The date: Sunday 15 October 1972. The place: Adelaide Oval. The occasion: the Australian Premiers Final between North Adelaide (SANFL premier) and Carlton (VFL premier).
A crowd of 23,213 screamed themselves hoarse as the Roosters, having trailed by five points at the last change, and despite coming home into the breeze, applied Victorian style pressure to their opponents during a torrid final quarter to emerge victors by the narrowest of margins and claim the title ‘Champions of Australia’.
North champion Barrie Robran gave an irrepressible display which in some ways was the pinnacle of his career, and gave rise to an unprecedented tribute from quintessentially one-eyed Victorian TV commentator, Louie ‘the Lip’ Richards, who dubbed Robran “the new king of football.”
Every member of the North Adelaide team were ‘kings of football’ that day, and it is arguable that, taking into account all the constraints under which it was achieved, South Australian football itself has never achieved a more noteworthy triumph. Certainly, whatever else is said, it was the North Adelaide Football Club’s finest hour, albeit that subsequent developments in the game would render it almost meaningless.
Football in the northern districts of Adelaide dates almost from the sport’s inception in South Australia during the early 1860s. However, the club which would eventually go on to reach the absolute pinnacle of Australian football achievement in 1972 began life in 1881 as the Medindie Football Club. Known as ‘The Dingoes’, Medindie was a foundation member in 1885 of the South Australian Junior Football Association, before spending the 1886 and 1887 seasons competing in the Adelaide and Suburban Football Association.
The club then had an undistinguished five season career in the SAFA before altering its name to North Adelaide and adopting the now familiar red and white colours in 1893. The name change did nothing to improve the team’s on field fortunes, however, in an era when South Adelaide, Norwood and Port Adelaide were very much the ‘big three’ of South Australian football.
As the turn of the century approached, however, there were indications that the gap between the top and bottom sides in the SAFA was narrowing, a state of affairs reinforced by the compulsory introduction of Electorate football in 1899.
In 1900, North Adelaide broke through to secure a first ever premiership, defeating warm favourites South Adelaide in the final, 4.3 (27) to 1.8 (14). The red and whites were to remain a force for the next six seasons, collecting further premierships in 1902 and 1905 and narrowly failing against Port Adelaide in the challenge final of 1906 after earlier thrashing the same side in a semi final, 5.4 (34) to 0.12 (12).
North were ably served during this period by 1901 Magarey Medal winning centreman Phil Sandland, pacy defender Norm Clark (who went on to have an illustrious career with Carlton as both player and coach), wingmen Jack Rees and Norman Pash, and much-travelled ruckman/defender Jack ‘Dinnie’ Reedman, who captained the red and whites between 1901 and 1905. In a pattern which was to become monotonously familiar in future, North’s fortunes faded somewhat during the second half of the decade, before a gradual resurgence in the years leading up to the onset of World War One culminating in successive final defeats against Port Adelaide in 1913 and 1914. The latter of these was by the extravagant margin for the time of 79 points; even more ignominiously, North’s total for the day was a mere 1.8 (14) - a scoreline which would come back to haunt the club some three quarters of a century later.
The SAFL went into recess between 1916 and 1918 because of the war, but the return of football in 1919 was to prove quite sensational, with North Adelaide very much in the thick of the action. After finishing in third place after the home and away rounds the Northerners faced minor premiers Sturt in the first semi final and recorded a convincing win, 7.18 (60) to 3.5 (23).
The final pitted North against West Torrens, and in one of the most dour matches imaginable, the two sides played out the Australian football equivalent of a scoreless draw in soccer, totalling just 2.3 (15) apiece. The replay was again a tightly contested affair, but this time the red and whites ultimately managed to keep their noses in front by 5 points, 6.2 (38) to 5.3 (33).
Twenty-six scoring shots in four hours of football represents a score every nine minutes or so - not, on the face of it, crowd-pleasing stuff. However, there are different forms of excitement in football, and spectators at the SAFL finals series of 1919 certainly got more than their money’s worth in terms of heart-stopping, close to the wire action.
