St Kilda flag hero 'Cowboy' Neale dies aged 78

St Kilda champion Kevin 'Cowboy' Neale has died aged 78 after a lengthy health battle.

A hero from the Saints' 1966 VFL premiership, Neale ranks 11th on the club's all-time games list after a 256-match career, which was at the time a St Kilda record.

Hailed by his former club as a "larger-than-life character", Neale returned to St Kilda after his retirement and worked in its marketing department and was president of the Past Players Association.

"Cowboy was truly a beloved figure at the Saints, not only among his teammates and fans, but by those who worked alongside him at the club long after his playing days," a club statement released on Sunday morning read.

"Renowned for his great physical strength as a footballer, he was also blessed with exceptional skills for a big man which enabled him to play as either a key defender or forward.

"Truly a larger-than-life character in every way, Cowboy was always able to engage with people across various generations.

"His health struggles in recent times were well-publicised, and his teammates regularly visited him in Albury as a group ... his wife Georgina was always a constant pillar of strength and the club extends its deepest sympathies."

Named in a back pocket in St Kilda's team of the century, Neale will always hold a special place in the hearts of Saints' fans, having booted five goals in their only grand final win to lead the side to a one-point victory against Collingwood.

Originally recruited from South Warrnambool, Neale headed to Canberra after his VFL career and helped Ainslie secure four premierships as captain-coach.

He also led the ACT to a famous win against a Victorian side in a pre-cursor to State of Origin football, before trekking over to the SANFL and was involved with Central District in the 1980s.

Neale's death comes as Australia's biggest football code mourns the loss of Ron Barassi, an icon of the game who, like his St Kilda contemporary, became a household name in the 1960s.