It’s 60 years since a teenage Barry Davis rode his pushbike into Windy Hill and parked it outside Essendon’s dressing rooms.
Alec Epis was walking past, introduced himself and told him to ‘bring it in here… it’ll be safer inside’.
His first coach, the electrifying superstar John Coleman loved Davis’ sheer skill and long drop kicks which cleared lines, to the team’s sticky-fingered champion captain Ken Fraser.
Twice runner-up in the Brownlow Medal, Davis had a stellar career, blossoming as a tall midfielder and captaining North Melbourne to its first ever premiership, under football’s Messiah Ron Barassi in 1975.
Now in his mid-70s and still an avid spectator – albeit from his lounge room after the winter lockdowns – Davis still loves football and in particular watching the Dons and the Roos.
Like many players of his era, he’d like to see less handball and more one-on-one contests.
He thrills at the brilliance and courage of the game’s elite like Patrick Dangerfield and Nathan Fyfe and the poise and composure around goals like Dustin Martin, Gary Ablett, and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti.
He also loves the dash and dare of Charlie Cameron and Adam Saad, but is concerned about the masses around the ball that do little to highlight the game’s exquisite skills of kicking and marking.
‘The top players would all be standouts, in any competition in any era,’ he said.
Selected in the Team of the Century at two clubs and an AFL Hall of Famer, Davis stunned North Melbourne officials when he refused sign-on monies of more than $7000. Secretary Ron Joseph had ‘accidentally’ kicked open an old gladstone bag, the money tumbling onto the Davis lounge room floor.
Davis paused, looked at the money and said, ‘Keep it. It’s not why I’m coming.’
Along with Doug Wade and John Rantall, Davis was one of the ‘Big Three’ to cross clubs when the 10-Year Rule was introduced in the summer of ’72. Within two years North lifted from wooden spooners to a Grand Final and within three won the flag.
A physical education instructor, Davis ran North’s pre-seasons and loved the responsibility of mentoring the younger ones.
Once a fired-up Barassi ordered him from the ground at Arden Street after what he perceived as Davis breaking team rules.
Davis refused and minutes later at half-time, an enraged Barassi was waiting for his captain, ready to launch the biggest ‘pay’ of all time.
And for once Barassi, the biggest name in football, backed off. Although polar opposites in many ways their respect for each other grew until they became powerful leaders in the club’s climb to their first premiership.
Davis was Essendon’s coach before Kevin Sheedy, the young champions to play under his tutelage including Tim Watson, Simon Madden, Terry Daniher and Paul Van der Haar.
Watson contributed a foreword to Barry’s just-published biography Born to Play, written by Barry’s brother Ken Davis, and says Barry was the purest of sportsmen, smart tactically and a thoughtful planner way ahead of his time.
‘He possessed a highly developed tactical and innovative flair for the game. Simply put, the game then wasn’t ready for all that. He would have thrived in the modern era with full time professionals.’