By Will Hunter
Paul Brennan was larger than life.
A 6’2, 100kg gentle giant with a bellowing laugh, Brennan was fond of a good time and always the life of the party.
He was a universally liked and respected figure throughout his local community, however, despite his vivacious and affable exterior, the man affectionately known as ‘Brezza’ kept hidden his own personal demons.
Brennan tragically took his own life in February aged just 34, devastating the Mordialloc Football Netball Club where he was an assistant coach, and indeed the wider SFNL community.
And compounding the universal feelings of profound grief and disbelief was the fact that the depths of Brennan’s struggles with depression were unknown to almost everyone, including great mate Sam Anstey.
Anstey, who stepped down as senior coach of the Bloods at the end of the 2015 season, reflected on Brennan’s passing in the lead up to this weekend’s beyondblue
“I was absolutely shocked to hear the news of him passing away,” Anstey revealed.
“When one of your mates is struggling, you can have a little bit of an inkling that they’re struggling, but at no stage did I think it was as bad as it clearly was.”
Anstey’s sentiments echoed the feelings of the nearly all involved at the club, who were shocked and heartbroken by Brennan’s passing. So too the Mordialloc police station, where Brennan had been a Senior Constable.
Anstey and Brennan had been close for a long time, beginning their long friendship back in their high school days and continuing their football journey together long after their Year 12 graduation.
“We were St Bedes (College) boys and obviously struck up a friendship at school and played school footy together,” Anstey recalled.
“After school we played three or four years at (VAFA club) St Bedes/Mentone, where we played under Luke Beverage and won three premierships in a row.
“And then Paul and myself took over at Mordialloc. He came across as my assistant coach for my three years there and obviously they were some great memories, playing in three grand finals in a row.
“It was a good experience for us both, being good mates and taking the reins and leading the club.”
And since joining Mordialloc with Anstey, Brennan had a tremendous impact on the club in just three short seasons.
Brennan was actively involved in recruiting new players, which contributed to the club’s success in becoming both an on-field and off-field powerhouse.
He was also a fantastic mediator and always willing to help resolve issues when players and/or coaches didn’t see eye to eye. This perhaps stemmed, in part, from his career in the police force, which meant he was used to having difficult conversations and settling disputes.
But above all, Anstey says, Brennan was a people person, which explains his overwhelming popularity.
“He was good at building relationships with a variety of people around, not only the footy club, but the community,” Anstey said.
Brennan’s sudden passing left all at Mordialloc in a state of shock, and the outpouring of grief in the days and weeks that followed was immense.
In was an incredibly difficult time, but Anstey said the club banded to help everyone cope with the loss of one of their favourite sons.
“The club handled the situation really well. They had counsellors at the wake and things like that to try to support people,” Anstey explained
“It has brought a few of the players a bit closer together and you do put out a few more friendly vibes and making sure that everybody is ok.”
The SFNL have this year partnered with beyondblue
, and this weekend’s beyondblue
Round aims to raise further awareness of the wonderful work the organisation does in supporting people living with depression and anxiety.
And Brennan’s tragic story reinforces one of beyondblue
’s key messages that communication is the first and most important step on the road to recovery.
“Paul was an alpha male wherever he went, so it was always a little bit hard for him to talk about some of those issues with his friends and family,” Anstey said.
“Which I suppose is the message you want people to take from the tragedy. Sharing information, telling your friends about issues isn’t a bad thing.
“I know reflecting there would have been hundreds of people that would have stopped what they were doing to go and help the big fella, but not enough people knew.
“(So) guys, regardless if (they’re) the alpha male, which we tend to get a little bit round football circles, have to talk to people.”
beyondblue support services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Visit beyondblue.org.au for more information.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide or self-harm, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14.