The ‘enormous’ numbers that show why Barassi belongs on footy’s Mount Rushmore

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Anyone who scored Ron Barassi’s prized signature would remember the accompanying number beneath it – 17410.

The figure represented the late Barassi’s extraordinary 17 grand final appearances for 10 premierships across his brilliant playing and coaching career at four clubs: Melbourne, Carlton, North Melbourne and Sydney.

The late Ron Barassi, pictured during a tribute lap in Sydney in 2003, left an indelible mark on Australian football.Credit: Getty Images

In a fitting coincidence, 17 plus four plus 10 equals 31, the number the football giant made famous in all but one of his 254 matches (he wore No.2 in the 1958 grand final, on the league’s request after a newspaper published player numbers without authorisation).

“What’s the point of getting a signature, if a couple of years later you don’t know whose it is?” Barassi would say, and there is no chance of confusing his achievements with anyone else in VFL/AFL history.

Barassi’s playing resume includes six flags – something only four other league footballers can boast – and being a triple All-Australian, two-time Demons club champion and leading goalkicker, a captain of Victoria, and featuring in Melbourne’s, the AFL’s and the Italian teams of the century.

On the coaching side, he added four more premierships (two each for the Blues and Kangaroos) and was in charge for 515 games. Only six other men have coached more.

Barassi is deservedly a hall-of-famer, and a Legend in the Australian Football Hall of Fame, and his exploits have earned him the offer of a state funeral, which his family has accepted.

The man who succeeded him as the Swans’ coach in 1996, Rodney Eade, said his impact went beyond his titanic achievements.

“Those numbers are enormous but don’t tell the whole picture, either. I know he’s a product of Norm Smith, but he transcends Norm and John Kennedy as grandfathers of the game,” Eade told this masthead.

“If we had a Mount Rushmore [for Australian football], he’d be on that, along with [the likes of] Jock McHale and Norm Smith, but he might even be the one looking down on them. It’s about more than just winning – it’s what they’ve done for the game, and Ron’s got to be the gold medallist.”

Barassi was a pioneer in so many ways, but his selfless decision to relocate to Sydney to help rescue the then-struggling Swans backs up Eade’s perspective.

They collected three consecutive wooden spoons from 1992 to 1994, only for Barassi to lift them to 12th spot with eight wins (as many as the three previous seasons combined) before stepping down.

Barassi remained on Sydney’s board and was on the selection panel that picked Eade, who took the Swans to the grand final in his first season.

“The club was a bit of a mess when Ron went there, and his presence was more about giving the place credibility in such a difficult market,” Eade said.

“Probably because of rugby league, there was such an anti-AFL feeling, but he transcended those boundaries and set the club up more through credibility and what footy stood for, and the way he was able to articulate that [was incredible] – he is such a legend of the game.

“It was my first coaching job, and he was so supportive … his involvement, as the previous coach, was a positive for me rather than a hindrance. He was so humble, and he was all about what’s best for the Sydney footy club and footy in general.”

Barassi’s stints at Melbourne and Sydney skewed his overall coaching record – his Carlton and North Melbourne teams won more than 66 per cent of their 345 games – but Eade said the only thing he chased was premierships.

“He mellowed by the time I had a relationship with him, but he was an incredibly competitive person,” he said.

“Even when you look at the tape of him playing; by today’s standards, he was not super-skilled, but he had a fierce competitive edge and desire to win, and I imagine as a coach, he would have instilled that in his players.”

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