Remembering the Horse

Harry Kernahan

1937 – 2012

 

Before there was Stephen there was Harry. Known as “the Horse” Harry Kernahan was a no-nonsense ruckman from South Australia’s iron triangle. He played 176 games for Glenelg and 13 for South Australia including the side that beat Victoria on the MCG in 1963. In 1962 when the Croweaters beat Western Australia in Perth Harry nursed a broken collarbone through the last quarter because the coach Fos Williams told him he couldn’t come off. Harry played every game wearing thick horn rimmed glasses and through them he saw the game and the world in a straight forward manner that made him a successful administrator for decades after retiring. One of his proudest moments was watching two of his sons play in the 1985 premiership for the Tigers – a side he had recruited and helped nurture. In August 2005 he was a guest of honour at the 20th reunion of the team:

 

The annual Glenelg Hall of Fame dinner was reaching the point where men were starting to kick their chairs back from the table and loosen their ties. They had re-lived the glory of 1985, inducted a few champions, applauded a dying legend and were getting into the serious reminiscing.

I sat opposite the artist Tom Gleghorn and his wife. Tom was in his 80s and said little through the evening. While all around him were black ties, he wore a colourful cravat and a burgundy jumper that looked home knitted. His wife sat bird like, her hair set and coloured. Scott Salisbury, the square jawed hard man of yore came around the table carrying a beer glass and pecked Mrs Gleghorn on the cheek. He then gathered my attention by leaning forward and kissing Tom on the lips.

Salisbury is one of only two players Gleghorn has ever painted. The portrait is a head and shoulders study of a warrior, hair damp with perspiration and eye bloodied from combat. The other portrait is of Thai-born Sudjai Cook kicking for goal. The background is a kaleidoscope of colours. “I like Sudjai,” said Tom when I asked him about the painting, “he is not from here but he is one of us. There is a certain poetry in him when he plays.”

Tom had been introduced to the Bay in the 1970s when he was teaching art at the old Underdale College. There he met Graham Cornes who was studying Phys Ed and the footballer invited him to practice to study the human form for drawing lessons. He maintained an interest in the club.

Earlier Harry Kernahan sat at our table shuffling papers and draining schooners of West End draft. A parade of people came for an audience, fans wanting autographs (which he seemed happier to give than they receive) former employees who worked with him and players he had recruited or played with. Harry was General Manager here for the best 20 years the club had ever had during which it won three flags. The Horse was back to present the 1985 players to the faithful and in his 70s was getting twitchy about it.

“I had to shoe horn him into it,” said past players’ convenor Ron “Rocker” Redford. I asked Horse what Rocker was like as a player and he studied the craggy, bearded face staring at him and said “you’d go to war with him.”

Rocker was fussing about Harry making sure he understood what he had to do and what would happen at various times. Horse went outside for a gasper then returned and sunk a beer and met a few people and studied the papers again, blew out a deep nervous breath and disappeared for another fag.

“Where’s Horse?” demanded Rocker returning from another errand.

“Dunno”

“Geez – he better not have done a runner”

Horse returned and scratched some more notes and when the time came stood regally and walked toward the podium. Rocker snatched his arm mid-stride and hissed

“Now don’t fuck it up.”

What followed was one of the most moving presentations I have seen. Within the parameters of a gruff old man who came from a time where men swallowed pain and showed nothing, came a flow of humour and love for a group of footballers now growing grey and heavy in their 40s. One by one he introduced them and as each walked up to the stage Harry told a story in a fatherly way about them. Each anecdote showed a bit about them and a bit about Horse and a lot about why clubs thrive when they have a strong man running it.

 

I got a call one morning from a bloke in Renmark.

Mr Kernahan

Yes

Glenelg Football Club owes me $600

Why?

Houseboat damage by your players

Huh?

I spoke to Stephen that night and asked him what happened on the trip.

We got a houseboat stuck on a sandbar.

Why is that worth 600 bucks?

We tried to get it off by ramming it with the other one.

We paid it.

 

I was driving to a funeral at Claire with Wayne Stringer and we were trying to name every member of the 85-premiership team. We got 19 and couldn’t find the last one. It was driving us nuts. All of a sudden Wayne yells out – Horse you old dill it’s Doozer.

How’s that? Forgot my own son. Come on up David.

 

We recruited John Seebohm from the southeast and people said it wasn’t a great choice. OK I accept he only played 350 games of league football and two premierships. I accept he could only play two positions centre half forward and centre half back. I accept he didn’t say much to the coach or yell in the rooms beforehand and get stirred up and I accept he never bagged a team mate or took a cheap shot at an opponent. But he did go in and get the ball didn’t he?