The thrills continued in the challenge final, in which North met Sturt once more. Incredibly, the result was another stalemate, with both sides registering 5.9 (39). For the first and only time in the history of football in the three major footballing states two finals matches in the same series had been drawn. A week later in the challenge final replay yet another draw appeared on the cards at times, but in the end the debilitating effects of five hard finals matches probably proved North’s undoing, and they went down by 5 points, 2.6 (18) to 3.5 (23).
It did not take long for the team to find its way to the winner’s rostrum, however. After finishing the 1920 home and away series as minor premiers North comfortably accounted for West Torrens in the first semi final before trouncing Norwood 9.15 (69) to 3.3 (21) in the final in front of a then record 31,000 spectators.
Earlier in the season the club had embarked on a two match tour of the eastern states during which a 13.15 (93) to 9.11 (65) win had been recorded against New South Wales, and a 7.15 (57) to 9.6 (60) loss sustained at the hands of a powerful Ballarat Football League combination.
Despite having accumulated the respectable total of thirteen senior premierships North have never really managed to establish themselves as the competition’s outstanding side over a prolonged period of time. All too frequently the team has fought tooth and nail for several seasons to reach the top, only to nose dive spectacularly back to anonymity almost before the fizz has gone from the premiership champagne. North of 1921 were as ordinary as their predecessors of the year before had been outstanding, and they failed even to make the finals. During the remainder of the decade, despite reaching the premiership play off on three occasions (in 1923, 1926 and 1927) the side proved unable to clinch another flag.
Prominent players for North during the 1920s included Tom Leahy, nicknamed ‘the prince of ruckmen’, Percy Lewis, Percy Furler, Albert Fooks, Cec Curnow and Darby Crawford. Wishing no disrespect to any of these individuals, however, a player was to make his debut in 1929 who was to go on to outshine them all; indeed, in the entire history of South Australian football it is doubtful whether there has been a more highly celebrated figure. Ken Farmer - later to be popularly referred to, in South Australia at any rate, as ‘football’s Bradman’ - kicked 62 goals in 1929, a highly respectable total for the time, but, by the standards which he was shortly to establish, a comparatively modest one.
In each of the following 11 seasons, Farmer was to manage at least 100 goals a year, and when he retired at the end of the 1941 season he had amassed an Australian record (which still stands) 1,419 goals in what was at that stage a South Australian record 224 games.
In 1930, Farmer gave the first sustained evidence of his rare talent, kicking 105 majors as North strode impressively to the premiership. A loss to Sturt in the first semi final proved to be nothing more than a minor hiccup. Exercising the right of challenge earned by winning the minor premiership North battled their way to a four-point triumph over Port Adelaide in the challenge final before a crowd of 23,609. Farmer kicked 4.0 out of the victors’ total of 9.13, and he was ably assisted on the day by the likes of Harold ‘Dribbler’ Hawke, Furler, Mangeldorf, Drew and Barrett. The finals series of 1930 was the last to be conducted under the challenge format, with the Page-McIntyre system replacing it the following year.
The change in finals format had no immediate effect on North’s supremacy. Farmer bagged 126 goals in 1931 including six in the grand final as the red and whites swept all before them to take out consecutive premierships for the first ever time. Their victims on this occasion were Sturt, and the 38 point winning margin afforded clear evidence of their superiority.
Thereafter, however, the 1930s followed a similar pattern to the previous decade. North did manage to reach the grand final in 1932, losing to Sturt, but in the remaining years of the decade the best they could manage was third place in 1936. Coincidentally, 1936 was also the year that Farmer kicked 134 goals to set a new SANFL record for the most goals kicked in a season, a record which was to endure until 1969.
As the 1940s dawned, North supporters could have been excused for licking their lips in anticipation given the red and whites’ by now renowned habit of bursting out of the blocks at the start of decades, but on this occasion there was to be disappointment. North finished sixth in 1940 (despite 125 goals from Farmer, and then slumped to seventh in 1941 in what proved to be the goalkicking legend’s last season.)
Between 1942 and 1944, the SANFL competition was conducted on a scaled down war-time basis with the eight clubs being paired off more or less geographically. North’s partner during this period was Norwood, and despite winning only 17 out of its 43 matches the combine ultimately proved very successful, defeating Port Adelaide-West Torrens in the grand finals of both 1943 and 1944.
