Black and gold
Tigers (also popularly known as 'The Bays')
SANFL (SA) 1921-2015
1934, 1973, 1985, 1986 (4 total)
Stanley H. Lewis Memorial Trophy: 1969, 1973, 1975-6, 1981, 1990 (6 total); SANFL Night/Knock-out/Pre-Season Series: 1959, 1971, 1982, 1990, 1992 (5 total)
448 - Peter Carey (1971-1988)
884 - D.K. "Fred" Phillis (1966–78, 1981)
League Top Goalkickers
J.Owens (80) 1928, (83) 1929 & (102) 1932; C.Churchett (88) 1948, (72) 1949, (105) 1950 & (102) 1951; D.Phillis (137) 1969, (107) 1970, (99) 1971, (108) 1975 & (98) 1976; T.Grima (58) 2010 (13 total)
J.Handby 1928; G.Johnston 1934; M.Brock 1940; M.Boyall 1941; A.Crabb 1949; D.Phillis 1969; K.Hodgeman 1978; A.McGuinness 1982; B.Backwell 2006 (8 total)
P.O. Box 72, Glenelg 5045, South Australia
For a club which commenced its league involvement in just about the most inauspicious way imaginable, Glenelg have enjoyed a fair amount of success, though not perhaps enough to satisfy its many supporters.
A return of four SANFL premierships in 84 seasons is respectable but by no means outstanding; however, when you consider that three of those premierships have come since 1973, and that the club has claimed the runners-up spot on no fewer than eight occasions during that same period, you cannot escape the conclusion that the reputation of the Glenelg Football Club could - some would doubtless say should - have been a whole lot different.
“Nearly always the bridesmaid but seldom the bride” might be a somewhat facile observation, but it adequately describes the fortunes of Glenelg since the appointment of Donald Neil Kerley to the senior coaching position for the 1967 season. Kerley remained at the Bay Oval for 10 seasons, and during that time he established an unfortunate ‘tradition’ which each of his next half a dozen successors were to maintain, albeit unwittingly.
In 1966 the Tigers had finished bottom of the pile, a position with which they were by no means unfamiliar, and the immediate prospects for improvement did not look at all promising. For much of the 1966 season, the Glenelg players had functioned as loose cogs, lacking the cohesion and purpose which yields results (see footnote 1).
Glenelg commenced their 1967 campaign with virtually the same group of players who had managed just three wins from 20 starts the previous year, but almost from the opening bounce of the season it became apparent that there was a difference. At the risk of being over-simplistic, that difference was Kerley. Having already coached both West Adelaide (in 1961) and South Adelaide (in 1964) to premierships - the latter after a wooden spoon the previous year - 'the King' as he was affectionately known was eminently qualified for a job which few would have wanted. More to the point, it was exactly the kind of challenge he relished. As a playing coach, he led by inspiration, after the fashion of his great Victorian rival (and friend) Ted Whitten. Kerley’s teams tended to play in a resolute, hard-hitting, full-throated fashion which reflected his own philosophy, and the result in Glenelg’s case, as it had been in South’s, was a rapid climb up the premiership ladder.
In his first season with the Bays, Kerley led from the front in classic style, winning the club’s best and fairest award. It was noted that:
"Often last season his broad shoulders, strong legs and outsize heart guided his young Tiger cubs to victory. Kerley has a reputation as a man of brawn but adversaries are quick to concede that that phase of his game is no more devastating than his football brain. Since 1953 when he coached Kollymilka to a premiership in the Woomera League, he has not missed a major round (see footnote 2)."
During the 1967 season, a number of highly promising youngsters - notably Graham Cornes, Peter Marker and Rex Voigt - had been unearthed, but the retirement at the end of the year of several experienced players left a serious gap which Kerley sought to plug, at least in part, by the audacious recruitment from Central District of his former West Adelaide team mate, Ken Eustice. Famously described by Fos Williams as “pound for pound, the best footballer in Australia”, 1962 Magarey Medallist Eustice was still very much at his peak as a player, and was a proven on field leader.