 

In 1966 I went to play in Whyalla and I started coaching North Whyalla. First game there was this kid who was killing us in the ruck. I said at quarter time I played state footy I’ll go on the ball and take care of him. He jumps all over me and at the end of the game I rang Ray Curnow and said get up here and sign him. So he drives up in his old Morris Minor and we go around to Barrie Robran’s place and he says sorry I already told North Adelaide I’ll play there. Second week same thing. This young kid is killing us and I go onto the ball. He is jumping all over me putting his boot in my neck and at the end of the game I ring Ray.

There’s another one

Oh no not again Harry

Anyway up he drives in the morris and we go around to the BHP working men’s singles quarters. As we go in there is this kid lying on the bed with long hair, a big cowboy hat on strumming his guitar. Ray stopped and looked and turned slowly to me and growled: You have got to be bloody joking.

But he signed him and Graham Cornes has been a great player and coach of this club.

 

I was sitting at my desk in a quiet moment one day and the phone rings. Receptionist says there’s a bloke from St Kilda here to see you.

 I said oh is there. I wander down and there is this little man (Harry leans down and holds his hand at knee height). I ask why have you come here? He said to get Peter Carey to the Saints. I said really. (He pauses and looks up from addressing his knees and then looks down again) I said why don’t you get the hell out of here before your cab has turned around because there is no way you are leaving with Peter Carey. I never saw him again. Ladies and gentlemen there are many good players in football and there are some greats and then there is a rare number who are champions. Tonight you get to see one of those champions – Peter Carey.

 

Most players hugged Harry on the way past on their way to the podium. Tony Hall said he was so excited to see Harry again. He had coached him in Under 10s when he was Mr Kernahan. In 1987 the Horse told him not to sign with Sydney for a promised bag of gold because they were a mess. Harry sorted out a deal for less money with Hawthorn and two premierships later Hall said Harry was always right about football.

 

As the last player was introduced they all stood in a semi-circle behind the old horse. He looked at them quietly with a smirk and leant into the microphone.

“What do I do now Rocker?”

“Just sit down mate”, he roared back.

Harry made his way back. Tom Gleghorn raised a glass to him and they laughed.

 

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. Beautiful stuff Michael.
    I reckon Horse was rucking in that old yoke jumper the first time we went to watch the Bays.

  2. Peter Baulderstone says:

    Wonderful. Thanks Michael. I can remember Harry the Horse as a player against my West Torrens Eagles in the early/mid 60’s. As fellow strugglers we always had a chance against “the Bays”. “Harry the Horse” versus our leading ruckman the skinny Eric ‘Dorothy’ Dix. Now there was a contest for the ages. In those days Glenelg had a reputation for being soft. Everyone except Harry.
    For a ruckman he was short (6’2″ max I would have thought) and those elasticised horn rimmed glasses and big ears gave him a sort of ‘mad professorial’ look. But I can remember him at the boundary throw ins – all arms, elbows and bustle. “No way you are taking front position, mate” his attitude and elbows told the opposing ruckmen.
    I remember I admired him, because Glenelg were strugglers like us. And because he got every ounce from his body and modest talents. By the 70’s the Bays had recruited Neil Kerley as coach, and I grew to despise their ruthlessness, glamour and success. Harry must have hated losing off the field as much as on it.
    I struggled to understand how an honest welter performer like Harry had sired a classic winner like Stephen. His genes must have had the same will to succeed.
    Vale’ Harry.

  3. Barry Nicholls says:

    Great Stuff Michael. I met Harry a few times when I was a kid having played cricket with his son Stephen. He seemed a lovely bloke.

  4. John Harms says:

    Mike, if anyone ever doubted that footy is about the game, the people and the stories they should read your tribute. Superb stuff. I love the absence of pretension in the conclusion: What do I do now?

  5. I want to recommend Michael’s book, “1964”, to anyone who hasn’t found it yet and especially those with a passion for the old SANFL League. It was reviewed on this site and can also be purchased through the Almanac. My fav sporting read of 2011.

  6. Peter Schumacher says:

    I loved this read, being in country South Australia as a child and listening to the football on the wireless I never got to actually see most of the names of the fifties to the seventies but Harry Kernahan is one name that does stand out. Now I know why.

  7. A fitting tribute to a Bay icon. Can’t believe I still remember watching him play – makes me feel old.

  8. John Harms says:

    Hear hear Crio, re Mike’s book – if anyone is looking for a copy, yell out.

  9. Thanks Mike, from an SANFL devotee who only knew of Harry as Stephen’s Dad.

  10. still can’t figure how and why he went to South for an Admin stint? Glad Harry’s legacy is as a Bay stalwart, visionary (through those glasses) and sire. Tough last couple of years for him. R.I.P.

