The Mighty Quinn: footballer, soldier, man

Bill Corey had a big war – Tobruk, El Alamein, New Guinea and Borneo.

“I was busy,” is how he sums it up.

“The worst was 3rd August 1941. Four days before my 24th birthday. We attacked the worst area of Tobruk. 130 men went at it and 30 survived for roll call. It was a shock to all of us in 2/43rd.”

He had a brother Jack who served out the same war years as a prisoner of the Japanese.

Jack returned from the war with a tiny diary that hinted at the years that broke him physically and emotionally.

Jack passed early but Bill turns 99 this year. Every ANZAC Day he saw less mates until he was the only one left. His reflection on why he is still around is that he is a bridge for history.

“I get quite a lot of pleasure out of people asking me if I knew their father or grandfather who served with me in World War Two.“

So I ask for a story about Bob Quinn.

“You know Bob do you?”

“Only by reputation.”

“Bob Quinn was a very serious man,” he begins “and he played football and he also soldiered on.

“Bob got wounded on 3rd August and the news spread that Bob will never play football again because he was shot through the upper part of his leg.

“In fact the doctor thought he would lose his leg.

“Bob told me later one ANZAC Day how [after the war] he captained South Australia over against Victoria. After the game a distinguished looking man came up to him and said ‘your name Quinn?’”

He nods

“He said ‘I am not a football follower but I saw you were captain’. He tells Bob to hop up on the table because he wants to have a look at his leg. He says ‘I am the surgeon who operated on you.’

So he looks Bob up and down and declares ‘Bloody good job I made of that didn’t I?’”

Bill’s gentle laugh drifts into the room.

“That was one of Bob’s stories.”

There are many Bob Quinn stories. He was Port Adelaide’s warrior chieftain. His clan was from Birkenhead on the Port River estuary. It began with Jack Quinn who captained Port Adelaide in 1904 – 05. His four sons – John, Tom, Bob & George – followed to Alberton.

They were small and strong, playing mostly as rovers or in the backline. In 1930 Geelong approached Tom Quinn at an interstate carnival with the most precious of offers – a job. There was no work on the wharves and so he accepted a position at Ford’s factory in Victoria. He was a premiership player with the Cats and named in its Team of the 20th Century.

Bob Quinn stayed in South Australia and grew his reputation as a ferocious and skilled player. His ability to get the ball out of tight situations with accurate passes was as legendary as his cast iron shepherding and tackling.

Bob McLean who ran the Magpies as an administrator for more than three decades, during which the club won more than 15 premierships, said Quinn was the best player he had ever seen saying given an even break on the ball he was never beaten.

In 1938 Quinn won the Magarey Medal. The following season he was captain coach as Port Adelaide won the premiership.

The side was primed with talent. Ned Hender was a brilliant rover who became a de facto full forward while resting in the goal square, Allan Reval a ruck rover who lived up to his nickname “Bull”, leading goal kicker Albie Hollingworth at centre half forward and fiery full back Ken Obst.

Quinn led by example and was backed by Lloyd Rudd as vice captain. Rudd was from Bridgewater in the Adelaide Hills and looked like a Depression era footballer – gangly legs hanging out of baggy shorts. He played in the back pocket where he picked up the opposition’s resting follower. A selfless role.

The end of the 1939 grand final is captured in a classic photo of Quinn being chaired from the field by trainer Ted McMahon. It is the Port Adelaide equivalent of the Chieftain being carried off the battle field on his shield.

Bob Quinn, 1939 Grand Final

Bob Quinn, 1939 Grand Final


After winning the first six matches of the 1940 season Quinn enlisted. His actions on that cruel day in 1941 when he lay among the dying and wounded in North Africa earned him a Military Medal.

The story of his heroics stayed with him until his final days. He told it to journalist Ashley Porter who agreed not to publish it. The reason was because in telling how he was shot while destroying an enemy machine gun post, he might reveal some men who refused to attack.

According to Porter, Quinn told him the men saw themselves as cowards but he saw them as the bravest of men.

“You need to understand that these men had leapt out of trenches into the line of fire time after time, but in war everyone reaches a stage where you just cannot do it anymore,” he said.

Porter writes that Quinn didn’t want to risk humiliating any surviving members of his unit.

After Tobruk he fought in the South Pacific where he again sustained wounds this time to his arm and face. He returned home in 1944.

The SANFL was playing a patriotic competition with the eight league clubs paired. Quinn returned to the field in 1944 with Port/Torrens. In the Semi Final against Sturt/South he sought out McLean at three quarter time and told him he thought he had broken his arm and was looking for some plaster to wrap around it.

According to McLean, at the subsequent opening bounce, Quinn used his damaged wing to punch the ball forward, followed it up, gathered the ball and goaled. X-rays after the match confirmed the break.

In 1945 the League resumed normal competition and Quinn was again captain-coach of the Magpies. With his leg speed limited his game changed, relying more on handball. He won another Magarey Medal. They won another premiership.

In 1946 he captained South Australia to victory over Victoria and the following season led the state to a draw against the Victorians at Princes Park. That was where he became reacquainted with the surgeon who had saved his leg at Tobruk.

He retired at the end of that season and died in 2008. He was 93.

The northern gate at the Adelaide Oval is named for him. He already has the Alberton grandstand in his honour.

