RDB in full flight

Ronald Dale Barassi – the greatest of them all.

Nigel Dawe

“O Captain! My Captain! rise up and hear the bells; Rise up – for you the flag is flung – for you the bugle trills… For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning; … The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done, From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won.” (Walt Whitman)

FEW people from any era, the world over, ever attain the status of icon, let alone ever becoming synonymous with their chosen, albeit God-given talent for a vocation they come to define, altering its entire landscape through their deeds in such a way that it is never the same again.

Bradman was one, Einstein another; individuals that represent the unsurpassable pinnacle of some given branch of human endeavour. In our code of football, none encapsulate the essence, soul or mythical substance of the game itself at the highest level more than Ronald Dale Barassi Jr.

Everything about this legendary figure reads like a tale of fantastically crafted fiction; from living under the same roof as the equally immortal Norm Smith, to playing and starring in six premierships for the club (a period uneclipsed by any other side in all of the sport’s history) to wholly embodying the tenacity, grit and commitment it takes to reach the top in a sport that plays no favourites, let alone bless a player in such a way as it did our ultimate strong heeled General – Ron Barassi.

Wearing the same number (31) as his war hero and premiership winning father; the legend that is Barassi Jr will forever far exceed the capacity of any of us to remotely convey even the broadest sweep of it. That said, one of my favourite and earliest footy tales pertains to the game’s first ruck-rover (fancy there being no position as such, prior to your involvement in a sport?) But years ago, I remember hearing the yarn about someone ducking and weaving through the mystical halls of heaven in a red and blue guernsey that had the number 31 on its back… it merely turned-out being Jesus Christ – making out that he was Ron Barassi!

The fact our club’s greatest and most celebrated warrior passed away the very day after a heartbreaking loss in a final, is testament that football is rarely a place for genteel swan songs or fairy tales, if not ones that end perfectly for their heroes every time. It is however a place for deeds that demand recalling season after season so that they might remain fresh and vibrant, and live long in the minds of us all.

There isn’t always glory in triumph, but there can often be the purest tinge of glory in defeat; and the laurel of having not given up, is one more pristine and worthy of a champion’s brow than the one given for having won without exceeding extremes. As such, my favourite picture of Barassi, is the airborne one of him in the 1961 Preliminary Final, clearly doing all he could to will a win that would’ve put his side into a record 8th straight Grand Final – that wasn’t to be – but his clear weight-of-the-world expression seems to encapsulate for all-time what being an all-time great means.

I didn’t know Barass, in fact I only ever met him the once, after sneaking out of my workplace for a book signing of his at Dymocks years ago. But I remember saying to him that I wish I were born many years before I actually was, just to have been able to see him play; and to this day that would certainly be one of my wishes if I were ever granted three by some unbottled and bestowing genie.

One thing I also would’ve loved to have done, and genuinely wish that I had, would be to sit in a deserted MCG with Ron and ask what came to mind when he looked out over that hallowed ground. Because for many of us, it is a fully sanctified field of dreams, but for fortune’s most favoured number 31, it must’ve surely been something infinitely more – something akin to a physical realm of pure realised dreams.

Rest In Peace Ronald Dale Barassi, there will never be a more worthy or true warrior-like flag bearer of the grand old flag than you!

What a mark!