For most of the 1968 season, Kerley’s record of never having failed to propel his teams to finals participation seemed likely to continue, as Glenelg - the new ‘glamour team’ of South Australian football - appeared to be playing with even greater cohesion and purpose than in 1967. For a time, the side even looked likely to qualify for the double chance, but in the final few minor round matches the underlying inexperience of the team told, and the loss of a couple of key games ultimately saw the Tigers finish a game shy of finals qualification in fifth place.
Identifying inexperience, and the susceptibility under pressure which often attends it, as the team’s main weakness, Kerley enticed former Bay ruckman Harry Kernahan, who had spent the previous three seasons in Whyalla, back to the fold. It was an inspired move, as Kernahan enjoyed a splendid season, capped by selection for South Australia at the 1969 Adelaide carnival. He was not alone: Ken Eustice, whose form in 1968 had been patchy, was back to his brilliant best, winning the club’s best and fairest award; half back flanker Brian Colbey was one of half a dozen Tigers included in South Australia’s carnival squad and was accorded All Australian status; high flying Ray Button, who had been under a cloud with injury for several seasons, recaptured his most dynamic and spectacular form to give the side a formidable marking presence in the forward lines; and previously wayward full forward ‘Fred’ Phillis finally found his shooting boots to become the first SANFL player since Colin Churchett (also of Glenelg) in 1951 to kick a century of goals. Phillis was rewarded with the 1969 Magarey Medal, becoming in the process the first full forward in history to win the award.
Prior to the Australian interstate championships in June Glenelg was in awesome, indefatigable form, winning all 9 matches played, and all bar one by hefty margins. Combining the power and aggression traditionally associated with Port Adelaide with precision skills of the sort that had played a big part in carrying Sturt to the previous three premierships, the Bays looked to have found a guaranteed winning formula, in the process elevating football in South Australia to a new level. During the second half of the season, however, a few chinks began to appear, and losses during the final 9 games to each of the other three eventual finalists - Sturt, West Adelaide and West Torrens - posed more questions than they answered.
Some of the answers were perhaps uncovered during a second semi final in which Glenelg proved incapable of maintaining a finals intensity for the full two hours, and eventually went under by 38 points to resurgent Sturt which had seemingly come good just at the right time. In the following week’s preliminary final, however, the Bays tapped into a vein of form reminiscent of that which they had displayed during the first half of the year, and swept West Adelaide aside with ease by 53 points.
Pundits previewing the 1969 grand final were confronted by a quandary: which was the ‘real Glenelg’? Equally to the point, what impact would Royce Hart, who had been leased by the South Australian Tigers from their Victorian counterparts, have on the game? (see footnote 3) Perhaps predictably, the forecasters were divided, although on balance there were probably slightly more who sided with the preview writer in the grand final issue of the 'Football Budget' in regarding the Double Blues’ extra finals experience as the most likely decisive factor (see footnote 4). Bill Sutherland, however, writing in 'Footy World', was not entirely alone in predicting an upset:
I expect Glenelg to have reaped enough benefit from last Saturday’s victory against West Adelaide to enable them to take their second League premiership.
"I think that the Glenelg side is at least five goals better than recent Port Adelaide final sides. Bearing in mind that Sturt took three and a half quarters to get away from the Magpies last year .... I think Glenelg will take this year’s pennant." (see footnote 5)
To the immense disappointment of its hordes of success-starved supporters, Glenelg capitulated to both tension and the opposition, in more or less equal measure, in the 1969 grand final. Sturt won with almost embarrassing ease by 65 points, racking up a record grand final score in the process. Possibly the only bright spot to emerge for the Bays was the effort of ‘Fred’ Phillis in edging past Ken Farmer’s 33-year-old record for the most goals kicked by an individual in a season. Back in 1936, Farmer had booted 134 goals; Phillis’ five in this match took his total for the year to 137.
This achievement by Phillis apart, however, Marker, Hart, Terry Crabb, Chris Hunt and Kernahan were almost alone among the Glenelg players in putting in performances commensurate with their ability. 'King' Kerley, who retired as a player after the game, clearly had his work cut out to transform Glenelg from also rans into the genuine article.