On the resumption of full scale competition in 1945 the red and whites remained competitive, reaching the first semi final before losing to eventual premiers West Torrens in controversial circumstances. With the score locked at 100 points apiece the bell rang to end the game, but umpire Aplin, failing to hear it, allowed play to continue, whereupon Torrens rover Jim Thoms kicked what proved to be the match-winning goal. North’s post-match protests were in vain as the laws of football clearly state that play shall cease, not when the bell (or siren) sounds, but when "the field umpire signifies that he has heard it by sounding his whistle".
During the remaining years of the 1940s, North looked to be experiencing their customary fade-out, failing to reach the finals between 1946 and 1948. However, in 1949 the club appointed Ken Farmer as senior coach and he proved to have an immediate and beneficial impact. The northerners finished minor premiers with 12 wins from 17 before annihilating Norwood to the tune of 73 points in the second semi, 23.14 (152) to 11.13 (79).
The grand final against West Torrens was more closely contested, but North were never really in trouble and finally got home by 23 points, 13.17 (95) to 9.18 (72). Farmer’s masterstroke this year was restoring 33-year-old former Magarey Medallist Jeff Pash to the senior side. Pash had spent the entire 1948 season in the Seconds, but in 1949 he held down centre throughout the year and was particularly prominent in the grand final.
Another key to North’s success was the form of versatile champion Ron Phillips, who won the Magarey Medal in 1949 playing mainly as a centre half forward. In 1948, Phillips had also won the Medal, with most of his football that year being played at centre half back.
North’s customary premiership hangover saw the side drop to fifth in 1950, but they were back as a force the following year when they featured in a pulsating grand final against Port Adelaide, which the Magpies finally won by 11 points, 10.12 (72) to 8.13 (61).
The team’s valiant effort in 1951 had a discernible effect off the field as club membership rose to a record 1,700 the following year. On the field, too, there was progress, with the side winning 14 out of 17 matches to secure the minor premiership, followed by a stirring 3 point victory over Port Adelaide in the second semi final.
The grand final record crowd of 50,105 spectators who turned up expecting to see a closely fought tussle between North and Norwood were not disappointed in the first term as the red and whites edged their way to a 3.1 to 2.0 lead. However, thereafter the game developed into something of a rout, North adding 20.14 to 4.9 over the remaining three quarters to win by a SANFL grand final record margin of 108 points.
North’s pre-eminence was once again annoyingly brief. In 1953 they managed only 8 wins from 18 matches to miss the finals, although one of their wins was quite noteworthy. In round 9 North defeated Norwood by 4 goals at the Sydney Cricket Ground in front of an impressively large - and largely impressed - audience of 20,000 spectators.
For most of the remainder of the 1950s North continued to disappoint, managing only two further finals appearances for the decade. In 1959 the team finished second to last with just 4 wins for the year from 18 matches, one of the worst returns in the club’s entire history up to that point. Clearly, some drastic remedial action was required.
The club administration responded by appointing an experienced outsider, Jack McCarthy, as senior coach for the 1960 season. McCarthy had previously coached Port Adelaide at senior, seconds and colts level, and he immediately imbued his charges with a fresh appetite for success. Despite having basically the same group of players as in 1959 North charged up the list in 1960 to record 13 wins out of 18 and qualify for the second semi final. Once there, McCarthy had the satisfaction of seeing his new side overcome his old by 10 points after a tense, low-scoring struggle.
A fortnight later, North’s opponents in the grand final were Norwood, and a huge crowd of 54,162 were treated to one of the all-time great finals matches. From the start, North performed brilliantly, but the Redlegs’ resistance was dogged. North led at every change by 9, 7 and 4 points before just keeping their noses in front in a tumultuous final term to clinch the premiership by 5 points, 14.11 (95) to 13.12 (90). Rover Barry Potts with seven goals was best afield, while Gilbourne, Hammond, Gambling, Montgomery and 1960 Magarey Medallist Barrie Barbary also performed well.
True to form, North followed their premiership success with a mediocre showing a year later to miss out on the finals. It was a similar story in 1962, but in 1963 the Roosters - as they were by now popularly known - made the grand final from third after finals wins over West Adelaide (by four goals) and West Torrens (by two points). On grand final day, however, Port Adelaide effectively won the match in the first term by registering 5.8 to 0.1, and although the remaining three quarters were fairly evenly contested at no stage did North appear capable of mounting a seriously sustained challenge.
