Having followed Centrals since I was six, I had a fair idea off the top of my head about who the key interstate recruits were, but the fun was in discovering some of their back stories. I also found out about some blokes who I had either forgotten, or never knew, that they weren’t natives of beautiful SA Great.
When Centrals commenced in SANFL league ranks in 1964, it supplemented its local ranks with a few blow-ins.
Ex-Richmond Tiger Alan Hayes wore number 20 in the Bulldogs’ first game, scoring one of the new team’s few goals. Hayes stayed around for three seasons, achieving ephemeral immortality as a member of the 1965 Mobil Footy card collection.
Jock O’Brien strung together 33 league games at North Melbourne, winning the kiss-of-death Gardiner Medal in 1961. He tried his luck at Elizabeth in 1964 and played 19 games in his only season, after a successful sojourn with Ulverstone in the NWFU.
A year later, Doug Ion, younger brother of Footscray’s Graham and Barry, moved across from Victoria, playing three games, including Centrals’ first winning game.
I have read in a couple of places that the Terry McGee who played for the Dogs in 1965-66 (34 games, 36 goals) was the same Terry ‘Tex’ McGee who played for South Melbourne a couple of years earlier. I asked the latter’s younger brother Jeff ‘Torch’ McGee about this and he flat out denied that his brother had gone to SA. (I’ve left him in just in case. I’d be happy if anyone is able to confirm or otherwise.)
In 1965 Centrals looked to the West for its first big interstate signing, South Fremantle’s onion picking Tom Grljusich. A kerfuffle over residency qualifications, resulting from a brief return to his home town to get married, saw the vigorous Sandgroper key position player having to wait ten weeks for his SA Bulldog debut. He was an immediate hit, being selected for his adopted state after only three club games and helping his new club win seven games from round ten onwards. In the following year, he won the Dogs B&F and was a Croweater standout in the 1966 Hobart Carnival. Tom returned to his old club after taking out Centrals’ goalkicking award in 1967 and continued at South Fremantle until he was in his late thirties.
Another westerner, rover Peter Medhurst, had to stand out of footy in 1964 before the West Perth triple threat (1960 premiership player, best and fairest and top goalkicker) got his chance at Goodman Road in 1965 and 1966.
Dennis “Dinny” Barron was a stout defender from Subiaco whose two years (65/66) at Centrals yielded 32 games and 46 goals, indicating that he was more of an on-baller for the Dogs.
Keith Shorthill came across from East Fremantle, taking Medhurst’s spot as the designated ex-WA rover in 66/67, continuing Centrals love of nippy Sandgropers.
A couple of rugged Victorians came across in the late 60s. Rod O’Connor joined in 1968 from Footscray, straightening up the backline with his barrel-chested approach at the ball. I remember that despite his fearsome appearance, he was once a late injury withdrawal with a bed-making related broken toe. His low guernsey number meant that he was one of the first verses of my favourite chant on the Supporters Bus to away games:
We’ve got Rod O’Connor, number 3
Rod O’Connor, number 3
We’ve got Rod O’Connor, number 3
We’ve got the best team in the league
Darryl Beale played ten games at Richmond before lobbing at post code 5112 in 1969. Beale was a no-frills utility during his nineteen games at Centrals. He went on to become a famous name in local footy north of the Torrens, at Angaston, Tanunda, Eudunda, Gepps Cross and Elizabeth as a very successful player and coach.
As mentioned here , Centrals were fortunate to land Tony Casserly from East Fremantle in 1970. TC became an instant hit around my neck of the woods when he took over Brian Dickson’s deli at Elizabeth South, where he became my favourite providore of Amscol Footy Colours and the briefly popular Woodies Woc. He was a pretty good coach when appointed in 1972, but the gloss seemed to fade a bit and he was replaced (unbelievably, in hindsight) by Garry Window after four seasons. Casserly’s laser like handballing became a feature of the club’s game plan and he also represented his new state on a couple of occasions. Tony currently works alongside Centrals’ multi-flag winning coach Roy Laird in the real estate game that has been his specialty since the mid-70s.
