Danny Frawley sounded and looked happy.
The much-loved AFL figure nicknamed Spud spoke at length in a newspaper feature last month about his health struggles – and now they seemed behind him.
For all the highs of a career in football that featured the St Kilda captaincy, coaching Richmond and more than a decade as a commentator, there had been some dreadful lows.
But Frawley talked about dealing with his struggles and life seemed good again for the potato farmer from Bungaree, outside Ballarat.
Instead, the AFL community was left reeling today when the stunning news circulated that Frawley had died in a car accident near Bungaree.
It was a day after his 56th birthday.
The Ballarat area was one of several strong themes that ran through Frawley’s life.
He was born in Ballarat, went to school at St Patrick’s College and the farmer was better known as Spud than Danny.
Family was also everything to Frawley. He loved his Bungaree lineage – the pavilion at the local football ground is named after him – and he was photographed regularly with wife Anita and their three daughters.
Frawley was a likeable character and his personality made him a natural for long-term commentary roles on radio and TV.
He was the perfect foil for Hawthorn great Jason Dunstall as co-hosts of the irreverant football show Bounce.
And it was football where Frawley made his name.
The nephew of Collingwood great Des Tuddenham and uncle of current Hawthorn defender James Frawley was recruited in the early 1980s from Ballarat by St Kilda.
Frawley originally played as a key forward, but quickly made his name at full-back.
One of the best defenders of his era, Frawley gave yeoman service to the Saints in 240 games from 1984-95.
He captained St Kilda in 177 games, a club record since overtaken by Nick Riewoldt.
Frawley won the club best-and-fairest award in 1988 and made the All-Australian team in the same season.
He once tweeted that he was kryptonite to Gary Ablett Snr, saying the Geelong great only managed 29 goals on him in 14 games.
After retirement, Frawley quickly moved into coaching and he took over in 2000 at Richmond.
While Frawley was in charge at Punt Rd, a part of him was also with the Saints – there are stories of him wearing St Kilda socks while coaching the Tigers on match day.
Richmond made a preliminary final in 2001, but it proved a false dawn.
Long-suffering Richmond fans turned on Frawley and there were ugly scenes after Adelaide mauled the Tigers on a Friday night early in 2004.
Richmond sacked Frawley later that season.
He stayed involved in football, gravitating easily into his media roles and also becoming chief executive of the AFL Coaches’ Association.
But his term there coincided with the turmoil of the Essendon supplements debacle and the stresses around that saga took their toll.
Last month’s newspaper feature included Frawley’s stark account of suffering a a nervous breakdown in 2014, at the peak of Essendon’s issues.
Again, for all the stresses that came with football, the game also helped him.
While he stepped away from the coaches’ association, after a spell out of public life, he returned to media commentary roles.
Frawley also enjoyed part-time work as a defensive coach with his beloved Saints.
He was in his element at Moorabbin training or in the MCG media box, talking footy and cracking jokes.
There were few more popular people in the AFL.
Frawley is survived by Anita and daughters Chelsea, Keeley and Danielle.
“We are incredibly saddened by Danny’s death,” said Saints president Andrew Bassat, adding thoughts were with Frawley’s wife Anita and their three daughters.
“Danny will be remembered as one of St Kilda’s greatest ever players and a dear friend to so many at the football club.
“He was a larger-than-life character, a generous and warm personality, and a favourite son who has left an indelible mark on St Kilda.”
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