North missed the finals in 1964 and 1965 but they returned in 1966 with a 25-point first semi final win over South Adelaide followed by an abject 85-point capitulation to eventual premiers Sturt in the preliminary final. Of immeasurably greater long term significance, although it could hardly have been realised at the time, the club’s Annual Report for 1966 noted:
High hopes are held that Barrie Robran .... will continue to show the form of this season’s Second Eighteen Finals. Barrie could be an important acquisition to our senior side.
Robran made his senior debut in 1967, helping his team to the minor premiership, and finishing just a single vote behind winner Trevor Obst of Port Adelaide and team mate Don Lindner (who lost on a countback, only to be awarded a medal retrospectively by the SANFL in 1998) in the Magarey Medal. In the finals, however, he proved unable to inspire his team mates, and the Roosters succumbed by 44 points against Sturt in the second semi-final and eight points against Port Adelaide in the preliminary final to finish a disappointing third.
In 1968 Robran’s form was even better as he won the first of his three Magarey Medals, but North were unable to improve on third place. An 18-point defeat of Glenelg in the final of an SANFL night competition which ran concurrently with the major round afforded only the scantest consolation. The general consensus of opinion at the time was that, on their day, the Roosters were as accomplished as any other side in the competition, but a mixture of inconsistency and brittleness under pressure tended to let them down. The inability to cope with pressure was repeatedly shown at finals time, with North winning only two of seven major-round matches between 1966 and 1970. The inconsistency came sharply into focus in 1969 when spectacular victories over top sides were interspersed with lack lustre performances against the competition’s strugglers, and North failed to make the four.
In 1970 North Adelaide broke with tradition by appointing a Victorian, Mike Patterson, as senior coach. Known as ‘Swamp Fox’, Patterson had played 152 games, mainly as a ruckman, with Richmond, and he was to go on to play 45 more with the Roosters. However, it was as a coach that he would exert his greatest influence.
After finishing fourth in Patterson’s first season in charge, the team progressed rapidly the following year so that:
"..... even midway through (the) season it was hard to begrudge North the accolade of greatness. A new found maturity (including the ability to withstand pressure), vigorous body contact and quick tackling were added to its renowned skill...... And it also acquired a facility for successful improvisation."
The Roosters won 17 out of 21 minor round matches in 1971 to top the ladder and then proved too good for Port Adelaide in both the second semi final (by 15 points) and grand final (by 20 points) to demonstrate conclusively that they were the outstanding team in the SANFL. Best for North in the grand final were the superlative Barrie Robran, who, despite being officially named at centre half forward, played the entire match as a ruckman, rover Terry Von Bertouch, half forward Adrian Rebbeck (4 of the team’s 10 goals), half back flanker David Burns, and back pocket Geoff Paull.
A week later, North gave VFL premiers Hawthorn a fright in the Championship of Australia match, ultimately going down by 24 points after leading late on in the final term.
If 1971 was good, though, the following season would be hard to improve on. After once again securing the minor premiership, North repeated its successes of twelve months earlier against Port Adelaide in both its finals matches. In the grand final, played in front of 55,709 spectators, it actually trailed at half time by eight points before unleashing an irrepressible second half performance to add 14.8 to 4.4 and win by 56 points. Barrie Robran was at his indefatigable best to be a clear choice as best afield, while six-goal full forward Dennis Sachse, sprightly rover Terry Von Bertouch, veteran full back Bob Hammond, and tenacious half back flanker Geoff Strang were also prominent.
Which brings us almost to where we came in: Sunday 15 October 1972 - the indisputable zenith of North Adelaide’s history. For the first time the Australian Club Championships, which since being re-born in 1968 had - totally unjustly, particularly as far as Western Australia was concerned - involved only the premiers of the VFL and the SANFL, were extended to include both the WAFL premiers and the Tasmanian state champions. For the first time therefore the winning club would be able, with considerable justification, to term themselves 'champions of Australia'.
