Early Cornes

By his own admission, Graham Cornes found his induction into the Australian Football Hall of Fame slightly awkward.

As a player his signature moment was a gasping high mark in the dying moments of the 1973 SANFL grand final. Glenelg was down by five points when he went back for the kick. It was the last grand final played at the Adelaide Oval before the show moved to Football Park and a heaving capacity crowd had seen a brutal, foot-to-the-floor match that was entering the 33rd minute of the last quarter. Cornes’ punt sailed through giving his side its first flag since the Depression.

“He had done nothing all day,” growled the late Harry Kernahan years later. “But he grabbed that mark and kicked that goal – bloody lair.”

That was number 12. Always in the highlights on the Sunday lunch time footy shows for mark or goal of the round. Mobbed by shielas after the match. Saying something interesting or clever in the paper during the week. Photographed at his car yard wearing a three piece suit or a fur coat. He released a 45rpm single and an accompanying film clip showed his highlights. Team mates say he regularly questioned coaches at training. “You couldn’t tell him anything because he thought he knew more,” says Kym Hodgeman.

As a singular player who knew his own mind Graham Cornes should have lapped up being acknowledged as the 33rd South Australian admitted to the Hall. His awkwardness came because he has been a consistent critic of such events for the simple reason he articulated in his acceptance interview.

“It is the greatest game in the world. It is the most inclusive game in the world I never stopped loving it and I never will.”

Cornes believes the Hall of Fame concept at any level singles out the elite individual in a team game. In the moments before his heroic mark in 1973 a rover called Craig Marriott (who had started the game as 20th man) lunged after the ball as it was being swept out of bounds and blindly thumped it skyward for Cornes to snatch. Without Craig Marriott Glenelg loses.

It would be easy to think that Marriott is the player who is rewarded most from the inclusiveness of the game. He isn’t as fast, strong or clever as Cornes but he is part of it.

However perhaps it is Cornes – the standout player – who owes more and is humbled most by the inclusiveness of Glenelg.

When he was recruited from Whyalla in 1967 Cornes flew to Adelaide and trained with the side for the first time on a Thursday night. The club put him into a room at the Brighton Hotel on the foreshore and told him he was in the seniors on Saturday.

On Saturday morning Doug Long arrived at the pub to collect Cornes. Long was a senior ruckman who had coached the Bays in the early 1960s and whose on field play was at odds with his laconic personality. Each Saturday morning his team-mate Ray Button, who lived across the road, would wander in for a steak before the match. This morning Doug asked his wife Faye to cook three and he went and collected the kid from Whyalla.

That afternoon all three were part of a side that topped reigning premiers Sturt at Unley Oval. The victory put the Bays into the four.  Cornes took a few grabs and after the game walked through a door into the club and a sea of faces. The members stood and applauded and cheered the side. The surge of hot emotion knocked the recruit into a whirl. Doug and Faye Long steered him through the evening. The club became his family and with that was acceptance of who he was and what he could do.

1967 ended with Port Adelaide knocking Glenelg out of the finals with a typically industrial display of power football. It was Cornes’ third league match and he got cleaned up. His chest felt like it was washing up and down. At half time the doctor told him his ribs were broken and he came off. Doug Long was already in the medical room with a similar complaint having been bashed in the ruck. As they lay in the medical room a crowd groan suggested the toll was rising. Neil Sutherland had a broken collarbone and could barely stand up but stayed in a forward pocket until the end of the match. After the siren all three were loaded into an ambulance. Long talked calmly. Cornes took a week to recover from a punctured lung and broken ribs.

In 1969 Cornes was drafted and spent a year in jungle training before serving in Vietnam. When he was on leave he would catch a train back to Adelaide to see his team-mates. He had an open invitation to stay with the Longs. Whatever time of the night he lobbed, they would shift one of their daughters into a shared room and give him a bed. Sometimes he wouldn’t want to disturb the family so would throw his swag down in the backyard. His own family wasn’t always easy and so Cornes found the Long’s welcome warming.  Faye would hear laughing and find Graham sitting up in bed playing “Puff the Magic Dragon” on his guitar to her young daughters who followed him like a pied piper.

When he returned from the war Graham Cornes was collected by team-mates at the airport. His coach Neil Kerley told him he was playing reserves on Saturday. As he mentioned this week, while other veterans went home to the farm or the suburbs he returned to a family with discipline and support structures which he says “saved my life”.

The team Neil Kerley was bringing along and who had been punished by Port Adelaide in 1967 came of age in 1973. Cornes had developed into a dynamic player with skill, flair and hardness. The long awaited premiership had come too late for Doug Long and Ray Button who watched from the stands.

 

 

 

 

 

About Michael Sexton

Michael Sexton is a journo working for the ABC in SA. His scribblings include "1964", "Fos Wiliams on Football" and the biography of Neil Sachse.

Comments

  1. Paul Daffey says:

    This is a wonderful piece about one of the more interesting men in the game.

    I spoke to Cornes for a piece for the Hall of Fame edition of the Record and really enjoyed talking to him.

    It’s interesting that you mention his broken family.

    Football provided him with warmth and comfort and so he’s always felt indebted to the game.

    Not all players feel so grateful.

    Thanks, Mike. I love your insights on SA footy.

  2. Peter_B says:

    Congats, Mike. I concur with Daff that you perfectly captured the Cornes I remember. Some of these things can descend into hagiography.
    I was at the ’73 GF and I can remember how poorly Cornes played. But it is often remembered as “Cornes Game” for the last minute screamer and accurate kick from the ‘impossible pocket’ at AO under enormous pressure. Your Harry K story got it exactly right.
    Cornes was never remotely in the Blight, Robran, Ebert, Lindsay Head class as a player. He was a good to sometimes very good player, who showed great persistance and longevity. But his contribution to the game as coach, commentator and father has been enormous.
    He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame as an all round contributor to SA Football, and in establishing its credibility on the national stage.
    Well said, Mike.

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Great article Mike I disagree strongly with , Peter B Cornes was a brilliant player and a proven big game player and stood up in the key moments such as the mark and goal in 73 GF . A complex character ahead of his time re being a non drinker and can be ridiculously opinionated . Graham Cornes has been a huge influence on football as a player . Coach and media he thoroughly deserves his spot in the , AFL Hall of fame
    ( best player of the Cornes in my opinion ) Thanks Mike

  4. Troy Hancox says:

    loved number 12. Cornes (oh, and Matty Richardson LOL)=biased yellow n black here.

    Had Graham on my duffle coat as a glenelg cheer squad member.
    Shattered my heart the day David Granger run onto Football Park and king hit Cornsey. Cornsey was brilliant, that punch turned the game.

    Graham Cornes, you deserve your recognition. Well done!

    PS. should of got the Crows their first flag…….. not to be.

    Just about did it al 12 G Cornes. Legend!

  5. Marcus Smith says:

    Fantastic player,his marks really made a game spectacular

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