Ross Lyon speaks to the media on August 17, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

ST KILDA coach Ross Lyon has wiped away tears as he remembered Harley Balic as a "special young man", becoming emotional when asked about the former Fremantle and Melbourne player's death two years ago.

Lyon and current Dockers coach Justin Longmuir both spoke on Wednesday after reports Balic was among the focuses of a Sport Integrity Australia investigation into the AFL's Illicit Drugs Policy.

Balic's father has also criticised the League's policy, calling for the AFL to intervene sooner and for families to be notified if players were being treated under the policy.


The policy, created in conjunction by the AFL and AFL Players Association, is currently under review, with AFL CEO Andrew Dillon saying last month he was hoping to have an updated version at some point this year.

Balic died in January 2022, four days after turning 25, after a battle with substance abuse. He played four senior games in two years at the Dockers before he was traded to Melbourne in 2017. He retired a year later at the age of 21.

Lyon, who coached Balic at Fremantle, was visibly emotional when asked about the player on Wednesday.

"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.

"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.

Harley Balic at Melbourne training in 2018. Picture: AFL Photos

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

When asked if under the Illicit Drugs Policy, relatives of players using drugs should be told sooner, Lyon said: "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”.

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.

"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)."

AFL CEO Andrew Dillon speaks to reporters in Sydney on March 6, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Last month, Dillon defended the League's "clinical intervention model", in which players are tested for illicit drugs under the supervision of club doctors, maintaining it has always been part of the AFL's Policy.

He said doctor-patient confidentiality has always been a focus.

"There is a difference between what the public is interested in, and what is in the public interest. There have been cases of that over the journey," he said.

"The findings in those cases has been that doctor-patient confidentiality has been paramount, and should be prioritised."