Gary Jones was the coach’s nephew when he came across from the Melbourne suburbs in 1970, but gained an instant following as the proverbial “man mountain” in front of the sticks. He was huge, immoveable once he stuck out his big frame. Centrals fans would holler with enjoyment at the sight of four opposition backmen trying to get near the incoming Ross Faulkner as Jones stuck up one or both of his big mitts to take a one-grabber in the square, holding it aloft for a few seconds, just to frustrate them even further. The biggest dob I ever saw at Elizabeth was his prodigious drop punt to the southern end goals, from the boundary line north of the coaches’ box. Twin calicos and disbelief all round. The first in a long line of cult heroes at Goodman Road.
Another WA recruit, Phil ‘Cracker’ Haughan was an ungainly but highly effective ball magnet from East Perth. It took Russell Ebert to beat him in the Magarey in Haughan’s debut year 1971 and it was no coincidence that Centrals made the final four in his first two seasons. He was off to parts unknown after the unsuccessful 1973 season, bobbing up at Launceston where he won every award possible during 76/77, including a flag, before a final stint with Swan Districts.
Phil Ashmead was a pint sized blonde rover from the Melbourne suburban ranks, playing generally as a second rover from 1973 to 1977. His 47 goals included several “Viscount Goal of the Day” awards, but he spent as much time in the seconds as he did the league. His lack of kicking power was in part compensated by his fearlessness. He finished his SANFL career at Thebarton and remained in Adelaide to become “one of Adelaide’s best connected businessmen” according to his current employer.
Adrian “The Bear” Hunt joined Centrals in 1973 (from the VFA, I think), but the bearded and bulky left footer couldn’t command a regular spot, so transferred to the Eagles for two more seasons. He did his best work a few years later when the SAFA commenced, playing for the green and white Bulldogs of Ingle Farm under Maurie “Excuse Me” Francou.
The WA connection continued in 1974 when Graham Ramshaw (Perth and briefly Fitzroy) arrived in a late career move, which only yielded three games.
Hawthorn provided the Dogs with another Victorian archetype, Gene Chiron in 1974. Tough as nails, he was a valuable member of Centrals half back line and occasional CHF, until a career ending “encounter” with West Adelaide’s Ray Hayes caused him to lose a kidney. He remained at Centrals as an assistant coach/fitness coach for a couple of years after that before returning to Victoria, even playing a few years for Mulgrave in the EDFL wearing a protective guard.
Wayne Bevan was talked up as a boom recruit from the Hawks in 1976, already a semi-legend due on the back of his ballistic-grade torpedoes (or screwies in SA vernacular). He had more touches one afternoon in a long kick playoff against Norwood’s elegant Noel Pettingill (which we witnessed after school at the Ponderosa, and he lost) than in his 18 games in his only season.
From Fitzroy (via Coragulac in the Hampden League) came Danny Harrington, another typical VFL utility. Harrington did well enough to get picked most weeks but never enough to turn a game, playing from 1977 to 1980. The SAFA competition, in particular the Pooraka Bulls then welcomed Harrington as a coach and he soon rewarded them with a couple of flags.
Max George effectively replaced the combined Gary Jones and Graham Reed scoring contributions when he arrived mid-season in 1978 via Swan Districts and briefly, Fitzroy. Despite the late start, George piled on an impressive 68 goals in 1978 (including consecutive bags of ten), before injury problems curtailed his appearances (he missed all of 1980). He left for a brief appearance at Thebarton during the 1981 season, not before snagging 120 majors in just 33 Centrals games.
From Swan Districts, it was Michael O’Brien’s cricketing ambitions that led to him ending up at both Salisbury District CC and Central District FC in 1978. His Footy Budget profile in 1978’s Rookies and Recruits season had his football ambition as playing 100 league games; he got to 69 games (and 3 goals) in his four seasons.
Geoff Gillies was known by the Cheer Squad as the Flying Hairdrier, his pretty boy looks and penchant for the long white sleeves belying a rugged style when required. It was fair to say that he appreciated the open spaces of Elizabeth Oval, as he was an excellent finisher, going better than a goal a game in his 90+ outings from 1979 to 1982. Gillies was originally from Perth, although he had also plied his footy wares in both Launceston and Hobart, which, as he told the SA Football Budget “… was no place for a single man.”
