It’s basically a transcript of an interview to air on SEN at 5pm today. While the Saga put him over the line, it’s a tiny part of the article. Saga bits are bolded below.
(article is >32K, so is split across two posts)
THE Danny Frawley we see on our TV screens and hear on the radio is a fun-loving former St Kilda captain who doesn’t take himself too seriously.
Always up for a laugh, and happy to use himself as the punchline.
But when Danny was laughing on air, he was often grimacing off it.
We spoke about childhood, life on the land, loneliness, failing, dealing with depression and looking ahead.
Hamish McLachlan: Spud, you took a long time off work at the start of 2014. No TV, no radio — why was that?
Danny Frawley: I had a nervous breakdown, Hame. It was incredible and so hard to believe it was actually happening, but it was, and it did. I did a game for Triple M and I was losing a lot of sleep, and then I completely fell apart.
HM: Do you know why?
DF: There were a lot of issues, and unbeknown to me at that stage, a lot of deep seated ones. The tipping point for me came when I was CEO of the AFL Coaches Association, as well as playing this other character in the media.
HM: The happy-go-lucky guy?
DF: Yeah, that’s him. My role on air at Triple M and Fox was to throw people under the bus, and throw myself under the bus whenever required. But while I was doing that in the media, the Essendon supplement scenario was playing out. No one was prepared for it, no one could have been. I wasn’t ready for it. I was put in charge of the coaches’ association as more of a marketing-type person, and was trying to deal with a crisis that I wasn’t equipped to deal with.
HM: You really struggled to manage the coaches that were involved in the Essendon saga?
DF: Absolutely I did. The thing came out of nowhere and it put everyone on notice, no one more than me. I was dealing behind the scenes with a lot of the Essendon coaches, who were really struggling, and anxious as to how it would all play out. I got a lot of information that was confidential, and yet on the weekend I had to take one hat off, and put another one on for the media. I was really battling with it all. I started losing some sleep, and the more tired I became, the more I had to work. I started running a lot, trying to keep fit and hoping I would sleep, but I couldn’t, so I started drinking a lot, and then I started doing weight sessions, and in the space of three weeks without sleep, something had to give. I was waiting to get the cold, or the flu, or to become run down, but I just kept going. As my father used to say, “Work through it. You’ll be right, son”. So I tried to, and it all came to a head as a nervous breakdown.
HM: You’ve never spoken about this?
DF: No, I haven’t. I’m not embarrassed by it anymore. I want to help people, and I just want to put it out there, as that’s what happened.
HM: So you had a nervous breakdown and in the end were diagnosed with clinical depression?
DF: That’s right. The most frightening thing happened when I was at the MCG one afternoon. I called Anita up after a game. I was sitting in the car park, behind the wheel. I had no idea where to go, or what to do. I was lost. I had to call my wife up to work out how to get home from the MCG. I’d been driving home from the MCG for 30 years, and I didn’t know if I should turn left or right!
HM: You didn’t know how to get home?
DF: I had no idea! It was an out-of-body experience. I was mentally shot.
HM: In what sense?
DF: I was confused and couldn’t find an answer. Any answers. How to get home isn’t one you should be searching for. I know that sounds bizarre. The only thing that I could think of was ringing Anita and saying “I’m confused”. I got home after she told me how to, and she said “You should take the dogs for a walk”. It was dusk in late April. When I got back I thought I’d lost one of the dogs; I wasn’t concentrating when I went walking. I got home, and basically sat down and just cried for two hours. I just thought: “This is not happening to me, what’s going on?”
HM: Did you think something was building in the lead-up to it?
DF: Looking back now, maybe I could sense there was, but I’d always woken up in the morning and be OK and just get on with the day and work it off. When you are a competitor, you just don’t want to let people know you’re hurting, even my family. Anita was the one that could see what was happening. I hadn’t slept for about three weeks, which is insane when you think about it. After the first couple of nights I should have been a bit more honest and forthright about it.
HM: Did you go and get help?
DF: I did. I went to our local doctor, where he asked me a few questions. He put me through a few questions and said “You’ve got a bit of depression”.
HM: Did that surprise you?
DF: Again, I was in denial. He said: “Look, here’s a few Temazepam. Go home, and you’ll sleep well”. I had the Temazepam, and slept for about five minutes. I rang him up again, and he put me onto a psychiatrist. This guy had a three-month waiting list, but happened to have a cancellation. I went in there, and that’s when I sat down and told him what was going on. He looked at me, with Anita, and said “You’ve had a nervous breakdown”. I didn’t know what that was. I just thought that was for people who had a bit of a weakness, or a bit of a brain malfunction, or for the mentally weak.
HM: Then you realised that was the furthest thing from the truth.
DF: I did. That’s a lot of the reason I want to talk to you today. I was the typical stoic farmer that always had the head up, the shoulders back, and it didn’t matter if your arm was chopped off, you just rolled the sleeve up on the other one and keep working through it. That’s the way I was treating this still, at that stage. I was in a bit of shock when he told me that. He gave me some Stilnox, and you’ve got to get that prescription for that, and I had that, and I only slept for about an hour.