The last time I saw Bob Quinn he was in a car being driven around the ground on ANZAC Day as a tribute to those who had served. The best player in the annual grand final replay is awarded the R. B. Quinn Medal.

The ground had seen more emotional tributes in years gone by. None more than July 19th 1941. As their captain was alongside Bill Corey in the deserts of North Africa a fortnight away from what would be the worst day of their lives, the Port Adelaide footballers gathered on the ground before their match against West Adelaide.

Both sides formed a V in silence before the national anthem played. They were honouring Lloyd Rudd who was the first league footballer from South Australia killed in the war.

Lloyd Rudd (left) v Norwood Round 3 1939

Lloyd Rudd (left) v Norwood Round 3 1939


Rudd was in the 2/27 and died in action at Miyeoumiye in modern day Lebanon.  He would be followed in making the supreme sacrifice by Max Carmichael, Jack Wade and George Brock.

Also killed was George Quinn, the youngest brother of the clan. He had played only six games with the Magpies before enlisting. He died at El Alamein on July 22nd 1942.

He was 23.

About Michael Sexton

Michael Sexton is a freelance journo in SA. His scribblings include "The Summer of Barry", "Chappell's Last Stand" and the biography of Neil Sachse.


  1. Fantastic Michael. I always look forward to reading your pieces and learning some more about the game and the people who have played.

  2. James Lang says

    Great stuff Mike. I’m sure Greg and the family will be thrilled to read your post. It’s always nice to see the family present a medal in his honour at the annual SANFL ANZAC Day match.

    In his latter years, Bob was also a well known publican across various parts of country South Australia.

  3. I sit in that stand as a Magpies season ticket holder and always think it an honour. Have also often wondered how he compared to Robran and Ebert and how many Magarey Medals he would have won if there was no war. This article brings more perspective and elevates him higher in my view. Also puts modern prima donnas to shame, in my humble view. Thank you Michael, well written

  4. E.regnans says

    Beautifully done, M Sexton.
    Keep shining that light.

  5. Marcus smith says

    Great stuff Michael .Thank you for that.

  6. Wonderful Mike. Brought a lump to the throat and a tear to the eye. I knew the Legend of Bob Quinn, but not the details. Important that in honouring Quinn, we remember the thousands who never got the chance to fulfil their dreams in life or sport. Lest we forget.

  7. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Thanks Mike. Like PB, I knew of Bob Quinn, but not much about him. More please.

  8. Brilliant, Michael. Thanks.

  9. Thank you Michael on behalf of our family for this fantastic piece, we are so proud to call him a father and grandfather. My father and I often sit in the Quinn stand to watch the Magpies play at Alberton and it brings us great pleasure to be in the shadow of him. We may be bias but to have a story such as his is very special to us and still think of him each day. Thanks again

  10. Dave Brown says

    Beautiful piece MIke. I hope this is read by the West Adelaide and Woodville West Torrens players in the lead up to Monday so they can learn a bit of the man whose medal they will be playing for

  11. Jenny kitschke says

    Great article about a much loved uncle

  12. Fantastic Michael. Great, timely tribute.

    Quinn’s Marine is/was a famous Port Adelaide business. Any connection?

  13. Great piece Michael.

    Another piece of trivia about Bob Quinn is that he was very unlucky not to be a triple Magarey Medallist. For one year in the 1930s the SANFL changed the votes for the Magarey Medal to 5-3-1 as distinct from the normal 3-2-1. If it had been the normal 3-2-1 voting Bob Quinn would have won a third Magarey Medal as well as his Military Medal.

    A great soldier, a great footballer, a great man.

  14. bernard whimpress says

    A fine balanced essay Mike. Well done.

  15. Cornesy12 says


  16. Cornesy12 says

    That should read “Breathtaking”

  17. Great yarn Mike, hope you’re well
    A great second hand story I have told about Bob playing golf at Tea Tree Gully, where he was a member.
    In his 70s he was playing the 18th which was quite uphill and struggled his way to the green, got there finished his round. Went home, was found to have had a slight heart attack, didn’t stop him getting up the 18th fairway!

    Lawrie Colliver

  18. Nick White says

    Utterly magnificent article. Thank you.

  19. Simon Quinn says

    Hi Michael, my name is Simon Quinn. Bob was my grandfather. I just read your article. To say it sparked up emotions is an understatement. I feel very privileged as a young boy to have sat on his lap or gone for walks and be handed down some of Bobs stories as I saw them at the time but as I’ve got older they were learning points and principals we apply in sport, work and life.

    I feel very lucky to have known him the way i did. From when he was a still fit rock solid 60 year old to when he passed, still a proud fulfilled man!

  20. Malcolm Ashwood says

    A almanac classic thanks,Mike ( have sent on article to various members of the Quinn family )

  21. Ron Buckley says

    I am 90 years of age and my most enduring image of our game is that of Bob Quinn. I can still see him passing the ball with that trade mark low stab of unerring accuracy. Bob Quinn was and always be the one footballer I will hold in my memory as the greatest I ever saw or ever will.

  22. Am just reading this article the day after watching the North Norwood GF rematch at Prospect Oval. In my opinion the Bob Quinn medal should be regarded at least as highly as the Magarey. What an honour. What an article.

  23. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    The 2019 ANZAC Round edition of the Footy Record had a similar story to this one Mike. Very similar.

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