For much of the 1970 season, however, the team appeared to be going backwards, and in the end finals qualification was only procured on percentage. With just 11 wins from 20 minor round games - the lowest total by a finalist since 1962 - Glenelg had done little to convince anyone of its premiership credentials. September is a month apart, however, and the Tigers of 1970 played probably the club’s best finals football since its only ever flag, in 1934. Both the first semi final, against North Adelaide, and the preliminary final, against Port Adelaide, were hard, gruelling affairs against high standard opposition, but the Bays performed with conviction and tenacity in both to emerge victorious by 16 and 18 points respectively. ‘Fred’ Phillis booted his 100th goal of the season in the preliminary final.
If the two lead up finals had been arduous, they were nothing compared to the ‘big one’. On a cool, wet, windy afternoon, viewed by probably less than half of the 48,575 spectators in attendance (see footnote 6), Glenelg and Sturt engaged in two hours of open air, all in mud wrestling in which the Double Blues’ 4 goals to 1 third quarter proved decisive. Peter Marker, with 30 possessions, played a splendid game for Glenelg in the pivot, with Graham Cornes, Ray Button, Brian Colbey and John Sandland also prominent. Perhaps crucially, however, Bays rover Rex Voigt, later to win the club’s 1971 best and fairest award, was heavily felled early on, and managed only six kicks over the final three quarters of the match. Meanwhile, Sturt rovers Rigney and Endersbee were among their side’s most damaging performers.
At Glenelg’s Annual General Meeting in February, coach Neil Kerley told club members that the team was “at the crossroads” and “a premiership was essential in 1971 or 1972” (see footnote 7). In the event, the 1971 and ‘72 seasons proved to be Kerley’s worst as a league coach up to that point, as the Bays plummeted to sixth both years.
In hindsight, it seems clear that Kerley’s 'Mk I’ Tigers reached their peak in 1969, when a premiership was probably within reach, but was ultimately missed; then, following the retirement over the next few seasons of key, experienced players like Doug Long (who retired in 1969 after 135 games), Ken Eustice (1970 - 52 games), Harry Kernahan (1971 - 176 games), Keith Pattinson (1971 - 91 games), Terry Crabb (1971 - 65 games) - not to mention Kerley himself (1969 - 55 games) - it became necessary to re-build. In this context, Glenelg’s 1970 grand final appearance can be viewed as a veritable over-achievement, while its returns of nine wins in 1971 and 11 wins in ‘72 were probably more truly indicative of ability. All this time, however, the seeds of the club’s greatest ever season - indeed, one of the greatest seasons in South Australian football history - were being sown.
In 1973, the quintessential 'Kerley method’ - glimpsed, perhaps, in 1964 with South Adelaide, and again with the 1969 Tigers - came at last to full fruition. Glenelg in ‘73 was, in terms of its average standard of performance, a VFL side in all but name. With the exception of its round-seven meeting with North Adelaide at Prospect it not only never lost, but - until that fateful ‘one day in September’ - it never looked even remotely like doing so.
"There’s greater depth this year," observed Kerley half way through the year, endeavouring to pinpoint the reason for the team’s spectacular improvement. "And we’ve got bigger players - and the biggest are a lot quicker than those of the past. Experience is another factor. This is a good side." (see footnote 8)
Just how good became clear after the round-15 return meeting with North Adelaide when the Bays blasted the reigning Australian champions off Glenelg Oval to the tune of a staggering 160 points. It was, according to Kerley, “the best effort I’ve seen from a Glenelg side”, while Alan Shiell, writing in ‘The Sunday Mail’, suggested that “the remarkably ruthless manner in which Glenelg tore North apart almost defies description”. (see footnote 9)
The Bays were in a similarly merciless frame of mind for the second semi final, in which they demolished their nemesis of ‘69 and ‘70, Sturt, with arrogant ease, 20.13 (133) to 11.10 (76). Surely now nothing could stand in the way of ‘Kerley’s Mob’ as they sought that elusive ‘holy grail’ of football, the Thomas Seymour Hill trophy?