HM: You can understand why sleep deprivation is a form of torture.
DF: Absolutely. I rang up the next morning and said, “Mate, I just need to sleep. I’m going off my head”. I was so tired, but my mind was just flying. He gave me two more Stillnox. He said “Look, that should put an elephant to sleep”. I had those, and they put me to sleep for two and a half to three hours. That went on for about three or four weeks, and I had to see him nearly every day for two to three weeks. I eventually called him one night and said: “Nup, I need to go somewhere. I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself”. At that stage all I wanted to do was get out of bed, walk around the corner and walk under a truck. That’s what I was thinking about.
HM: That’s how bad your thoughts were?
DF: Yep, I was done, and I was thinking those things.
HM: What got you to this point?
DF: The tipping point was that I found myself trying to manage a position, with the Essendon saga, to which I didn’t have the skill set to manage. Dealing with the Essendon scenario was for people much better equipped than me.
HM: You were overwhelmed and highly stressed?
DF: I was overwhelmed, became highly anxious, mainly because I was underqualified. But I didn’t want people to know that. I thought to myself: “I’ve got to get through this Essendon scenario, and then I’ll resign, and then I’ll go into the media full time.”
HM: But you didn’t get that far?
DF: No, I didn’t. There was a review of the AFLCA, and rightly so, because the AFLCA had doubled in numbers in three years, from 80 to 160 coaches. The AFL were well aware of that. A couple of coaches wanted an independent review, so again, I felt a little bit precious because there was a board and staff who were all looking to me for leadership. In the back of my mind, I’m still thinking that as soon as I resign from the AFLCA, everything will be OK. I resigned about a week and a half after seeing the psychiatrist, and I still didn’t sleep a wink. I thought it would be a load off my mind, but it just wasn’t the case. Then he said: “Look, after the nervous breakdown, you’ve developed clinical depression.”
HM: What did you do to try and deal with it?
DF: I started reading books on depression, but it just wasn’t me, it wasn’t helping me. At the time I was working with Triple M and Fox Footy, and I told them I was feeling like I needed a break, so I intended to just take two weeks off. People started speculating and talking about me, and I really battled with that too. That’s why I get pretty upset with people when they start talking publicly about others when people are struggling. You’ve got to be very careful, because everyone’s different. I thought two weeks would be good for me. I’d stay off Triple M and TV, and I would get some sleep. But it didn’t help. It took me 18 months to actually come to the realisation that what was happening was a legacy of childhood and how I’d been put together.
HM: In what way?
DF: It started from a very young age. Being a farmer, I was always told to toughen up. There wasn’t a lot of compassion shown to me, no talking through things, just told to be tough, and get on with it. If I’d had a big night on the drink on the farm, Dad would get me up two hours earlier — “Work it off son” — or if I was feeling crook or needed to go to the doctor: “Don’t be moping around here”.
HM: He sounds tough, but that’s how many dads were back then.
DF: He didn’t mean anything by it, it was the way it was. Farmers also work on their own, and are often isolated, they’ve just got to get the job done, and with little thanks or gratitude or recognition, but have to get it all done, regardless of the situation, in quick time, and get it done right. I battled a bit with that, too. And I think on top of that, it stemmed a bit from my older brothers. They were tough on me as older brothers were back then — but I think that had a pretty big effect too. I wanted to be like them and I developed into a tough competitor who hated losing and would cheat to win if I had to! And then school added to it. You went to your first day of college with 800 people and your head would get flushed down the toilet. For the year 12s, that was the thing to do to the new kids.
HM: How did this all lead to depression?
DF: In my mind, all of these things just turned me into this unbelievable competitor who was always struggling and trying to survive, and who had to win, and if I didn’t, I would feel like I’d failed. If I couldn’t find the solution or clean up the problem, I had failed, and I wasn’t worth anything. So when I failed with the Essendon stuff, trying to help the coaches, I think it was like a tipping point. It was the ultimate failure in my mind, and because I had let people down by not being able to save their jobs or make things easier for them, it was my fault.
HM: Always trying to win — even the things that you were no chance to win at?
DF: Yeah — the deep-seated issue was that I was a competitor, and the only person I was in competition against was myself, because I was never happy.
HM: It’s a big weight to carry — and a tough way to live.
DF: It is probably an unrealistic way to live, looking back on it, but that is how I was living, and that is a long time to be carrying all that self-imposed burden.
HM: You left the farm — you felt you had to?
DF: I had to get off the farm because I didn’t really like the farm life. I found it very lonely. For the first two years I tried to get a game at St Kilda, but probably wasn’t working hard enough at it. Then I thought: “Sh*t, I’d better have a crack here or I’ll be gone”. I went off the drink, trained every night, ran with my brother who was a professional athlete, and got a job playing for St Kilda. That was the way out for me, the way to get off the farm. I liked the farm, but I didn’t love it.
HM: Did you feel you were failing on the far?
DF: I think so. I think when you are a competitor, you are never satisfied, which is dangerous. In my mind, the only thing I think I have succeeded with is my family. That was the one thing that got me through the last few years — that made me feel like I was able to achieve something significant and wasn’t a failure.