  11. Great read mate, well done and thank you for that.

  12. Paul Daffey says:

    Top read, Mike. Says more about the man than any obit I read in the papers.

  13. Steve Dirksen says:

    Fantastic article. The Glenelg Football Club will be poorer without his presence….

  14. Tony Dawkins says:

    Terrific article Mike; thank you. I was at that night with Harry recounting the stories and your article brought back a few memories; harry was a true champion off the field – alas, i’m too young to have seen him on the field, though his sons weren’t bad.

  15. Sue Ellis says:

    Thanks for these wonderful anecdotes about one of the Glenelg greats.

  16. My memories of Harry were during the 70’s at the after match presentations at the Bay. I was always in there with my Dad and loved seeing all of the players. At about 6.30 big Harry would get up on the small stage in the corner, and with his booming voice would command attention from all corners of the club. I used to love listening to him speak about the days match, win or lose and then call up the best players and the coach for a chat. Harry Kernahan is a true Legend of the GFC and will be missed.

  17. I’m too new to a serious pursuit of footy to know any of these folks, but Michael, you transported me into that banquet hall where I got to meet Harry Kernahan for the first time. And was delighted. Wow.

  18. John Kingsmill says:

    Delicious, mike.

  19. Richard Naco says:

    Just as the Geelong Football Club has been the vehicle of my passion for our indigenous game as an adult, so was the Glenelg Football Club the source of my inspiration as an adolescent. We lived on Oaklands Road, and for every home game in 1973 my younger brother & I would plod down that road, then follow Diagonal Road to where the holy of holies, Glenelg Oval, lay at the intersection of Brighton Road.

    That year, far more often than not, 20,000 people would turn up to those games and see the Bays kick 20 goals – and my sibble & I would bounce back home afterwards making lame 20-20 puns.

    Horse cast a shadow the length of Jetty Road over the Bay, over the entire community in those days. The club had been in the wilderness for 37 years before the inspired recruitment of Neil Kerley from South to coach the team eventually broke that horrible premiership drought. It may be my skewed perspective of youth, but the glories of that ground (which was the home of the Chappell Bros in summer) all seemed to stem from Harry Kernahan.

    The Golden Mile was a bloody great place to be in those heady days of the mid 70s.

    Giants like that are a rare commodity. Harry will always be a part of my heritage, a key cornerstone of my love of our game (even if his kid didn’t keep his promise to come back to the Bay after a few years with Carlton ;) ).

    Vale Horse.

    (Perfect tribute, Michael.)

  20. What a year that was Richard. We’d walk to the Bay Oval from our home next to the Pat, usually watching the Seconds as well. We’d run out out to the “huddles” where the sweaty players would be having a durry lying on the tarp before a Kerls rev and then sometimes we’d go down to the change rooms afterwards. It seems an age ago.

  21. Richard Naco says:

    Crio: we also made a point of always taking in the seconds game as well. We used to park ourselves at half forward flank/ forward pocket in the outer at the tramline end of the ground. Going to Kardinia Park last year reminded me a heck of a lot of days at The Bay, even to the point of barracking once more for the GFC in the cosy surroundings of their suburban home ground.

    All it needed was a tramline and somewhere handy to get a yeeros (although last time I visited Adelaide, the Lamb Spit had closed).

    BTW: the number of Croweaters on the Geelong list is a minor source of pride for me, and the stream of ex Glenelg people (Otto, Andrew Mackie, and some kid in the latest draft) has actually subtlely seduced my brother from his previous position of comparative neutrality into becoming a Cat (from his earlier stance of just barracking for whoever was playing Port Adelaide &/ or Collingwood each week).

  22. David Blades says:

    Great article. I was a keen Glenelg supporter in the seventies and eighties and those players were my heroes. I then became a keen Crows fan due to the Glenelg influence. I never met Harry but it seems to me that Glenelg’s success in that era was mainly due to Harry’s foresight and good management.

  23. Richard,
    my Bay day now goes from footy to Broady to BBQ Inn.
    Too late for a Bay boy to jump on the Cats…way too successful nowadays.

  24. darrell sherry says:

    Harry kernahan was my Uncle and i am very proud to have had him as my Uncle. many a day in the backyard was the game of backyard cricket with Stephen and David. from one window Aunty Annette would be yelling at us keep that bloody ball out of my lemon tree, and from the other window Uncle Harry would be yelling get out of my bloody tomatoes. thanks henchman for the memories and giving a young boy the thrill of meeting many of South Australias champions. cheers Horse you are lovingly missed.

  25. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Brilliant Michael as administrators there was , Wally Miller , Bob McLean and Harry who stand out in my memory a marvellous tribute to a quality man . Loved how you took us to the night . Thanks Mike

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