The 1973 SANFL grand final, the last to be played on Adelaide Oval, would have to be a serious contender for the title of ‘best ever’. Glenelg’s grand final opponents, North Adelaide, had, in addition to the 1972 club championship of Australia, won both of the previous two premierships and, in Barrie Robran, boasted a player who, in the view of some, was the most audaciously gifted exponent of the game in history. In the previous weekend’s preliminary final the Roosters had vanquished the Double Blues with even greater conviction, and by an even greater victory margin (87 points), than Glenelg had managed in the second semi. This time around it most emphatically would not be a repeat of the round 15 meeting between the two sides.
Right from the outset of the 1973 grand final, it was clear that Glenelg was in for its toughest match for some time. Kicking with the aid of a strong breeze, North Adelaide withstood a strong start from the Tigers to outscore them 7.6 to 4.3 in a vibrant, free-flowing opening term. The second quarter saw the Bays fight back to lead 9.10 to 8.10 at half time, and when they emerged from a topsy turvy third term still eight points to the good, and with the aid of the wind to come in the final quarter, victory, and that long sought flag, seemed assured. However, the Roosters staged a desperate fight back which saw them lead by five points with three minutes of time-on already played. What followed rapidly found a place in South Australian football folk lore - not to mention becoming a conspicuous cornerstone of the tradition, indeed the very soul, of the Glenelg Football Club.
With time running out, the Bays mounted one last, frenzied assault on goal, only to come up against the stern, resolute figure of North Adelaide’s veteran full back, Bob Hammond, who had been virtually impassable all day. With an apparent calmness that he probably did not feel, Hammond careered out of the backlines paddling the ball in front of him; finally, the ball reached a recumbent Neil Sachse in the left half back flank region, and he endeavoured to handball it over the boundary line.
However, Glenelg’s twentieth man, Craig Marriott, who had only just come onto the ground, and was probably the only player afield still with a spring in his step, managed to intercept the ball, and launch a towering, hopeful punt kick back towards goal. The ball came back to earth in Glenelg’s right forward pocket, directly into the waiting hands of Graham Cornes, who had taken the preliminary insurance of perching two metres above the ground on the necks of the anticipatory pack of players.
Cornes, who had had, by his standards, a somewhat quieter than usual game, coolly went back and goaled with a nonchalance that belied the acuteness of the angle: Glenelg was in front by a point. If poetic justice had been served, that was how it ought to have ended, but Glenelg’s nineteenth man John Sandland added another goal after the siren to give an illusion of comfort to the scoreline, the Bays winning by 7 points, 21.11 (137) to 19.16 (130).
Centre half forward Peter Carey and rover-cum-forward pocket Rex ‘Noddy’ Voigt, with 6 and 7 goals respectively, vied for Glenelg’s best, while prolific kick winning centreman Kerry Hamilton, Western Australian rover Greg Bennett, and full back Peter Anderson - a former North Adelaide player - were others among many to shine.
In the Australian club championships the following week Glenelg, playing in unfamiliar pastel-coloured jumpers, probably paid the price for conferring too much respect on first round opponents, Richmond, enabling the VFL Tigers to ‘get the jump’ and lead by 41 points at the main break. Thereafter, Glenelg performed much more fluently, getting to within 15 points at the death. In the consolation match, Tasmanian team Scottsdale was comprehensively put to the sword, the Bays winning by 133 points, 29.27 (201) to 10.8 (68).
When asked about the secret of his coaching success, Kerley denied that he had one.
"My methods have been the same with West, South and the Bays," he said, adding that the only thing he would not tolerate was “anything less than 100% effort". (see footnote 10)
At the conclusion of their all conquering 1973 season, the Bays seemed poised for a long reign at the top but, as so often happens, subsequent events demonstrated that it was much more difficult to sustain success than to achieve it in the first place. Kerley remained at the helm until the end of the 1976 season, but the best Glenelg could manage were runners-up spots in 1974 and 1975. However, it was clear on his departure that the Bay Oval was a much healthier place all round than it had been on his arrival, and indeed during Kerley’s tenure it became increasingly common for references to be made to ‘the Big Four’ of South Australian football - Port Adelaide, Norwood, Sturt ...... and Glenelg.
