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.