While Centrals president Peter Page was in Perth recruiting Gillies from East Perth, he stayed at a pub managed by then West Perth captain John Duckworth. Next thing, Duckworth came, saw, elbowed and conquered the SANFL in 1979, spearheading Centrals’ first Minor Premiership (note the capitals), snagging the Magarey and causing opposition clubs to adopt brown shorts to avoid embarrassing match day laundry incidents. A Vietnam Vet, he took no prisoners and it was a privilege to have witnessed the 1979 season from the gun who started his senior career at Fitzroy. A bad kidney injury at the start of 1980 saw him struggle to regain form and West Perth beckoned once more, but in two seasons, “Whatsa” wrote himself into Bulldog footy lore.
Former East Perth premiership player Craig Earnshaw was on the receiving end of a David Granger whack to the jaw in 1980. Once recovered, he gave solid service in his two season, 29 game/11 goal stint at Centrals, before relocating to the Sunraysia region and representing the Victorian Country side. After that he played for Busselton in WA under coach Max George. [Thanks to Peter Argent for the reminder]
South Melbourne’s Michael Wright was part of a three way deal that saw Peter Jonas join North Melbourne and Wright (plus $60,000) come across to Elizabeth in 1981. He was a hit straight away, making the SA state side after just seven matches. Wright’s 60 games, mainly at CHF yielded an impressive 165 goals, but it all ended in tears when he moved to the Roosters in 1984 after a pay dispute. His brother, Steven Wright coached Centrals to a Grand Final loss in 1996 and a PF loss the following year.
In 1982, Neil “Racehorse” Besanko played the role as Centrals’ designated ex-VFL strong man after fourteen seasons with St Kilda and Essendon for 21 games. In true “blow-in/blow-out” style, that was his only season in Adelaide, the lure of a long-term career in civil engineering probably more attractive than the long drive home along Main North Road after training.
Grant Edwards had amassed 21 games in 6 seasons with Swan Districts and East Perth before heading east to Elizabeth, where he put together that many and more in two seasons, before deciding that he was tired of being mixed up with Greg “Meggsy” Edwards and heading back west.
Alan Casserly blew across from WA in 1983 as a young twenty year old, but was back home after a year and five games with Centrals.
I’d forgotten about Phil McEvoy, a Carlton then Richmond reserves player who was blown in via helicopter (no, seriously) in 1983. His infamy lasted three games, but his legend lives on in the CDFC fan forum, Bulldog Banter. [Thanks to Culls]
From the ACT came Ainslie’s Brett Hannam, as part of Cowboy Neale’s appointment as coach in 1984. Hannam replaced Steven Trigg as Captain in 1985 (hear, hear) and was a popular player in his three seasons in the world’s most adventurous footy jumper. He went back to Ainslie in 1987, and was inducted into the ACT Sport Hall of Fame (alongside James Hird*) in 2012.
Hannam’s Ainslie team mate, on-baller Stephen Nolan came to Centrals for the same three seasons, lasting longer than another Ainslie-ite, David Bellchambers, who only played in 1984.
Darren Grant’s one game for Footscray in 1982 followed by his five games for the SANFL Bulldogs in 1984 qualifies him as a blow out of a blow in, although he went on to play 48 games for Woodville in the latter part of the decade.
The most memorable part of Melbourne reserves fixture Bruce Joycey’s brief appearances in 1984/85 (8 games) was, well nothing, actually.
With Centrals best ever home-grown player John Platten becoming a VFL Hawk in 1986, a few players came the other way in the mid-80s. An all-time favourite was Yallourn’s finest, Scott Lee. He mightn’t have been the most skilled bloke going around but he was, in racing parlance, as honest as the day is long. He won Central’s B&F in 1987 and again in 1990 (he was also Magarey Medal runner up that year). I know that this is about the SANFL, but geez I enjoyed his 91 games for the Crows as well and was
pissed off greatly slightly miffed when he was delisted after the 1995 season. If only he could have played in Centrals 2000 flag.
Russell Shields was another Hawk, whose star shone briefly at Elizabeth from 1985-87 on a half forward flank, before having another crack at the VFL at Footscray.
Grant O’Riley continued Centrals tradition of taking ex-Fitzroy players and quickly turning them into ex-Bulldogs, his sole season 1985 at Goodman Road producing 7 games and 15 goals. He returned to SA as a VFA rep in the much revered 1988 Bicentennial Carnival.