The reasons for this designation probably had to do with perceived financial resources as much as on-field achievement, but it could not be denied that, in a football sense at least, Glenelg had finally arrived on the map. (see footnote 11)
In other senses, that ‘arrival’ took place a good deal earlier. Indeed, some of the very first European settlers in South Australia landed at Glenelg (see footnote 12), but although a small settlement was established there, the majority of the newcomers headed inland. Today, of course, Glenelg is an integral part of the Adelaide metropolitan area, but for much of the nineteenth century it was an isolated outpost (see footnote 13). Nevertheless, sport of many kinds, including football, was played, and during the nineteenth century there were, at differing times, at least two football clubs bearing the name of the township. Both these clubs, however, proved to be short-lived.
In 1898 considerable impetus was given to sport in the district when Glenelg Oval, eventual home of the Glenelg Football Club, was opened.
During the early years of the twentieth century the Glenelg area, which at the time boasted a population of only about 8,000, was represented in various junior level football competitions, but it could hardly be claimed that the groundwork was being laid for admission to the state’s senior competition, the South Australian Football League. Nevertheless, shortly after World War One the Glenelg Oval Association launched an audacious application for league membership and although this did not meet with initial approval there was sufficient encouragement given to ensure that the matter would not be permanently dropped.
In 1919, a prototype Glenelg Football Club participated in, and won the premiership of, the United Suburban Football Association, in the process raising the profile of the sport in the locality, and engendering a substantial amount of public interest together with - and perhaps more to the point - financial and political backing. Glenelg Oval was upgraded, and fenced, and in March 1920 the mayor of Glenelg, John Mack, presided over a meeting at the town hall at which a new ‘Glenelg Football Club’ was inaugurated, and plans to seek affiliation with the SAFL discussed. The SAFL at this time was a seven team competition, and there was a strong desire in league circles to eliminate the inevitable weekly ‘bye’ via the admission of an eighth club. With the backing of the mayor and other local luminaries, and the strong support of neighbouring league side, Sturt, Glenelg was fast emerging as the favourite to fill the vacancy.
Events moved apace in those days: when the new football season kicked off less than two months after the town hall public meeting, Glenelg was a member of the SAFL ‘B’ grade, where it would reside for a probationary term of still to be determined duration. In colours of red, yellow and black, the newcomers performed creditably for much of the 1920 season, winning 3 of their 14 matches to finish seventh. Considering the haste with which everything had been put together, and allowing for the fact that many of the best Glenelg-based footballers had, understandably, opted to play at league level with other clubs rather than in ‘B’ grade with Glenelg during 1920, the consensus was that the season had been a success. This certainly appears to have been the view of the SAFL management committee, which on 4 October 1920 unanimously endorsed Glenelg’s application for full league membership, effective from the following season.
In hindsight, during the course of the next four years there must have been many who came to regard the SAFL’s decision as premature. During that time, the Glenelg Football Club blundered its way into the record books in spectacular, unparalleled fashion, losing every one of 56 league matches contested; indeed, during the entire course of its first ten SAFL seasons, Glenelg never once finished higher than seventh on the ladder, and managed a paltry success rate of just 15.1%. By any objective criteria, it would seem that the club was not ready for the demands of league football.
Nevertheless, a league competition without Glenelg during the 1920s might have robbed aficionados of the game of the delight of seeing players of the calibre of Len Sallis, Jim Handby and Jack Owens in action. Sallis was a combative but highly skilful centreman who played 172 games for Glenelg between 1924 and 1935, winning the club’s best and fairest award on five occasions; old timers remember him for his sure ball handling, irrespective of opposition pressure, and tremendous disposal skills. Handby, the club’s first Magarey Medallist, shifted from South Adelaide in 1925 and made his debut in Glenelg’s first ever league win; he was a determined, energetic and forceful player who played 123 games for the club - interestingly, without kicking a single goal - between 1925 and 1932. Broken Hill-born Owens was the first in a long line of great Glenelg full forwards; between 1924 and 1935 he played 177 games for the club, booting 827 goals, and heading the league goalkicking list on three occasions.
