Ron Barassi reaches another milestone tomorrow night - his 500th game
coaching at Australian football's highest level.
The game against Carlton at the Sydney Cricket Ground will be his 45th with
Sydney, adding to his 147 games as coach of Carlton, 198 at North Melbourne and
110 at Melbourne.
Nine months short of his 60th birthday, he'll be fronting up yet again for
the best part of two hours of mental strain, whether the Swans win, lose or
Why does he do it when he is one of the greatest of the greats - someone
whose name personifies the very heart and soul of the game?
"I only came out of retirement to help the Swans out - once I'm finished here
that's it, I'm out for good," he said.
"This is definitely my swansong," he added as a mischievous after-thought,
before insisting he had "definitely no intention whatsoever" of trying to break
Collingwood old-timer Jock McHale's record of 714 games as coach.
Barassi is fourth on the list of long-serving coaches, behind McHale, Allan
Jeans (575 games with St Kilda, Hawthorn and Richmond) and Tom Hafey (522 with
Richmond, Collingwood, Geelong and Sydney).
He has seen, played with and coached great, good and mediocre footballers
over a span covering half a century.
Hawthorn's champion rover Leigh Matthews tops Barassi's list of the greatest
players he has seen, followed by the Carlton ruckman "Big John" Nicholls and
Footscray genius Ted Whitten.
He names Melbourne rover Alby Rodda, Collingwood rover Bob Rose, Essendon's
champion full-forward John Coleman, Melbourne half-back flanker Wally Lock,
Melbourne winger Ted Jackson and Melbourne ruckman Denis Cordner among the
heroes of his boyhood in the 1940s.
"Obviously I was a Melbourne supporter," said Barassi, who played 204 games
with the Demons between 1953 and 1964, before beginning his coaching career as
captain-coach of Carlton in 1965.
Of the present-day players, he described North Melbourne centre half-forward
Wayne Carey as "awesome, an absolutely sensational player", and reels off the
names of Gavin Brown (Collingwood), Gary Lyon (Melbourne), Greg Williams and
Stephen Kernahan (Carlton), Barry Stoneham - "when he plays" - (Geelong), Nicky
Winmar (St Kilda), and the Swans' Tony Lockett, Mark Bayes and Paul Kelly as
others he admired.
Barassi said modern teams would "thrash the teams of the past", although if
the old-timers had a couple of years of modern-type training and weight-lifting
they might make a game of it.
"Even then they'd get beaten because they were shorter and slower," he saids.
"But that's not taking anything away from them - they were the best of their
time and you really can't do better than that."
Barassi said the basics of coaching hadn't changed much over the years,
although different styles of playing the game had evolved, and players were
generally younger and better educated.
"You might have to explain things more to them, have more one-on-one
sessions, that kind of thing," he said.
One thing that hasn't changed is his pet hate among footballers - the player
with a lot of talent and little dedication to making the most of it, probably
because as a player he wasn't blessed with as much natural talent as some but
worked with fanatical determination to get to the top.
Among Barassi's regrets in his coaching career was the failure by his clubs
to snare players they wanted.