East Wagga’s Mark Hull left for the only slightly bigger smoke in 1985, hanging around for four seasons and 38 games of stout defence, before returning back home.
Scott’s brother Ron Lee joined Centrals in 1986, playing just three games (which was three more than I ever managed).
Centrals had better luck with former VFL Lion and Swan Craig Braddy, who introduced a bit of old fashioned footy mongrel as a robust and dependable key position player from 1986 to 1989. Braddy returned to Victoria, taking on several administrative roles in local footy.
David Flintoff was a (very) fringe rover at Hawthorn, but weaved his magic at Centrals for a couple of seasons (86/87). A somewhat hurried departure saw him decamp to the VFL Demons.
Another ex-Hawk listed player from an exotic Victorian locale was Poowong’s Rudi Mandemaker. He became the cultiest of cult figures, snagging the club goal kicking award from 1986 to 1991, the Ken Farmer award in 1989 and wearing SA state colours thrice. A bad ankle put an end to his time at the Dogs, but the cries of “Ruuudddiii, Ruuudddiii” can still be heard echoing around the expanses of Elizabeth Oval each winter (if the wind is blowing from the north).
Ian Anderson was a Queenslander who spent the ’86 and ’87 seasons in the colder climes, scratching together 8 games and a couple of majors. No, me neither.
His namesake, Stephen ‘Shorty’ Anderson popped across from Warrnambool for a successful season in 1987 (36 goals from 17 games) before blowing right back to where he came from. Collingwood must have liked what they saw as they gave him a four game run in 1991 (and he won their Reserves B&F). He is a legend at South Warrnambool FC, with over 300 club games, 25 interleague matches and three flags to his credit.
Another 1987 recruit was Greg Smith, who arrived with an impressive record at Sydney and Collingwood. Smith was immediately welcomed into the Centrals fold, his fierceness on the field was balanced by his off-field popularity. He was awarded the B&F in 1988, was made captain in 1991 before retiring through injury in 1992 after his 100th club game. The Riverina Team of the Century player remains a much revered player at the Dogs.
With a single season under his belt with Perth, Steven Lally added himself to the list of WA little blokes at Elizabeth in 1987. The high point of his three seasons as a Bulldog was not to be found in his 52 games, but on the Channel 9 Footy Show where he proclaimed that Centrals were known as the Doggies due to their ability to overhaul last quarter deficits (or something along those lines).
Somehow Rod Grljusich (South Fremantle, then Perth) made it across in 1987 to play for the club that his uncle Tom had played for in the 60s, for four games and a goal. He returned to WA for a few seasons before continuing the family tradition as the voice of USFooty.
Jed Lawton was a lump of bloke whose last known address was Currumbin when he fronted at Goodman Rd in 1987 for a dozen league games. He was one of a very young Wayne Carey’s first opponents at Reserves level (and got a bath according to Carey). Lawton and his son (who also played a few games at Elizabeth in the 2010s) are in a bit of strife with the Riverina Football League currently.
Greg Page came down from Coorparoo in 1987, perhaps in the same panel van as Lawton. Eight games and three goals later and he was off again.
Michael Smith, who made a handful of 1987 appearances remains a bit of a mystery man. He is listed by the Football Times as having Kalamunda, WA as his previous club.
The arrival of Neil Kerley as Centrals’ coach in 1988 coincided with several new interstate recruits.
Derek Kickett who had played for both West Perth and Claremont lobbed at Elizabeth after the disappointment of being ineligible for the Sandover Medal despite amassing a 16 vote lead. Kickett, who was not technically a blow-in as he had played in Centrals junior ranks in the early 1980s, was astonishingly good, as his 48 goals from 25 games would indicate. VFL ranks awaited Kickett thereafter.
Joining the list of ex-Hawks was Robert ‘Chopper’ Handley, who blew in for the 1988 season, before blowing back to the Saints for a season, before re-blowing in for the 1990-93 seasons, totalling 111 games and 133 goals in his five seasons as a very popular Bulldog.
Centrals’ fascination with WA rovers continued when goalkicking rover Gavin Chaplin came across from West Perth, also in 1988. Chappy played out his career until 1993, racking up a prolific 142 games/201 goals, then served Centrals for many years as an assistant coach.