Two of these men, Sallis and Owens, were team-mates when Glenelg surprised the football world by winning the 1934 premiership. Prior to 1934, the Seasiders as they were popularly known at the time had never finished above sixth on the ladder, but under the coaching of former West Adelaide champion Bruce McGregor, appointed the previous year, the side had begun to play a tougher, more resolute - and ultimately much more successful - brand of football. In 1933, Glenelg enjoyed what the Americans term ‘a winning season’ for the first ever time, emerging victorious from 9 of its 17 league fixtures. The following year saw it overcome a slow start to transform itself into a formidable combination, vying for supremacy for much of the season with perennial powerhouse, Port Adelaide. In the end, both Glenelg and Port finished the minor round equal on points, and ahead of all other teams, with the Magpies’ marginally better percentage securing the minor premiership.
The Seasiders’ first ever league final was an ostensible disaster which may, in fact, have constituted just the kind of wake-up call required to transform them from pretenders into bona fide contenders. Port Adelaide won with ease, 22.21 (159) to 13.16 (94), as Glenelg displayed a brittleness and indecisiveness which had not been apparent since the opening couple of games of the season.
Such frailties were swept aside the following week, however, as Glenelg came roaring home in the last quarter to defeat Sturt by 13 points, having trailed narrowly at every change. Despite this, few pundits could see any reason to tip anything other than a substantial Port Adelaide grand final win.
The 1934 SANFL grand final (see footnote 14) was one of the most exhilarating witnessed up to that point. Played at breakneck pace, Port Adelaide managed the first goal of the afternoon but never thereafter led. The majority of the Glenelg players put in the performances of their lives, enabling them to resist everything that their more illustrious opponents could throw at them. Nevertheless, when Port levelled the scores late on in the final term there would have been few members of the 30,045 strong crowd who did not expect them to go on with the job. ‘Blue’ Johnston, however, had other ideas, and his spectacular defensive mark on the goal line moments later effectively transformed the momentum of the game, precipitating as it did the move from which Glenelg secured the match winning goal. Final scores were Glenelg 18.15 (123); Port Adelaide 16.18 (114). Few at the Port could believe it, but the rest of the League rejoiced along with Glenelg.
Best in a fairly even team display by the victors was spring-heeled centre half forward Arch Goldsworthy, with the fleet-footed roving trio of Arthur Link, Roy Colyer and Lance Leak also exerting a decisive influence.
Glenelg now seemed poised for a sustained period of success, but the club’s fall from grace was to be even more dramatic than its rise. In 1935, the team managed just 1 victory from 17 games, finishing last; it was the most spectacular premiership hangover in SANFL history, and the remaining pre-war years only added to the pain. Between 1935 and 1940 the team finished bottom every year bar one, managing a success rate of just 16.2%. There was slight improvement in 1941 - 5 wins and sixth position on the ladder - but then the league scaled down for three years, with the eight clubs pairing off according to their geographical positions. Glenelg’s partner during this time was West Adelaide, and it was through the agency of this partnership that Glenelg players managed, in 1942, to contest the club’s second grand final. This time around, however, Port had revenge, of sorts, as the Port Adelaide-West Torrens combination won by 11 points.
Glenelg-West Adelaide finished third in 1943, and last in 1944, before full scale competition was resumed in 1945. Unfortunately for Glenelg, its immediate post war achievements were almost as limited as those of the pre-war years.
In 1949, however, things began to improve. Glenelg adopted the somewhat controversial measure of appointing former Port Adelaide champion Alan ‘Bull’ Reval, who had played for the Magpies in the 1934 grand final, as coach. Under Reval’s aggressive and disciplined regime the Bays, who this season adopted the ‘Richmond Tiger’ style of jumper, finally learned how to win, and although the finals were missed, it was a close run thing, with Glenelg managing to defeat every one of the eventual finals participants at least once during the year.