Convincing wins by Carlton and North over East Perth and City-South respectively set up the mouth-watering prospect of a final clash involving two players popularly regarded in their respective competitions as Australia’s finest. In the event, Carlton’s ‘worm’, Alex Jesaulenko, was comprehensively upstaged by his Croweater rival, Barrie Robran, who in the end probably proved the decisive difference between the two sides. At one point, indeed, Jezza actually openly applauded as Robran enacted a particularly spectacular piece of magic, an incident which swiftly passed into football folklore, in South Australia at any rate.
North won 10.13 (73) to 10.12 (72), with Robran joined on the best players list by ruckman Geoff Sporn, forward flanker Adrian Rebbeck (who booted 4.6), wingman Barry Stringer, and half forward Darryl Webb, who secured the winning goal of the match.
Television commentator Lou Richards summed things up by saying that “Robran took Superjezza and the mighty Carlton apart like a soggy newspaper.” With a team containing many young players presumably still to reach their peak, Mike Patterson was optimistic about the future when questioned prior to the commencement of the 1973 season:
"The players are far more advanced physically and in their competitive attitude than at any other time since I’ve been in Adelaide. They think, work and act and react as friends, not just team mates."
However objectively valid this assessment may have been, the history of football in general, and the North Adelaide Football Club in particular, is littered with occurrences which fly in the face of such logic. No North supporter worth his or her salt would therefore have been remotely surprised by the sequence of events which followed the Roosters’ spectacular successes of 1971 and 1972.
Admittedly, North did remain a highly competitive unit in 1973, reaching a third consecutive grand final after a hard fought finals series which saw them overcome the temporary hiccough of a 6 point qualifying final loss to Sturt to down Norwood by five points in the first semi final before gaining spectacular revenge to the tune of 93 points against the Double Blues in the following week’s preliminary final. A week later against Glenelg, the Roosters were arguably the better side for much of the game but would have derived absolutely no consolation either from that or from losing what is now universally remembered as one of, if not the, greatest SANFL grand finals of all time.
Going into time on in the final term North led by five points after clawing their way back from an eight-point three quarter time deficit, but last gasp goals from Cornes and Sandland gave the Tigers victory by seven points, 21.11 (137) to 19.16 (130). An unusually subdued performance from Barrie Robran, who that year won the third of his Magarey Medals, did not help, but overall - notwithstanding the comments in the preceding paragraph - the Roosters could have few complaints as Glenelg had clearly been the outstanding side for 1973, sustaining only one defeat (against North, as it happened) for the entire year.
As far as North were concerned it was all to be downhill from here for some considerable time. In 1974 the side slipped to seventh on the ladder with only seven wins out of 22 for the season. Of much greater long term significance, however, was an occurrence which took place in a match which did not even involve North Adelaide. As part of continuing efforts to promote Australian football in the eastern states the VFL and South Australia took part in an interstate match on the Sydney Cricket Ground and during the closing moments of this encounter Barrie Robran was involved in a collision which saw him sustain a serious knee injury. The immediate consequence of this was that he missed the next 9 matches, but even after his return to action he was never the same player.
Neither, more than coincidentally, was North Adelaide the same team. After a lacklustre loss to Port Adelaide in the elimination final of 1975 the Roosters were to remain out of the September action for eight long years. Not even Barrie Robran’s appointment as coach in 1978 could lift a side which in fact plummeted to the wooden spoon that year - the club’s first since 1912 - with just 5 wins out of 22.
Robran coached the Roosters for three seasons before making way in 1981 for former Sturt, Norwood, and by that stage North, player Mick Nunan, who was highly admired both for his analytical insight into the game and his fanatically infectious desire to win. Under Nunan the Roosters’ improvement was steady rather than meteoric, 7 wins and eighth position in 1981 being followed by 10 wins and seventh spot a year later. In 1983 they managed to clamber into the finals with 11 wins before achieving a good victory over South Adelaide in the elimination final. However, Sturt in the first semi final proved to have their measure. After dropping back among the chasing pack in 1984 the Roosters stunned even their most ardent admirers the following season by winning their opening 11 matches in succession, which ultimately proved good enough to cancel out the effects of a poor run in and enable them to clinch the minor premiership.