HM: Nothing more important than family.
DF: No, there’s not. My three daughters and my wife — they are my greatest achievement.
HM: They are magnificent. How did you battle mentally in the brutal world of coaching?
DF: When you don’t succeed — and it ends badly for most — you suffer mentally. When I retired from footballer, the competitor in me said instead of going back to the farm, I’ll go and ply my trade in coaching. My plan was to spend a couple of years at Collingwood, but North Melbourne were after me as well. I picked Collingwood because my uncle Des Tuddenham played for them. Tony Shaw was a young coach at the time, so I thought it’d be good. The plan was always to do two years, and then go back and help the late Trevor Barker to coach, because he was a really successful coach at Sandringham. At the age of 39 he died of bowel cancer, which again is a great story for people. Talk about a fitness fanatic. He just thought he’d had ulcers for a couple of months, and didn’t read the signs. That’s one of the great injustices, because he would’ve been a great coach. The plan was for me to go back and help Barks after a bit of experience with Collingwood. And then the great man died. I thought, what do I do now? I was on a bit of an island. I coached for another two years, and then the Richmond job came up. I thought, there it is. I’m ready to go. Collingwood were a great club, and they gave me a great opportunity. I was probably 1000 to 1 to get the job, but I interviewed quite well. It came down to two, and I got it. It was about me trying to achieve what was a little bit of a black hole as a player. I was going to coach a flag — the thing I didn’t achieve as a player. I had a little bit of success early, and then quite amazingly, I was 36 when I coached Richmond to the prelim.
HM: That’s ■■■■■■ young.
DF: It was — but I was out of the game at 41, yet at the age of 54 now, in any other world sport I should be coaching in my prime! In 2001 we had a first-time coach in me, we had a first-time footy ops in Trevor Poole, we had a first-time CEO in Mark Brayshaw, and we had a first-time president in Clinton Casey. We wanted to win a flag. We were beaten quite comfortably by Brisbane in the prelim. At that stage I knew Brisbane were going to be a great team, but I didn’t know they were going to be the greatest team of all time. I thought the year was still a success. We’d come third, and as coach I had a win-loss record of around 61 per cent in my first two years. The great Leigh Matthews, one of the greatest coaches of all time, retired at around that percentage, so I thought I was the man! After a poor season in 2004 I resigned with nine games to go, and the easiest thing to do was to walk away. I should have, but I’d signed a deal with Richmond to coach to the end of 2004, and I thought being a man of my word, I’d do it.
HM: And just like that, a coaching career was over?
DF: I was waiting for the phone to ring after Richmond, and it never did. I was as low as shark ■■■■, but I didn’t want anyone to know that.
DF: A bit, and empty and lonely too. A week after I’d left Richmond, I could have had the going-away party in a telephone box and still had plenty of room! I had to sell my house because I thought I would be coaching ongoing and had bought a house with a bigger mortgage — but that’s fine; people have pressures. That didn’t worry me, because we bought a beautiful house around the corner.
HM: It can’t be healthy, coaching. Forget the departure, but the week-by-week analysis, criticism and critique of a coach is beyond almost any other profession.
DF: It is, and it’s interesting when I look back at my time. I was like that bloke from the Monty Python film with no arms and no legs …
HM: … just a flesh wound.
DF: Just a flesh wound, but I could still bite your kneecaps off. That was me. It really hit home for me on a Friday night, when we were beaten by 80 points. There was a young lad there that had too much to drink, and he actually spat on me.
HM: This was a spectator at the game?
DF: It was. It wasn’t a great night for the club, or me, or the players. The whole week was just bizarre. All of a sudden the Frawley name was put into disrepute. I heard my sister on the radio crying, saying “Danny’s a good fella”. We played Hawthorn on the Friday night seven days later, and a whole bus load of family and friends came down from Bungaree. I lost it. We won the game, but I walked into the footy ops afterwards and said: “I’m done. I don’t care whether we get in the finals; I’m done”.
HM: What was next?
DF: I left Richmond and got into the media and went to Triple M. All of a sudden James Brayshaw, as he does, pumps me up as a St Kilda champion, a St Kilda legend, and coach of a prelim side at Richmond, and I started feeling a bit better. I didn’t become a peacock immediately, but I was on the way up again.
HM: You were feeling better about yourself, doing the media things, and then took on the CEO role of the AFL Coaches Association?
DF: Yeah — then the AFLCA role came along, but the inability to do the role well in tough times was the tipping point for me. It all came to a head via the Essendon stuff. The only way forwards for me was to establish the root of the problem — which I think was my upbringing. I actually blamed my father initially, but he only knew what he knew, and didn’t do anything that his father hadn’t done to him — work hard, show no emotion, and pass it on down the line. Then I blamed my older brothers for turning me into a complete and utter lunatic, as in a lunatic competitor, through the tough sibling rivalry. I never wanted to be beaten, but being beaten by the Essendon thing did my head in. I was out of my depth and I couldn’t help the coaches at Essendon as it was all too complex. I spoke to the head coaches in March of 2014, and I broke down in front of them — I just thought I was a huge failure.