Somewhat surprisingly, Reval was replaced as coach by Johnny Taylor in 1950, but the winning habit continued to develop rapidly. Under Taylor, Glenelg enjoyed its best concerted spell in league company up to that point, finishing second, third, and fifth, before running third again in 1953 under Taylor’s successor, Pat Hall. The key ingredients of this success were plain to see: with players of the calibre of ruckman Allan Crabb, full forward Colin Churchett, and the Taylor brothers, Johnny and Don, the newly christened ‘Tigers’ were a match for almost any opponent. Unfortunately, however, although the Glenelg sides of this era proved capable of winning finals, the ultimate prize eluded them.
In Hall’s second season as coach, 1954, the good times finally evaporated in emphatic fashion as the Tigers plummeted to last. Over the next thirteen seasons the club’s finals involvement would be both sporadic and fleeting (see footnote 15). Not until Neil Kerley’s arrival in 1967 would the Tigers become consistent protagonists at the business end of each season.
Following Kerley’s departure in 1976, that regular finals involvement would continue until the South Australian - and indeed Australian - football landscape was irrevocably and dramatically altered with the formation of the Adelaide Crows in 1991. Since that time Glenelg has, with the exception of one losing grand final, in 1992, been more or less consistently on the outer in terms of viable premiership ambition.
Between 1977 and 1990, however, Glenelg was indefatigably one of the elite, as the following table clearly shows: Neil Kerley’s immediate successor as coach was former Carlton legend John Nicholls, under whose guidance the Tigers narrowly lost the 1977 grand final to Port Adelaide. Further losing grand finals followed in 1981 and 1982 under ex Sturt champion John Halbert, and it seemed clear that the club was, in a sense, marking time. This impression persisted under Halbert’s successor, Graham Campbell, who in two seasons at the helm was unable to steer the club above third place.
If ‘King Kerley’s’ reign had witnessed the establishment of an embryonic Tiger Dynasty, it was Graham Cornes’ six year tenure which saw its full flowering. Already assured of a prominent and distinguished entry in the Bay annals for his exploits as a player (see footnote 16), Graham Cornes’ achievements as a coach would qualify him for a whole new chapter.
Cornes returned to the Bay Oval in 1985 after spending two seasons as coach of South Adelaide. To refer to this period as a ‘coaching apprenticeship’ would be insulting to South, but it nevertheless seems reasonable to suppose that Cornes would have derived a great deal of invaluable experience from working with players of inferior ability to those with whom he had spent the majority of his playing career.
Under Cornes in 1985, the Tigers played aggressive, wholly team oriented football which improved as the season wore on. They finished the minor round second on the ladder and progressed to the grand final with wins over Norwood (30 points) and minor premiers North Adelaide (14 points), earning warm premiership favouritism for their grand final re-match with the Roosters (see footnote 17). According to Andrew Capel:
"This year Glenelg has height, speed and skill and it also has the ability to fight back when the chips are down. In its two finals games, Glenelg has sometimes been awesome but mostly it has been tough and persistent. The Bays may not have a side full of stars as in past years but it (sic.) has a team who are all working hard at achieving the same goal - a premiership, and so far they have worked mighty hard for it."
Moreover, referring to the alleged psychological frailties which had contributed to Glenelg’s habit of 'freezing' in important games - the side had lost its last five grand finals - Capel went on:
"The Tigers now have the physical and mental toughness needed to win big games. Glenelg’s spirit is strong and it will fight to the end. Its players appear desperate and hungry for the ball and Cornes has finally found the right team balance." (see footnote 18)
This assessment proved to be spot on. After trailing early, the Bays proved too powerful and cohesive for their talented but, on this occasion, disappointingly brittle opponents, winning comfortably in the end by 57 points. Centre half forward Stephen Kernahan earned the Jack Oatey Medal with a typically imperious, all action, 7 goal performance, while ruck rover Peter Maynard, back pocket Ross Gibbs, rover Tony McGuinness and wingman Tony Symonds were not far behind him in effectiveness.
