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'Barassi Babe' Denis O'Sullivan dies

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DENIS O’Sullivan, a three-game Carlton footballer under Ron Barassi’s watch in the captain-coach’s maiden season of 1965, has died suddenly at the age of 72.

Hailing from Melbourne’s northern suburbs, O’Sullivan first represented local club Coburg YCW and later Batman before joining Essendon’s under-19 outfit under zoning regulations.

Delisted after just one season at Windy Hill, O’Sullivan followed his football dream to Princes Park and on the strength of some notable performances in the pre-season practice matches earned a place on Carlton’s senior list.

Finding his niche in the uncustomary position of back pocket (the player having cut his teeth as a rover/forward), O’Sullivan caught Chairman of Selectors Jack Wrout’s eye with a series of stirring displays.

On the eve of the Round 9 match with Fitzroy, O’Sullivan got his first senior call-up. Wearing Ed Curnow’s No.35, he was 19 years 160 days old when he took his place in the back pocket by Wes Lofts and Brian Buckley, both now deceased.

An old teammate, the three-time Carlton premiership rover and club best and fairest Adrian Gallagher, remembered O’Sullivan with genuine affection.

“I played with Denis in the under-19s and reserves and I knew him well. He had an excellent smile and was a really good bloke,” Gallagher said.

“Denis only played three games, but ‘Barass’ was turning them over a bit through 1965, ’66 and ’67 and there were quite a few like him and the ’63 under-19 premiership player Chris Challenger who didn’t make it.”

Denis O'Sullivan pictured below Ron Barassi in Carlton's 1965 team, first from the left in the second row from the front.

O’Sullivan won Carlton’s reserve grade best and fairest in 1965 – the same season he earned three senior call-ups.

He savoured sweet victory on his senior debut for Carlton, with the visitors emerging 41 points to the better of Fitzroy and Bryan Quirk booting four. He again got to sing the song following the Blues’ four-goal triumph over Footscray at Princes Park in Round 10, but was relegated to the bench for the Round 12 clash at Moorabbin in what was the first Carlton team to meet St Kilda at that venue.

The Saints got up by six points in that one, with former Carlton footballer Bruce McMaster-Smith rather annoyingly booting the winning goal. As Gallagher recalled: “There were 60,000 at Moorabbin that day and it was a tight game . . . Bruce McMaster-Smith burst from the wing and put a drop kick straight through the middle . . . you reckon he wasn’t happy.”

Denis O’Sullivan was the 774th player to have represented the Carlton Football Club since the inception of the VFL in 1897.

He is survived by Dale and daughters Leigh and Megan.

“Denis loved football and he lived for it. That was his life,” his partner Dale said.

“He also loved going out camping, getting up to the shed with the fellas – all those things that men do.”