“These shall not be forgotten years”: Richmond: 1981 – 2016. 7. The Frawley Years

 

In his long and distinguished football career, Danny Frawley will always be, first and foremost, a champion of the St Kilda Football Club. But at this time of his tragic passing, my most sincere tribute is to reflect on the wonderful contribution he made to my club during his five-year stint as coach from 2000-2004.

 

Five years mightn’t sound that long, but when you consider ‘Spud’ joined the Tigers after a 23-year period in which we’d burned through 11 coaches, his time in charge was positively dynastic. That in itself says a lot about the high regard in which he was held at Richmond. Even as the last three years of his stint revealed the sad reality of a sub-standard playing list, the notoriously trigger-happy Richmond board stuck with “Spud” until the man himself called time during the 2004 season.

 

My overriding recollection of Frawley as coach was his raw, passionate honesty. “Raw” and “passion” were nothing new to the Tigers. “Honesty” less so. In his first season in charge, Frawley set a new standard in discipline, twice dropping key players for off-field misdemeanours. It sent a clear message that behaviour was more important than name or reputation. He could easily have backed down after dropping Nick Daffy from an already injury-hit side and watching in horror as the Tigers lost by a point to Fremantle. But “Spud” stared down his critics. Weeks later he dropped Brad Ottens for a crucial game against Hawthorn after having to collect his inebriated star ruckman from a police lock-up. Without Ottens, the Tigers came from four goals down to beat the Hawks by three points in a stirring contest. Frawley’s reputation as a stickler for the team ethic was sealed and the club’s culture changed for the better. Despite a horror run with injury, including a freakish season-ending foot fracture to Matthew Richardson, the Tigers played some inspired football in that 2000 season, denied a finals spot by only a couple of heart-breaking narrow losses.

 

The highlight of the Frawley years was the 2001 season and the isolated glory of a finals appearance. Frawley set the tone early. In spite of the entreaties of his media manager to play a straight bat, Spud let rip with his “every dog has its day” comment after the Western Bulldogs game that left Matthew Knights battered and bloody. It wasn’t out of the media training manual, but it was Frawley at his passionate best and it set up a cracking season that contained some fantastic wins. The return (revenge) game against the Dogs was a classic. I rate it as the Tigers’ best and most significant home-and-away win of the 2000-2009 decade, not only because it was, effectively, an early elimination final, but also because of the steely nature of the win in a high-quality, fluctuating contest in which the footy world fully expected us to falter. The season culminated with a rollercoaster ride of results. Beating the all-conquering Essendon in the last round to secure a top-4 position was followed by a 12-goal humiliation by the same opponent in the first week of the finals. The triumph of beating the old enemy, Carlton, in the Semi Final was cut brutally short by our thrashing by Brisbane, a brilliant team on the cusp of their triple Premiership. Through it all, Spud led the team in his inimitable manner and no-one could begrudge his success.

 

The unfortunate legacy of the 2001 season was the impression it left with the Richmond hierarchy that we were in the “Premiership window” and that our list required tweaking rather than significant improvement. Some poor trades didn’t make up for the loss of experienced players like Paul Broderick and Brendon Gale, and of the key members of our spine from 2001, Richardson, Ottens and Ben Holland all missed significant chunks of the 2002 season. It came crashing down very quickly that year and the following two were worse. By 2004, Richmond was wooden-spooner and Frawley was handing over the task of another rebuild to Terry Wallace, ironically enough, his adversary in those memorable 2001 Bulldogs’ games.

 

It would be nice to conclude by saying that despite this dramatic slide, the Richmond mob kept the faith with Spud, but I can’t. Sadly, Frawley was treated reprehensibly by some so-called “fans” as bad losses turned to disastrous ones. No-one reviewing the scenes of seething, spitting idiots could ever doubt the stresses involved in coaching an AFL side. One can only speculate what effect this time had on his mental health. What I can say with certainty is that Spud shouldered this burden publicly with class, dignity and good humour throughout those five turbulent years. That speaks volumes to his character.

 

Richmond was only a small part of Danny Frawley’s life, but in his unique way, he changed the club for the better.

 

Thank you Spud – RIP

 

Stainless has been writing extensively on Richmond’s ‘forgotten years” from 1981-2016. You can read more here.

 

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

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About Sam Steele

Stainless (aka Sam Steele) started following Richmond in 1970 when he was 6. This occurred when his mother, under instructions to buy him a Melbourne jumper, found they were out of stock and purchased a Richmond one instead. Despite the decades of heartache and turmoil this fateful decision has brought on Stainless, he is grateful to his mum as he has at least seen his side win a couple of Premierships. After 30 September 2017, his mum is now officially his favourite person.

Comments

  1. Well played, Stainless. Honest and respectful.

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