Leaping Leo

Neil Cordy profiles the nomination of Leo Barry to the AFL NSW Hall of Fame:  

Five years before Leo Barry took “That Mark” to end the Swans 72 year premiership drought he came scarily close to moving to Carlton.

He was part of a proposed three-way deal where the Swans were after Aaron Hamill from St Kilda, the Crows wanted to bring Ryan Fitzgerald back to his hometown Adelaide and the Blues had eyes for Leo.

Had the trade gone through the game would have been robbed of one of its greatest moments and potentially the Swans of their drought breaking 2005 premiership.

“We were in Cancun on holiday when the trade was proposed,” Barry recalled. “Aaron Hamill was ready to move to the Swans and I said alright I’ll go to Carlton but Fitzy didn’t want to go to Adelaide and the deal fell through.”

In hindsight it’s difficult to comprehend how Barry would have wanted to leave Sydney. But at the time (2000) the kid from Deniliquin was struggling to find a regular spot in the Swans line up playing mostly as a half forward.

“I had a lot of injuries and struggled with confidence,” Barry said. “I lacked consistency up forward and didn’t have the fitness required. I was always suited to short sharp movements which was what I got at full back. In the end it worked itself out.”

It certainly did work itself out. The switch to fullback was a master stroke. Leo won the most improved player in 2001 and went on to become one of the game’s best defenders.

Adding to the achievement was the fact Leo was only 184cm tall and regularly conceded 10 or more centimetres and kilograms to his opponents like Fraser Gehrig, Jonathan Brown and Sav Rocca.

?“My worst case scenario was being caught flat footed alongside a bloke who was 6’5’’, it was a situation I didn’t want to be involved in,” Barry said.

Most of them couldn’t move that well and that allowed me to capitalise when the ball hit the ground. I would never get involved in a physical contest. I would always stay at arm’s length. I would never get in position where I would get fended off or pushed out of position. I learned to understand where the ball was going and where the ball drop was. My speed and jump allowed me to play from behind and to catch up and be in the contest. I was able to push my opponent under the ball with my chest or my hips. It’s a skill that is under-utilised.”

Barry played 66 games in his first six seasons in Sydney. After the switch to full back he played another 171 over nine seasons earning All Australian honours in 2004 and 2005. In 2005, the year he “Caught the Cup” he was also appointed co-captain (2005-2008).

As high as he flew both literally and figuratively Barry has always been modest about his achievements and valued his country roots growing up on the family property ‘Ibelong’ at Mayrung.

His dad Leo Senior played in Deniliquin’s 1966 premiership in the Murray FL and Leo made his debut for the club in 1992 at the age of 15.

“My first game was against Strathmerton at Strathmerton,” Barry said. “David Bolton (former Swan & Geelong) was their captain coach and they were rough as guts, Mum (Judy) was too scared to go to the game to watch. Within five minutes one of my team mates Colin Thompson was stretchered off after someone punched him in the head. I was a little nervous. A bloke came through and poked his elbow out but I was young and nimble enough to avoid it. A couple of the Deni supporters almost threw their beers at this bloke, which was pretty serious because they don’t like to waste a drop. Todd Marshall’s late father (Port Adelaide) was one of those supporters.”

This school of hard knocks was followed by a more refined one when Barry moved to Sydney and attended St Ignatius at Riverview from years 10 to 12. He helped develop the school’s reputation as the best for Aussie Rules in Sydney.

During his time at the Swans he completed his MBA and went on to work as a broker at Merrill Lynch. He is now a successful portfolio manager at Fairview Equity Partners and a Director of the Sydney Swans FC.

Leo lives in Melbourne with his wife Sarah and children Caleb and Isaac. 

SOME NSW PLAYERS IN GRAND FINALS

As it did when Sydney won in 2012, this year the premiership will feature New South Welshmen.  But the question is, how many?

Today though, presents an opportune time to reflect on the best performances by New South Wales players in some VFL/AFL grand finals.