North’s poor form going into the finals, however, did nothing to inspire confidence, and perhaps in hindsight their feat in eventually reaching the 1985 grand final via an 11 point preliminary final win over West Adelaide can be viewed as something of an over-achievement. Certainly, the Roosters were never in the hunt against Glenelg (North’s conquerors a fortnight earlier in the second semi) in the grand final, losing with barely a squawk by 57 points, 12.12 (84) to 21.15 (141).
A year later the same two sides again reached the grand final, although on this occasion it was North which entered the match as firm favourites following a convincing 24 point second semi final victory over the Bays. Grand final day saw a vastly different story unfold, however, and if anything Glenelg’s eventual 48 point triumph was even more of a humiliation than the 1985 result, especially given the Roosters’ improved pedigree.
Reflecting on the bitterness of back to back grand final defeats, Andrew Jarman, who would go on to win the 1987 Magarey Medal, and would later play with distinction for the Adelaide Crows, was optimistically defiant:
".... we’ll be back better than ever next year. It took Hawthorn three years to win a flag and I’m sure we can do the same.”
Prophetic words indeed, heralding the onset of one of the most dominant all round seasons enjoyed by any club in the entire history of the SANFL. In addition to Jarman’s Magarey, team mate Darel Hart finished as a joint runner-up for the Medal, while full forward John Roberts landed the Ken Farmer Medal for kicking the most goals during the home and away matches. If the Roosters were to go on to win the premiership they would join Port Adelaide (1914) and Norwood (1925) as one of only three SANFL clubs to have achieved, in the same season, the trifecta of premiership, Magarey Medal and top goalkicker.
The Roosters duly won through to a third consecutive grand final after overcoming Norwood by 20 points in the second semi final and, to the immense satisfaction of everyone connected with the club, the opposition on grand final day would be provided by the arch-nemesis, Glenelg. Mick Nunan put it thus:
"The past two years we’ve suffered enormously as a club and personally in terms of each individual because of the criticism we’ve had to bear from all over the place and a lot of it has been very much justified. We (the club) tend to think that unless we can remove that bogey both in a grand final and more sweetly against Glenelg then we are going to leave ourselves as a target for that criticism for the rest of our lives."
Thankfully, North Adelaide performed superbly in the grand final to obliterate the ‘bogey’ once and for all. After establishing a 5.2 to 0.1 first term lead, the Roosters never looked back, eventually amassing the astonishingly accurate total of 23.7 (145) to Glenelg’s 9.9 (63) to win by a resounding 82 points, at that stage the second greatest grand final winning margin in SANFL history. Recipient of the Jack Oatey Medal for best afield was six-goal ruckman/forward Michael Parsons who had a close challenger for the award in brilliant half forward cum ruck rover Darren Jarman, the younger brother of Andrew. Others to shine in what was a consummate all round team performance included rover Steve Sims (four goals), centreman Kym Klomp, ruckman Mick Redden and wingman Roger Carlaw.
Mick Nunan neatly summarised the feelings of everyone connected with North Adelaide when he said in a post-match interview:
"There’s an enormous amount of work that has gone into winning this premiership from not a huge number of people, but then again North Adelaide’s not a huge resourceful club in terms of dollars and cents, and I think it’s just a good story of the battlers that have come up, been knocked down on the canvas a couple of times and have come back and have finally won - and won in a very classy fashion."
At the risk of labouring the point, the follow up to North’s outstanding achievement ought not to have taken anyone by surprise: in 1988, the Roosters blew hot and cold throughout the year and ultimately failed even to make the finals.
That there was still considerable talent at the club was undeniable, however, and in the 1989 minor round the Roosters once again became the measuring stick for all other clubs in the competition. Once the finals arrived though it was a less highly skilled but more ruthlessly efficient Port Adelaide side which was to prove to have North’s measure, winning both the second semi final (by 20 points) and grand final (by a demoralisingly easy 94 points, with North managing a paltry 1.8 (14) for the match). The response to the loss from within the Rooster camp was predictably downbeat, but at the end of the day, irrespective of the scoreline, any grand final defeat simply means you finish the season in second place.
