Leo Barry returns to talk about an inspiring career

Edward River Australia Day committee member Sam Hall (behind) and Ambassador Leo Barry Jr during Mr Barry’s address. Photo by Laura Green

Former Mayrung man and later Sydney Swans AFL star Leo Barry Jr joined the Edward River Australia Day ceremony as ambassador, at Deniliquin on Wednesday morning.

Mr Barry was invited to join MC and Australia Day committee member Sam Hall to give an insight into ‘‘his career, what keeps him busy, and more importantly, what Australia, Mayrung and Deniliquin mean to him’’.

Mr Barry was born in Deniliquin in 1977 — the fourth child of Leo Barry Snr and wife Judy’s six children.

Growing up on the family farm, Mr Barry attended Mayrung Public School, then Deniliquin High School, before heading off to Saint Ignatius’ College Riverview in Sydney.

He was drafted by the Sydney Swans in 1994 and in the final round of the 1995 season, he made his senior debut against Collingwood.

This was the start of a distinguished 237-game career for Mr Barry, who went on to captain the side, be named ‘all Australian’ twice in 2004 and 2005.

Mr Barry was a key defender in the Swans’ ‘‘historic, drought-breaking’’ 2005 premiership, which earned them their first premiership flag in 72 years.

Importantly, he took the famous pack mark in the dying moments of the last quarter which helped the Swans hang on and win the match.

The former footballer spoke of remembering life in Mayrung and Deniliquin fondly, particularly as a child growing up on a farm with plenty of freedom.

‘‘Growing up in a little country town and living on the farm, I believe was a great opportunity.

‘‘When you reflect on your childhood, growing up on a farm, riding motorbikes — certainly not helping dad that much on the farm, which he’d attest to, but even going to a small little school,’’ he said.

Mr Barry reminisced on former Mayrung Public School teacher Lee Chappell and the small cohort of about 20 which he went through school with.

‘‘I obviously live in the city now, and it’s certainly a lot more of a different experience, especially with more kids going through school.

‘‘But having done that and having grown up, you know, from an early age, I just loved playing sport, whether it’s cricket, tennis, football, I tried everything — I played in the little junior league competition playing football, and I think I must have only been about seven or eight, when I was taken in there.

‘‘And from that, you know, it just sort of grew and obviously it was something I loved.

‘‘I obviously had a bit of talent, and it’s something I've pursued and I was lucky enough to move and transfer into playing professional sport, which I did for 15 years.

‘‘You learn a lot of lessons, and it’s very competitive, but the upbringing I had here in Deniliquin certainly helped me on my journey.’’

Mr Hall asked whether the ‘‘Australian way’’ was the same regardless of living in the country or city.

‘‘I think it is, but having lived in Sydney for 20 years and now situated in Melbourne, it is definitely different.

‘‘I think one of the beauties of living in a close, tight-knit community like Deniliquin, you see people on the street who say, ‘g'day’,

‘‘It’s been sort of difficult times, especially over the last two years with everyone being so separated, but living in a bigger city, in a fast city like Sydney, can be very transitory and a lot of people sort of move there and don’t have a real true connection in your own suburb or even in your own neighbourhood.

‘‘So coming back here and seeing Mum and Dad and seeing some familiar faces, it was also good to see some friends and still feel a part of the community.’’

Moving on to Mr Barry’s football career, Mr Hall asked what it was like in his playing days coming up against some of the AFL’s giants.

Mr Barry humorously attributed his competitiveness and bravery on the field to the ‘‘competitive nature’’ he got from his mum.

‘‘I think I learned a few lessons from her even as a kid,’’ he said.

But he said ‘‘it’s like anything in sport, work or life’’.

‘‘You’ve got to be competitive in order to get passionate about what you’re doing.’’

He also attributed his success with the Swans to the ‘‘strong culture’’ at the club, adding he was lucky to play with his team back then.

‘‘We were able to sort of develop individuals as players, but more importantly individuals as good people.

‘‘And that certainly helped as well, which can improve play with the team, and we could certainly make you a better player and that was certainly the case for myself and I just loved the challenges of playing with some other great players.’’

Of his 2005 win, Mr Barry said he could ‘‘still feel the ground shaking’’ at the MCG, with ‘‘96,000 people screaming’’ toward the end of the game.

But he drew the parallel of the joy of that historic moment back to the value of country sport.

‘‘And it (sport) certainly can be the backbone of communities like Deniliquin, but also just our nation in general.’’

In a message to those who are aspiring to major or lifelong goals in their own life, Mr Barry reflected on his life past and present.

‘‘Just follow your aspirations, do something you love or you enjoy, and whether it’s football or whether you have a passion for arts and music.

‘‘(It’s about) genuinely enjoying your work and if you don’t like what you do, it’s going to be really hard to succeed and have a fulfilled life.’’