1. Lenny Hayes (Pennant Hills) – St Kilda v Collingwood, 2010 (drawn grand final)

Lenny Hayes produced the greatest grand final performance from a New South Wales player when he starred in the 2010 drawn grand final.

In the process, Hayes received the honour of being the first player from NSW to win the Norm Smith Medal “ a clear winner by six votes over the next best player.

The statistics confirm Hayes’ dominance in this match, as he was the leading possession winner on the ground with 32, as well as racking up a game-high 12 tackles.

2. Tom ˜Tomahawk” Hawkins (Finley) Geelong v Collingwood, 2011

The high rating for Tom Hawkins is due to his momentum stealing second half in the 2011 decider.

Every time Collingwood gained the momentum in the third quarter of this grand final, Hawkins kicked a goal to keep his Geelong team in the contest. The match see-sawed as a contest until Hawkin’s third goal in the quarter put the Cats up by eight points, and from that point onwards Geelong seized control of the match.

The marks that Hawkins took in the last quarter had the commentators in raptures. “He’s playing out of his skin, Tom Hawkins,” said commentator Anthony Hudson after Hawkins took a strong contested mark in the last quarter.

Just a few minutes later, Hawkins took a one-handed mark while fending off his opponent with his other hand. “Hawkins again, oh this is amazing, who is this man?” Hudson said.

3. Chris Laird (Paddington) – South Melbourne v Collingwood, 1918

Chris Laird has generally been overlooked as a great grand final player due to the passing of time since the 1918 grand final, yet he kicked one of the most important goals in grand final history.

If the VFL had awarded a best on ground medal back in the 1918 grand final then the Sydney recruit would have been in line to take that award.

He kicked the winning goal for the red and whites against Collingwood with just 30 seconds remaining in the match, and was also the equal top goal scorer in the match with three goals to his name.

Without Laird’s final goal, Collingwood would have most likely won this match, so Laird’s influence could not have been more pronounced.

4. Gordon Strang (East Albury) – Richmond v Carlton, 1932

The Sporting Globe’s W.S. “Jumbo” Sharland listed Gordon Strang as Richmond’s best player in the grand final of 1932 as a result of his dominance in marking contests.

This high rating was also backed up by the report in The Age, which wrote “One of the most outstanding was G. Strang, who was unbeatable in the aerial duels, and who pulled down sixteen marks.”

To put this feat in perspective, no one player since the 1990 grand final has taken this many marks in a grand final. For his aerial dominance alone, Strang deserves his spot as one of New South Wale’s best grand final performers.

5. Jarrad McVeigh (Pennant Hills) – Sydney v Hawthorn, 2012

The 2012 AFL grand final is the high point in Australian football history for New South Wales.

For starters, it legitimised the 2005 grand final victory as being more than just a flash in the pan moment. The players recruited from Sydney football clubs such as Kieren Jack and Lewis Roberts-Thomson also had a significant role in the match.

Furthermore, important history was created when Craig Bird became the first player to achieve premiership success after being recruited directly from a mid-northern NSW club (Nelson Bay).

Yet there was one New South Welshmen who, more than any other, led the way in the 2012 grand final – Jarrad McVeigh.

McVeigh accrued 21 disposals, laid nine tackles and, most importantly, kicked two goals. One of those goals was scored while he was matched up against Cyril Rioli and the other, when Hawthorn’s Sam Mitchell gave away a 50-metre penalty during the third quarter, became the turning point in the match.

The ultimate team player, McVeigh had as many as 36 pressure acts against the opposition as well. The football purists say one-percenters, pressure acts, tackles and smothers win you football matches.

McVeigh’s performance in the 2012 grand final was one for the football purist.

The other players considered were Brett Kirk (for his role in the 2005 grand final for Sydney), Bert Clay (pictured – the 1944 ruckman for Fitzroy), Lewis Roberts-Thomson (the 2005 and 2012 premiership player from the North Shore), Frank Gumbleton (for his role in the 1975 grand final for North Melbourne) and Leo Barry (2005 premiership defender for Sydney from Deniliquin).

In this case, they fell just outside the top five.

Article, courtesy of Miles Wilks