North had a solid season in 1990, winning 14 out of 20 home and away matches, but were again found wanting when confronted by Port Adelaide at the tail end of the year, this time in the preliminary final. However, the following season the Roosters adapted better than any other SANFL club to the changed local environment brought about by the formation of the Adelaide Crows and defeated West Adelaide 21.22 (148) to 11.7 (73) in the grand final to record a 13th senior premiership. However, the match is remembered more for the on-field mayhem than the scoreline. Players on both sides seemed at times to pay no heed whatsoever to the laws of the game and the result was an entirely undignified and chaotic spectacle which SANFL General Manager Leigh Whicker called “the most unsightly game I’ve ever seen”.
As far as the actual football was concerned, the Roosters fought hard to gain the upper hand in a torrid opening term and thereafter went from strength to strength. They were particularly well served by seven-goal forward pocket Darel Hart, who won the Jack Oatey Medal for best afield, classy centreman Peter Krieg who had 22 kicks, 3 marks and 6 handballs, rugged half back Tim Perkins (19-4-11), experienced centre half back Trevor Clisby, and evergreen ruckman Mick Redden.
After a 1992 season which saw the Roosters drop to fourth place Mick Nunan retired as coach to be replaced by veteran player Darel Hart. Initially, Hart felt that he would have no trouble bucking recent trends and successfully combining the roles of player and coach. However, after a dismal 1993 season in which North finished seventh with only half a dozen wins for the year he readily admitted that this had been naive of him. The 1994 season saw Hart coaching from the sidelines and the team showed marginal improvement to record nine wins, although this was still not enough to qualify for the finals. In 1995, however, the Roosters played some scintillating football to reach the finals with some ease, and although they failed to progress beyond the first semi final there seemed every reason to expect further improvement over the next few seasons.
Sadly, however, under new coach Mick Flynn 1996 witnessed a reversal of fortunes. On their day, the Roosters remained capable of overturning any opposition, but overall they were much too inconsistent to constitute a real force. In the end, North finished sixth, which probably represented a fair reflection of their abilities. In this context, 22-year-old Josh Francou’s unexpected Magarey Medal win was a bonus, and certainly the highlight of the season as far as the Roosters were concerned.
The 1997 season saw the appointment of former Glenelg and Adelaide champion Chris McDermott as playing coach and under his typically resolute and inspirational guidance the side qualified for the finals in fifth place. A dour elimination final tussle with Sturt saw the Roosters come out seven points to the good, but the following week North’s season was brought to an end at the hands of Central District. Overall, however, there had been improvement, and the expectations of most within the club had been more than met. It thus came as something of a surprise and disappointment when the side’s form declined the following year to the extent that finals participation was not achieved.
Matters got even worse in 1999 as the Roosters succumbed to the ignominy of a wooden spoon, only the third in the club’s illustrious history. Seasons 2000, 2001 and 2002 were only marginally better, yielding eighth, eighth and seventh place finishes respectively, before a demoralising slump to another wooden spoon in 2003. In 2004, however, under new coach Andrew Jarman, the Roosters restored a modicum of credibility with an at times highly promising campaign that ultimately produced a fourth place finish, a result that was repeated the following year, and improved on incrementally in 2006 (third) and 2007 (second). For the time being, however, that was as good as it going to get for North with the side suffering a pronounced post-grand final hangover in 2008 to slump to seventh.
Although both Port Adelaide and Norwood have been more successful than North in terms of premierships, it is arguable that the Roosters have an unmatched record over the years in terms of producing players of the highest order. Such champions have included:
• 1905 and 1906 Magarey Medallist, Tom MacKenzie;
• the man known throughout Australia during his time as ‘the prince of ruckmen’, Tom Leahy;
• Ken Farmer, ‘football’s Bradman’;
• Harold ‘Dribbler’ Hawke, described by Geelong great Reg Hickey as “the greatest centre half forward I have ever seen”;
• ultra versatile dual Magarey Medallist, Ron Phillips;
• arguably the doyen of South Australian full backs, Ian McKay;
• aerialist and on field leader supreme, Don Lindner;
• the player adjudged by some as the greatest ever, Barrie Robran;
• the mercurially talented Jarman brothers, Andrew and Darren.
Players of this quality bequeath a legacy that enriches, ennobles and enhances the game, and to many football lovers it remains a shame that those who oversee and, in effect, manipulate the game’s destiny appear to have little or no awareness of the importance, or even in many cases the existence, of such individuals.