Former Fremantle midfielder Harley Balic had done his best to fight the evil impact of depression and anxiety.
On Sunday, just days after turning 25, he died alone in a hotel in Highett – in Melbourne‘s southeast.
While the cause of Balic’s death is not being treated as suspicious by Victoria Police, the state coroner will not be able to confirm what is widely suspected as his cause of death for some time.
Harley Balic’s mum Nancy (right) paid tribute to her son on his birthday on January 5 with this photo of them together. He would be dead just days later
Former Fremantle midfielder Harley Balic (pictured right in a social media post) has died just days after turning 25, becoming the third ex-Docker to pass away in the past four years
Tragic: Balic died on Sunday morning in Victoria, with police confirming on Monday night his death was not suspicious
Whatever the case, suicide was something Balic had been passionate about trying to prevent within the general community.
On September 16 last year, as Melburnians continued to suffer under their sixth hard lockdown, Balic’s mum Nancy proudly hit social media to announce her son was working with Monash Health as a mental health worker.
‘So proud of this legend,’ she posted above a photo of Balic’s identification pass.
Balic had been extremely close to his parents – particularly to his mother.
He had also been very open about his own struggles with depression.
As Melburnians were plunged into their first of many lockdowns in 2020, Balic plunged into icy waters in the hope of bringing attention to the population’s hidden mental health crisis.
What started out as a 30 day challenge stretched into 50 as the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ lockdowns dragged on and on.
‘Regardless your situation you’re not alone. Do things that will make whatever situation your facing less chaotic instead of more,’ Balic posted after 30 days.
‘I’m no angel but this is something that’s helped with clarity and routine.’
Balic had said the dips in near freezing water helped clear his mind and start the day with clarity.
‘I know it’s not much but for what people go through everyday and the anxieties and sadness in people’s life it’s just a small act of appreciation toward everybody out there suffering through whatever chaos there is in their life,’ he wrote.
That was 2020.
Little did Balic, or the rest of the state, know that they would face another hard year of lockdowns.
His last public post on Facebook was made on September 5 that year – just days after he completed his 50 day mental health challenge.
Daily Mail Australia has attempted to make contact with Balic’s mum and others close to him in an effort to understand what happened between then and now apart from him gaining employment as a mental health worker.
Harley Balic had been a warrior for mental health issues in the community
Harley Balic and Ebony Dunkley in happier times.
Devastating: Balic had been open about the mental health issues he had suffered in the past, and said he had lost his passion for the game
Career: Balic played junior football at Mordialloc-Braeside before joining the Sandringham Dragons in the TAC Cup. In 2014, he made the All Australian Under 18 team at the AIS AFL Academy
Balic had been a highly touted junior player with the Sandringham Dragons and destined for AFL stardom when drafted in 2015.
Although keen to stay in Melbourne, he was picked up by the Dockers with pick 38 and spent two years at Fremantle, playing four senior games.
The young hopeful had a lot to prove and would later speak of the pressure he had put himself under to succeed with the club.
Just a year after the big move, he hit his first stumbling block with a wrist injury.
It had been an injury that had plagued his career with the juniors.
Balic was forced to take time away from the game in 2017 and returned to Victoria to be close to friends and family.
The Dockers said he had been granted ‘a leave of absence’ to deal with a ‘personal issue’.
The following year he was traded to the Melbourne Demons, who last year won the coveted premiership.
Melbourne gave him a run in the lower VFL competition early in the 2018 season where he showed plenty of promise.
But Balic would find the black dog of depression near impossible to remove and he retired before the year was out.
His ‘heart wasn’t in it’, he said at the time.
‘It was an easy decision in the end, as I’ve thought about it for a little while now,’ he said in 2018 upon announcing his retirement.
‘It’s something I’m not going to regret and I’m very appreciative to Melbourne for letting me come to the club for a second chance.
‘I’ve always loved football, but my heart’s not in it and everything ends up being a grind and I think it’s just the right thing to do.’
Harley Balic had plunged into freezing water during 2020’s lockdowns in Victoria to aid awareness on mental health issues
Retirement: In August 2018, Balic announced his retirement from the sport
Former AFL star Harley Bennell (right) posted a photo of himself with Balic (left) and Yarran (centre) with the caption: ‘Rest easy my 2 brothers’
In 2020 he spoke of his mental struggles since retiring from the sport prematurely.
‘The way I left football, unfinished, left me lost in the world,’ he told Leader newspapers.
‘That brought on depressing episodes and things like that. Getting to the highest level, which you’d dedicated your whole life to, and then all of a sudden being a nobody, I found that pretty challenging.’
Fremantle have mourned the death of two other former players in recent years.
Former Dockers and Demons midfielder Colin Sylvia died in 2018 in a car crash, while ex-Fremantle forward Shane Yarran also died in 2018.
Following the devastating news of Balic’s death, Collingwood AFLW co-captain Steph Chiocci shared a tribute on Twitter.
‘Saddened to hear of the passing of Harley Balic. A former Parkdale SC student and one of the most talented junior footballers I had the pleasure of witnessing. So athletic and agile and could run all day. Rest easy, Harley,’ she wrote.
Former AFL star Harley Bennell posted a photo of himself with Balic and Yarran with the caption: ‘Rest easy my 2 brothers.’
Another fan said: ‘Very upsetting news indeed. He was a delightful young man.’
‘Former Fremantle player that’s so sad,’ a third said.
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