Gilbert McAdam, who grew up in Alice Springs, had already played briefly in the WAFL (Claremont 1986), before breezing in to Elizabeth in 1988. (He had also played for North Adelaide’s under age teams for a while, but I’m counting him anyway). He stood West Torrens’ NT recruit Michael Long in a pre-season game, relished the expanses at Elizabeth and finished runner-up to Greg Whittlesea in the 1988 Magarey Medal. Not content with that, he knuckled down under Knuckles to win SA’s top footy award in 1989 (the Centrals B&F) as well as the Magarey Medal, playing out one further season before joining the Saints, then the Bears. He has since kicked on as a popular member of the Marngrook Footy Show panel.
Paul Sullivan didn’t notch up a senior game with North Melbourne, but was a first team fixture with Centrals in 1988/89 in his 45 games.
Melbourne reserves player Brett Minchington found him self in a similar role for Centrals, his 1989/90 tally of 8 games telling that tale starkly.
Peter Wright, well I have to come clean and admit that I don’t remember this former Footscray player’s solitary Centrals appearance in 1989.
One of Centrals’ earliest Queensland recruits was Morningside’s Tony Lynn who fronted in 1990. Cast aside by Brisbane after one season (1988), Lynn was a tremendous addition at Elizabeth, winning the 1992 B&F. So good that, when he was named BOG for SA in 1993, he was snapped up in the AFL mid-season draft by Carlton and never seen again in the red white and blue.
Williamstown’s Saade Ghazi spent a busy season in 1990, notching 40 goals in his 25 games, bringing his 1989 JJ Liston Trophy form to Elizabeth. He returned to the Seagulls after just one year, gaining Team of the Century honours.
Defender John O’Sullivan was the latest in a fairly long line of East Fremantle players who played for Centrals, when he joined in 1990 for what was his only season.
Dale Holmes played three games for North Melbourne in 1987 before coming to Centrals for two seasons in 1990/91, but he is better known as the first, short-lived GWS Giants CEO.
I don’t remember Steven Newman at all, but his two games for Centrals in 1990 was double his tally of games for Fitzroy in 1988.
How’d They Go?
Centrals did more than OK with their interstate recruits over the time frame selected (based on their blow-in year, not necessarily the year of the honour), apart from the lack of premiership players. A decade down the track, a pair of brothers from Anglesea and a Tasmanian captain (amongst others) helped open that account.
Central 1964-1990 Blow Ins Honours Board
Coaches – Dennis Jones (’68-’71), Tony Casserly (’72-’75), Kevin Neale (’84-’87)
Captains – Tony Casserly (’71-’74) , Brett Hannam (’85), Greg Smith (’91-’92)
Best & Fairest – Tom Grljusich (’66), Phil Haughan (’71), Scott Lee (’87,’90), Greg Smith (’88), Gilbert McAdam (’89), Tony Lynn (’92)
Top Goalkickers – Tom Grljusich (’67), Gary Jones (’71,’73,’77), Max George (’78), John Duckworth (’79), Rudi Mandemaker (’86,’87,’88,’89,’90,’91), Robert Handley (’92)
Magarey Medals – John Duckworth (’79), Gilbert McAdam (’89)
Ken Farmer Medals – Rudi Mandemaker (’89)
100 Game Players – Tony Casserly (101), Scott Lee (243), Rudi Mandemaker (141), Greg Smith (100), Gavin Chaplin (144), Robert Handley (135)
Premiership Players – nil
The Fine Print
I’ve used the first SANFL club to classify a blow-in’s club (for example, this precludes Bruce Stevenson and Bill Nalder from the Centrals list). But I’ve also taken some licence when it suits, such as Derek Kickett or Gilbert McAdam.
Poms to Premiers (Laidlaw and Mulholland)
Full Points Footy’s SA Football Companion (Devaney)
South Australian Football in the Sixties (Gyss)
My SA Football Budget and Football Times Year Books collection
waflfootyfacts.net (thanks Les)
CDFC fan forum, Bulldog Banter
Rightio you Doggies, you may well have a soft spot for the Western Bulldogs, so have a look at The Doggies Almanac.