In some ways, Glenelg’s premiership year of 1985 represented a watershed in the development of football in South Australia. After the grand final young champions Stephen Kernahan (136 games in five seasons) and Tony McGuinness (112 games, also in five seasons, plus the 1982 Magarey Medal) announced that they would be heading east to the VFL in 1986. They would be joined by other high profile South Australians in the shape of Craig Bradley (Port Adelaide), Peter Motley (Sturt) and John Platten (Central District). Although the defection of star players to Victoria was not in itself a new occurrence, the departure of this particular quintet was arguably significant in that all five had made substantial contributions, indicative of genuine commitment and loyalty, to their SANFL clubs before leaving. In Kernahan’s case, the departure had been quite deliberately delayed until he had helped the Tigers win a flag, while Platten would, after leaving, make frequent reference to his long term ambition of eventually returning home to help the Bulldogs do the same (see footnote 19). In subsequent seasons, the flood of defecting South Australian players accelerated, and it is at least arguable that few if any regarded their SANFL clubs with quite the same degrees of affection and esteem as had Kernahan, Bradley, Platten, Motley and McGuinness. Certainly by the end of the 1990s the perception of the overwhelming majority of SANFL players was that they were competing in a league which had as its primary raison d’être the nurturing and development of future AFL talent.
As far as the Glenelg Football was concerned, this process effectively stymied and undermined all the progress which had been made over the preceding quarter of a century or so. However, in 1986 it was still in its early stages, and Glenelg under Cornes was still playing taut, powerful, effective football, which culminated in another grand final demolition of North Adelaide. This time the Bays were on top right from the opening bounce, leading at every change by 24, 33 and 42 points, before coasting to a 21.9 (135) to 12.15 (87) victory. Hawthorn-bound Tony Hall emulated Stephen Kernahan with a best afield performance from centre half forward, while evergreen ruckman Peter Carey, wingman David Kernahan, on-ballers Peter Maynard and Chris McDermott, and centre half back Max Kruse all put in sterling efforts. Needless to say, coach Cornes was elated:
"It’s a terrific feeling. There were a few doubting Thomases last year who thought we couldn’t do it without a couple of key players in Stephen Kernahan and Tony McGuinness and they were good players for us, but this year the boys have really had to work for it and today was just a fruition for all their efforts. I thought the start of the 2nd quarter performance was just phenomenal. I’ve never seen them play better." (see footnote 20)
In retrospect, the 1986 grand final saw the Glenelg Football Club at its zenith, for although four grand finals have been contested since, all have been lost. The formation of the Adelaide Crows at the end of a 1990 season which had seen the Bays go under in an acrimonious grand final against Port Adelaide arguably damaged Glenelg more than any other club. Of the Crows’ initial list of fifty-two players, no fewer than ten - easily the biggest single club contribution - were from Glenelg. Indeed, if you include returning son Tony McGuinness, there were actually 11 players, or more than half a team, tied to the Tigers. Of even greater significance, however, was the loss of Graham Cornes, who was enticed away to become Adelaide’s inaugural coach, despite having earlier expressed misgivings over the VFL’s real, underlying motives in pursuing a pseudo-national format for its competition.
It took Glenelg the better part of two decades to recover from the depredations of the early 1990s and the senior side did not again contest a grand final until 2008. Favoured by many going into the match, they proved unable after half time to live with the greater skill and intensity of a finals hardened opponent in Central District, and succumbed in the end by 7 straight kicks. However, there seems little doubt that the Bays boast sufficient talent to give the premiership a real shake in the near future.
Overall, the Glenelg Football Club has made a contribution to the history of the game which far transcends its ostensibly modest record of four league premierships. Whatever tangible success (or otherwise) the future brings, the impact on the game of players like Sallis, Handby, Owens, Johnston, Boyall, Brock, Davies, the Phillis brothers, Marker, Cornes, Kernahan, McGuinness and McDermott will, hopefully, never be forgotten.