Picture: Saints.com.au

Following the inaugural 'Spud's Game', Jason Dunstall speaks to how, through his legacy, the late Danny Frawley is helping change the way we view mental health.

In late 2019, the football world lost one of its larger than life characters as beloved player, coach, panellist, entertainer and friend, Danny ‘Spud’ Frawley, tragically passed away.

A year and a half later, St Kilda and Melbourne became the first participants in ‘Spud’s Game’, a match in memory of the man whose death left a hole in the football community.

From tragedy comes opportunity, though, and Spud’s long-time friend and co-host of footy panel show, ‘Bounce’, Jason Dunstall, spoke with the Inner Sanctum about the legacy of his great mate.

“I loved what they did, I’m just disappointed I couldn’t be a part of it because I had commitments at a different game,” Dunstall said of Spud’s game.

“I love the fact that through a tragedy we’re trying to help others and that’s all that Spud would’ve wanted.

“I thought it was an emotional evening and I loved the way the players embraced it.

“I think we’re getting better at talking about these issues because the mental health space is so important right now.

“We’ve finally shed a light on it, for too long it’s been repressed and kept underneath and kept out of the spotlight.

“Hopefully if something good can come out of it, it’s that we’re going to help a lot of other people identify their problems, talk about their problems and get help with their problems.”

Before their relationship off the field flourished into one of the most popular programs on Fox Footy, Dunstall and Frawley got to know each other on the field.

Dunstall, one of the great full forwards of the game, reminisced on the countless battles he had with Spud who was known for his competitiveness.

“We had a healthy respect for each other but also he was fiercely competitive to the point where he hated losing any single contest,” Dunstall said.

“I think that’s where the mutual respect comes from, two blokes trying to do the best they possibly can and he’d win one day and i’d win the next.

“We played on each other for a number of years, I won’t say we got on well on the field but we were fine before and after.”

From on-field rivals to off-field teammates, Dunstall admits that there was a connection between Frawley and himself that was hard to explain.

From their beginnings on the radio to their 12 years together on Bounce, the two had an undeniable chemistry throughout, something which certainly attracted viewers.

Whether it was Spud with his beloved Golden Fist award or the countless sporting challenges the two would take part in, there was a guaranteed laugh whenever ‘Chief’ and ‘Spud’ were together.

“We had great chemistry. We had done some work together in bits and pieces, certainly done some radio work together and when we got the opportunity to do Bounce we weren’t that sure what we were doing,” Dunstall admitted.

“Seeing how the show was going to go, I was hosting it and he was the sidekick but the great thing about spud is when something was needed he’d produce it.

“If it meant having a laugh at his own expense, he was more than happy to do that.

“I don’t know why we clicked, we just did, probably because of the respect we had as competitors and the fun that we had together because he just made me laugh.”

Frawley in battle with Carlton great, Stephen Kernahan
Picture: Afl.com.au

Frawley had struggled with mental health in the years leading up to his passing but Dunstall says that throughout everything, Frawley continued to put his friends and family first.

A sign of the man’s character, Dunstall believes that Frawley’s legacy will be one of change and a move away from bottling up negative feelings, just as Frawley began to do the deeper into his struggle he went.  

“Spud came from the old school too where if you had a problem, you kept it to yourself,” Jason began.

“I guess in the latter years once he learnt what was happening, he decided to use himself as an example of someone who forever and a day kept it to himself and needed to change that whole attitude.

“Spud’s always more concerned about his mates and his people than himself and I think working closely with him, it was so difficult because he’s happy all the time, he’d joke and he’d make you laugh.

“People that have these problems can be very good at concealing them.

“He started to break out of that cycle and send a message to other people and hopefully the people are getting that message and we need to keep spreading it.”

Further to his selflessness and dedication to achieving results, Frawley was never one to shy away from being the target of a joke.

Dunstall recounts a myriad of times where Frawley threw himself under the bus in order to get what the show needed out of a segment.

“I’ll tell you what he didn’t mind doing, on Bounce we would do these physical challenges and whether it was on a bike or gymnastics or whatever it was, whether it was a stack or a pile-up, he’d risk severe self-harm to get the outcome that we wanted,” Dunstall laughed.

“He was mad as a snake, honestly. It was all supposed to be scripted but once the competition started, he turned into a different beast.

“He reverted to type and that’s when the competitive nature came out.

“My goodness didn’t we have some clashes, it was hilarious and the great thing was even if the competitive juices spilled over at times, we would laugh until we had tears in our eyes at the end of it all.”

The resounding impact Frawley’s life had on the football world is still felt today and no doubt will be felt for as long as the game exists and beyond.

His legacy has become one of connectedness and looking after each other, something that there is no doubt Frawley would be an advocate for.

His efforts on the field as a competitor were second to none and his commitment to making people laugh reinforced him as a man who simply wanted to make other people happy.

Spud’s game is a terrific memorial to one of the great football people and Dunstall believes that it is Frawley’s ability to connect that has ensured he is remembered forever.

“I think first and foremost everyone identified with him because he played, he coached and he worked in the media,” Dunstall said.

“Just a larger than life character. He was magnetic, you were drawn to him, he had such an exuberant personality that it was impossible not to warm to him.”

If you or somebody you know is going through a tough time and struggling with mental illness, please visit Lifeline Australia or call through on 13 11 14.

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