Raped a dozen times when he was just 11 at a Catholic boarding school: Tony Daly reveals the devastating pain he hid during his storied rugby career and how his life spiralled out of control after retirement

Daily Mail [London, United Kingdom]

March 7, 2021

By Tita Smith

  • Tony Daly represented Australia in the Wallabies from the late 1980s’ to 1990s 
  • The footballer lead the team to its first World Cup victory over England in 1991
  • He was dropped from the team in 1995 – and his life then spiralled out of control
  • The child sex abuse he suffered bubbled to the surface, after being suppressed 
  • Daly was sexually abused from age 11 over two years at St Joseph’s Boys School
  • After leaving sport, he started drinking, gambling, and committing petty crime 
  • He has come to terms with his experience and has opened up to share his story

In front of the cameras, Tony Daly was a prized national treasure – leading the Wallabies to successive victories. 

He enjoyed an illustrious career playing 41 tests from the late 1980s to the ’90s,  scoring the only try in Australia’s 1991 World Cup final victory over England.

But behind closed doors, he was harbouring an insidious secret that would eventually decay the pillars of his success – driving him into destruction from alcohol, gambling, petty crime, and failed marriages to drugs and arrest warrants. 

From the age of 11, the sporting champion was sexually abused by a Catholic brother at St Joseph’s Boys School in Sydney. Over two years, he was assaulted around a dozen times. 

‘It has paved the way for everything in my life. Everything. Everything. The successes and failures, it’s all got to do with that, without question,’ Daly told ABC News

Daly was sent to board at the prestigious school, known for pumping out Wallabies stars, at the behest of his strict Catholic father who attended the institution as a youth along with Daly’s uncles. 

When Daly arrived at St Joseph’s, or ‘Joeys’, in Hunter’s Hill at the foot of the lower north shore, the 10-year-old with curly hair from a pub-owning family in the Sutherland Shire was relentlessly teased over his chubby build.

His peers nicknamed him ‘beachball’. 

It wasn’t long before a ‘kind’ Catholic brother offered the young boy respite from the bullies by inviting him to spend time in the brother’s quarters. 

But by the second visit, the sexual abuse began. The brother stripped down to his singlet and started fondling Daly’s hair and face, calling him a ‘beautiful boy’. 

Tony Daly (pictured in 1994) was a prized Wallabies player in the late 1980's and early 1990s
Tony Daly (pictured in 1994) was a prized Wallabies player in the late 1980’s and early 1990s

Daly was required to see the brother regularly due to circumstances at school, with each visit resulting in another bout of abuse. 

The brother’s kindness – presenting as a friend during a difficult time – left Daly confused as to how to interpret the events. 

While the incidents were ‘uncomfortable’ and ‘hurt’, being a child under the man’s care, he did as he was instructed, keeping the details of their secret meetings to himself.  

As he hit puberty in Year 9, the brother suddenly lost interest and the reality of what occurred started to become clearer in Daly’s mind. 

‘You develop your sexuality, and you start switching on from a 10-year-old to a 14-year-old, you’re starting to realise that hang on, something’s different here. And I’m thinking “Crikey, I wasn’t supposed to be doing that sort of stuff”,’ Daly said.

The realisation made the teenager feel stupid, ashamed, angry, guilty, and depressed, but rather than dwell – he threw all of his energy into what he knew best – rugby union. 

He went from being the ‘fat kid’ to hitting the gym and training relentlessly – all in a bid to distract his mind from the dark memories.

And his natural talent for the sport was quickly picked up by key figures, including Wallabies coach Bob Dwyer who realised the young prop could run as fast as a backrower.

Daly became the second person acquired by the Wallabies without first playing for the state when he debuted against the All Blacks in Auckland in 1989. 

Just two years later, Daly won the team its first World Cup by 12 points to six after taking out the only try in the match, earning himself a meeting with the Queen. 

Daly catapulted the team to victory against England during the 1991 World Cup by scoring the only try
Daly catapulted the team to victory against England during the 1991 World Cup by scoring the only try

By this time, he was at the zenith of his career, a central player in a world-leading team and living the life he had always dreamed of.

But four years later, his world would start to spiral out of control after he was dropped by the Wallabies during the 1995 World Cup. 

His painful thoughts which had laid dormant for years began to bubble to the surface, with his commitment to his beloved sport no longer actively suppressing his demons. 

Now in his early 30s, he was drinking heavily, or doing drugs, to forget his troubled past, but would sometimes commit petty crimes while inebriated.

Daly says he was sexually abused by a Catholic brother at St Joseph's Boys School (pictured) when he was 11-years-old
Daly says he was sexually abused by a Catholic brother at St Joseph’s Boys School (pictured) when he was 11-years-old

Despite having lost his license, he would drive, gamble, and his businesses failed – leading to bankruptcy. His two marriages broke down. 

Friends and loved ones asked Daly what was ‘going on’, but in his depressed and dark state, he still did not know how to reach out and ask for help.

Meanwhile, his crimes started to mount – including petty theft and driving while disqualified – but he skipped court dates, with the judge instead ordering suspended sentences, bonds, community service, and weekend detention in his absence. 

But in 2015, his behaviour caught up with him – and police found him at a Sydney bar and took him into custody over an arrest warrant for charges of driving while disqualified.

The arrest forced Daly to evaluate his life and, in the process, his former Wallaby captain, Nick Farr-Jones, put him in touch with a Sydney respiratory doctor.

Although the doctor specialised in sleeping disorders, he had experience working with army veterans with trauma and immediately picked up that there was more to Daly’s story. 

Within five minutes, he asked if something had ‘happened to him’ a child. 

Shocked by the doctor’s intuition, Daly opened up about his sexual abuse for the first time in almost 40 years and was diagnosed with PTSD. He was placed on medication.  

Two years later, as he faced court over the driving charges, the judge pulled Daly aside in a private room to tell him to explain his actions or he would be given little choice but to send him to jail. 

Daly disclosed he had been abused as a child, eliciting an unsurprised response from the judge who said: ‘I knew something was going on at Joey’s’.

While he was only given 500 hours of community sentence and banned from driving, his admission would come at a greater cost. 

Two days later, his deeply personal revelations about his abuse were on the front cover of a Sydney newspaper, leaving him completely blindsided.  

Four years later, the footballer has come forward to share his story on his own terms.  

Reflecting on the way he lived during his 30s and 40s, Daly said he is angry that he let himself down, but the ‘damage is done’.  

Daly was one of the many victims who shared their experience at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in relation to assaults at Catholic institutions. 

Although he has come to terms with the fact it was not his fault, Daly said it was a long rehabilitation process spanning over the past four or five years. 

Since sharing his story, others have come forward from St Joseph’s to tell the sporting legend their own experiences of abuse. 

Now, Daly is seeking recognition from St Joseph’s that the abuse happened and legal damages from the school’s owner, Marist Brothers. 

‘I can acknowledge it and I accept the ramifications. But I won’t accept that I was a 10, 11 year-old boy and I was walking into an ambush. It shouldn’t have happened,’ he said.