Born in Narrogin, Western Australia, Cable made his debut with the Perth Football Club in the WANFL in 1962, and won the Sandover Medal as the fairest and best player in the competition in 1964. Cable was awarded the Tassie Medal as the best player at the 1966 Australian National Football Carnival, as well as selection in the All-Australian team. The same year, he played in the first of three consecutive premierships with Perth, winning the Simpson Medal as the best player in the grand final in each year, as well as a further Sandover Medal in 1968. Cable left Perth at the end of the 1969 season to play for the North Melbourne Football Club in the VFL, and won the club's best and fairest award, the Syd Barker Medal, before returning to Western Australia at the end of the season. Following another three years at Perth, in which he captain-coached the club in 1972 and 1973 and won his third Sandover Medal in the latter year, Cable returned to North Melbourne for the 1974 season. In another four years at the club, he played in two premiership sides, in 1975 and 1977, before again returning to Perth after accepting an offer to captain-coach East Perth. Cable retired from playing at the end of the 1979 season, having injured himself in a farming accident.
Cable returned to Victoria in 1981 to coach North Melbourne, a role which he held until 1984. He later worked as an assistant at the West Coast Eagles during their first years in the VFL. Having represented Western Australia in a total of 25 matches during his playing career, Cable also coached the team at the 1979 State of Origin Carnival, later being named coach of the All-Australian team. Cable holds "Legend" status in both the Australian Football Hall of Fame and the West Australian Football Hall of Fame, as well as membership in the Sport Australia Hall of Fame. His tally of seven best and fairest awards at Perth is a club record, and his career total of 405 senior-level games is the most of any player born in Western Australia.
The youngest of eleven children, Cable was born in Narrogin, a country town in the Wheatbelt region of Western Australia. His father, Edward was born in England, unfortunately died when he was six, and he was raised by his Indigenous mother, Dorothy a member of the Noongar people of south-west of Western Australia. Cable spent much of his childhood playing football – aged eleven, he was reprimanded by his school headmaster for devoting too much time to playing. Cable debuted for the senior side of his local club, the Narrogin Imperials in the Upper Great Southern Football League (UGSFL), at the age of fifteen. After spending two years as a butcher’s apprentice, Cable moved to Perth, the capital of Western Australia, to attempt to play in the Western Australian National Football League (WANFL).
After being rejected by Western Australian football powerhouse East Fremantle for being "too small" – his playing height was listed as 168 cm, or five-and-a-half feet – Cable signed with Perth in 1962. He began his career as a wingman, but late in 1963 was moved to his familiar position of rover. In his first full season there, 1964, Cable would win the first of three Sandover Medals, the highest individual honour in the WAFL. Cable was awarded the Tassie Medal as the best player at the 1966 Australian National Football Carnival, as well as selection in the All-Australian team. The same year, he played in the first of three consecutive premierships with Perth, winning the Simpson Medal as the best player in all three grand finals, as well as a further Sandover Medal in 1968.
Cable's first coach at Perth was former Carlton premiership captain Ern Henfry, who alerted the Blues about the talented young rover. So in 1964, Carlton invited Cable to Melbourne and signed him on a “Form Four”, which meant that for the next two seasons he was tied to Carlton if he were to play in Victoria. But Cable had no desire to move interstate, despite the repeated urging from Carlton. During the following three seasons, Perth president Cliff Houghton forbade Cable from negotiating with VFL clubs, and when on 6 July 1969 this ban was lifted and Cable spoke with Hawthorn he did not decide to move. It was not until North Melbourne secretary Ron Joseph flew over to Perth and met with Cable personally in 1969 that Cable decided to play in Victoria. In August of that year, Cable signed a form four with the North Melbourne Football Club, enabling him to transfer to the Victorian Football League (VFL). The secretary of North Melbourne, Ron Joseph, said Cable was “genuinely interested in playing League football”, and wanted to "prove himself in Victorian football”. At the time Cable made his initial move to Victoria, North Melbourne were a struggling team, still a few years away from becoming one of the powerhouses of the decade. 1970 was a miserable year for the Kangaroos as they finished last on the ladder, but Cable justified the hype over his reputation by winning the Syd Barker Medal and finishing fourth in the Brownlow Medal vote count. However, North Melbourne were unable to meet a clause in his contract, which required them to pay Perth $71,000 to retain Cable’s services. This was a large sum, especially in the days when being a VFL footballer was not a full-time profession as it would become in later decades. As a result, Cable returned to Western Australia.
