and would often bait Mum with tongue-in-cheek comments: ‘Gee your boy was a rough player Mrs D’. Initially Mum was taken aback but then learnt to return the fire. ‘Don’t give me that Roger,’ she’d say. ‘You were the one who used to whack Barry.’


Autumn in Ireland

Australian football’s very first International tour to Ireland and the USA occurred in late 1967. Matches were played under Ireland’s Gaelic footy rules, a round ball, being used rather than the oval-shaped TW Sherrin. The field of play was different and just 15 players allowed on the field at any one time. Scoring was also different. Having had just a couple of practice sessions at Royal Park, the team flew out in October heading for Dublin. It was Barry’s first time overseas and as Ron Barassi insisted it was no holiday. ‘We were representing Australia and were expected to do well,’ said Barry.


This tour was the brainchild of former VFL umpire, commentator and entrepreneur Harry Beitzel.  Ron Barassi led this team of champions onto the field and although clearly bigger and stronger than their opponents, there must have been some concern about how they would fare as they walked on to Croke Park to face the champions of all-Ireland, County Meath on their own famous home ground.


To the surprise of the locals, the Galahs from down under, won this game and Barry excelled as a full back. Such was his dominance in the games he played in Ireland, that he was chosen in the all-Ireland Team of the year and was also awarded the Sports Star of the week in an Ireland newspaper.


Reproduced with permission from Born to Play: the Barry Davis story, available to Football Alamanc friends and subscribers for $50 post free, contact Ken Piesse at [email protected]




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  1. Fantastic read geez,Barry Davis could play absolute gun

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