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AFL legend Ron Barassi farewelled at MCG

A crowd of thousands has farewelled the late Ron Barassi at a state memorial at the MCG, many of them wearing Melbourne's red-and-blue colours as a tribute.


A tribute for Ron Barassi is displayed during the 2023 Brownlow Medal ceremony, in Melbourne. Image AAP

Play on and handball. Handball, handball, handball.


The late Ron Barassi's famous halftime demands on his Carlton troops altered the course of the 1970 VFL grand final.


Another address isn't so well known in football folklore, but was equally significant and typified the master psychologist at his best.


Down by 44 points at the main break, the Blues still trailed fierce rivals Collingwood by 17 points with one quarter to play when taskmaster Barassi - also renowned as a student and trickster to those close to him - pulled a different rein.


"I don't give a stuff if you guys are going to lose, you've just been magnificent today," Barassi told his players, as recounted by AFL chief executive Andrew Dillon.


Dillon continued: "It wasn't the spray they were expecting and it had immediate effect.


"The players were dumbfounded, then they were angry. Ron didn't need to say another word. A famous victory followed."


It was one of 10 premierships from 17 grand finals for Barassi, a true giant of the game, during an unparalleled playing and coaching career spread across four clubs.


Those premiership cups formed the backdrop for Barassi's state memorial on Friday, held on the vast expanses of the MCG - the scene of his greatest sporting achievements.


Barassi, the single biggest figure in post-war Australian rules football history, died on September 16 aged 87 from complications after a fall.


He was remembered as the "ultimate competitor" but also a kind, caring and gentle man by football identities, politicians, family, friends and supporters.


Among a crowd of about five thousand were football figures Leigh Matthews, Kevin Sheedy, Alastair Clarkson, David Parkin, Max Gawn, Nathan Jones, Dillon and predecessor Gillon McLachlan.


Former Carlton star Brent Crosswell, who followed Barassi to North Melbourne and Melbourne, made a rare public appearance in a video tribute to his old coach.


"His competitive drive was almost pathological," Crosswell recalled.


"On the field as a player and as a coach he was a force of nature.


"This with his other (physical) attributes - his bull neck, his massive chest, his long and muscular arms, his powerful thighs and a body that needed no building up in the gym - and his courage made him indomitable.


"He was a player for the ages and a coaching powerhouse of the times."

Barassi made an impact away from the footy field, too.


On New Year's Day in 2009, he went to the aid of a woman being attacked in the street by a group of men who then turned on the football legend, leaving him with serious head injuries.


He received a bravery award for his heroics in 2012.


It was safe to say none in Friday's audience had forgotten the tale, which was recounted several times as a measure of the man.


"That to me is the character of the person really shining through ... and I think that's why we all love him and still do and always will," Sheedy said.


Former Demons captain Garry Lyon added: "How many people throughout his time on this earth have been grateful that Ron was the type of man that never hesitated to jump in?"


The Barassi Line - highlighting the division between states where Australian rules football and the rugby codes are most popular - was named after the football legend; but was one he fought to tear down for his game.


Sheedy said Barassi was the inspiration behind he, Matthews and Robert Walls, among others, heading north to spread the Australian game in new frontiers.


Former Sydney Swans chairman Richard Colless said Barassi's arrival in Sydney to coach the Swans in 1993 changed the game forever.


Barassi turned the basketcase around, putting them on the right path towards becoming one of the most respected and successful clubs in the game.


"It will progressively be recognised as the most pivotal moment in the push to create a truly national competition," Colless said.


Sam Kekovich and Paul Kelly - players under Barassi in different eras - also remembered their former coach the competitor.


He was one whose well-spoken son, also named Ron, said was once offered a draw by world-champion chess player Boris Spassky but couldn't bring himself to take it.


"Dad said no - and lost," he said.


"He was more interested in having a go and doing his best than any bragging rights over a draw with a grand master."


Even Mother Nature paid tribute to Barassi on Friday with the forecast top of 31C reflecting the 254-game great's playing number.


And Mike Brady altered the words to his football anthem 'Up There Cazaly', ending it with: "Up there Cazaly, and Barassi too, we love you No.31, we'll never forget you."


Former Victoria premier Steve Bracks added his voice to calls for the AFL to rename the premiership cup after Barassi.


The league has said it will consider options around a Barassi tribute over the off-season.


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