Back at Perth, Cable captain-coached the club in 1972 and 1973 and won his third Sandover Medal in the latter year. During his absence, North Melbourne had managed to sign former Carlton premiership coach Ron Barassi and took advantage of the short-lived Ten-Year Rule to land the signatures of VFL stars Doug Wade, John Rantall and Barry Davis. With Keith Greig and David Dench starting to emerge as champions, Cable decided to return to North Melbourne for the 1974 VFL season. North Melbourne made it to their Grand Final since 1950, but lost to Richmond. Finally, in 1975, the Kangaroos broke through by defeating Hawthorn to claim their first VFL premiership. At the conclusion of the 1975 season, Cable considered returning to Perth to play, after the death of his father-in-law. North Melbourne had agreed to release him from his contract, but he decided to remain with the club for at least one more season. He again returned to Perth after accepting an offer to captain-coach East Perth. He would return to Perth after 1977.
In the 1978 WAFL grand final, East Perth defeated Cable's old club, Perth, by two points, winning their first premiership since 1972. Cable, who was “at his best in the heavy conditions”, was playing in his sixth consecutive grand final, having played in five at North Melbourne.
In October 1979, Cable was involved in an accident on his property in Orange Grove, in which his right leg was crushed under a tractor, stripping one side of his leg to the bone. Cable went under operation within the first days after the injury to remove foreign material, including petrol, from the wound. Later, secondary infections set in, necessitating the use of heavy painkillers, with Cable said to be “hovering between life and death”, and spending his time in a “twilight world of delirium, drugged sleep and excruciating pain”. A series of operations was conducted at Royal Perth Hospital in which muscle from his right hip was grafted to replace his right calf muscle, with a vein from his lower left leg being made into an artery for his right leg. At one stage, Cable was given the possibility of never walking freely again.
Having represented Western Australia in a total of 25 matches during his playing career, Cable also coached the team at the 1979 State of Origin Carnival, later being named coach of the All-Australian team.
Cable had significantly less success in the VFL as a non-playing coach than as a player, although he did get North Melbourne into the finals in two of his three full seasons in charge during the early 1980s. In 1983 he coached the team to be minor premiers, but North Melbourne lost both final matches to an early exit. From 1987 to 1989 Cable served as assistant coach with AFL club West Coast Eagles.
Cable had two sons with his wife, Helen: Barry Jr and Shane Cable, both of whom played in the WAFL for Perth and Subiaco. Shane also played a single game for the West Coast Eagles in 1989.
Cable was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in December 1978 for "services to Australian rules football", He was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in December 1986. In 1996, he was an inaugural inductee into the Australian Football Hall of Fame, and, in June 2012, was upgraded to "Legend" status. Cable was similarly included as a "Legend" in the West Australian Football Hall of Fame's inaugural induction in 2004. Cable established a non-profit organisation, the Community Development Foundation, in 1999, aimed at assisting schoolchildren from lower socio-economic areas. A function room at Subiaco Oval, the Barry Cable Room, is named in Cable's honour.
In 1997, Hendy Cowan, the Western Australian Minister for Commerce at the time, appointed Cable to the position of the newly formed Aboriginal Economic Development Council, designed to facilitate the "development of Government policy and programs to expand economic opportunities for Aboriginal people". Cable has also been involved in a number of charity efforts involving cycling, especially long-distance cycling. In 1993, he rode a bicycle across the Nullarbor Plain to toss the coin at the 1993 AFL Grand Final, and in April 1997, he led a ride from Mandurah to Bunbury to promote a road safety campaign.
In July 2007, Cable was retrospectively awarded a Simpson Medal for his efforts in the inaugural State of Origin match in 1977, bringing his total number of Simpson Medals to a record five.