Harley Balic
Harley Balic has been described a "special young man" by former Dockers coach Ross Lyon. Image by Richard Wainwright/AAP PHOTOS
  • Australian rules football

Emotional Lyon remembers Balic as ‘special young man’

Roger Vaughan April 24, 2024

Ross Lyon has remembered Harley Balic as a “special young man”, becoming emotional when asked about the former AFL player two years after his death.

Lyon, who coached Balic at Fremantle, and current Dockers coach Justin Longmuir commented about him on Wednesday, after Balic’s father criticised the controversial AFL illicit drugs policy.

Eddie Balic is quoted as saying that if the family had been informed about his son’s drug taking, they might have been able to save him.

The Herald Sun has reported the Balic tragedy is being looked at as part of an ongoing Sports Integrity Australia (SIA) investigation into AFL illicit drug testing.

“I think the Balic family will tell you – particularly his Mum – that I was very close to Harley. I spent a lot of time, one-on-one, with Harley,” Lyon said on Wednesday morning.

“So I understand it deeply, but it’s not for me to dive into it.

“Look, who wants to lose a son, a daughter. It’s very emotional, even talking about him. I will leave it there – he was a pretty special young man.”

Lyon, who now coaches St Kilda, said he had limited knowledge of Balic’s experience with the illicit drugs policy.

“What I will say is – I’m not even sure what I will say – I think if the AFL illicit policy is really about that medical model, my experience and what Harley shared with me, he clearly sat in when he needed support and medical support,” he said.

“Because I have no visibility on really what occurs behind the scenes, but you just make the judgement, that that occurred.”

Ross Lyon
 Ross Lyon coached Harley Balic while at the helm at Fremantle. Image by Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS 

Lyon was also asked if under the illicit drugs policy, relatives of players should be told sooner.

“I don’t have the answer. I suppose, I don’t know, with my parenting, I’m not looking for any organisation to take care of my kids,” Lyon said.

Longmuir said he sympathised with Balic’s family and understands that they want answers.

“I can only imagine what they’re going through,” he said.

Asked for reaction on comments from Eddie Balic, Longmuir said: “I sympathise with Harley’s dad.

“I know the policy has good intent. Maybe the execution needs improving, well especially in this situation.

“But I’m talking more holistically. Maybe the support of players needs to be more widespread than the docs (club doctors).”

 Justin Longmuir says the AFL policy intent is good but maybe player support should be spread wider. Image by Julian Smith/AAP PHOTOS 

Eddie Balic was quoted as saying: “the AFL has a duty of care to formally intervene early into young vulnerable players who have been identified as having substance abuse issues.

“I also feel that had better support been put in place early for my son, it may have prevented this tragic outcome.

“The huge disappointment is that the AFL knew a lot and as a family we weren’t told. We may have saved him earlier.

“To this day it disappoints me that no one from senior management of the AFL has ever made contact with me over the terrible loss of my son.”

Balic died in January 2022, four days after his 25th birthday.

The AFL is reviewing its illicit drugs policy, which is again in the spotlight after federal MP Andrew Wilkie made bombshell allegations in parliament last month about testing of players.

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