The Top 50 SANFL players of all time

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The Top 50 SANFL players of all time Empty The Top 50 SANFL players of all time

Post by C.K on Mon Feb 13, 2012 7:39 pm

This was an article I wrote for the 2010 SANFL Season Guide, and thought it worth reprinting here as a point of debate.

This was one of the toughest tasks I've ever undertaken in all my time in SANFL media, so feel free to debate, argue, point out obvious missing players etc.

Criteria applied as follows:

- No player with less than 50 SANFL games (hence no Nathan Buckley, among many others)

- Sustained performance over a reasonable time period - so there will be a number of Magarey Medallists who had one or two exceptional seasons, but otherwise, not sustained form, not included.

- Players who polled well in the Medal over a number of years; won multiple best and fairests/Medals for Best Afield in State games; sustained State selection were closely considered.

- Players from all eras were considered equally with no conscious decision for a "quota" from any era or club. Playing ONLY was looked at, not coaching records.

The other intangible to look at, is that I, and many of us, have not seen some of these players play, either live or in archival footage, so it relies upon playing records/anecdotal evidence/press coverage at the time.


1. BARRIE RORBAN (North Adelaide): Hard to argue against the number one selection. Simply put, Robran was near incomparable at his peak before a devastating knee injury dramatically slowed his prodigious output. Wonderful hands, fantastic disposal and three Magarey Medals says it all.

2. KEN FARMER (North Adelaide): Set amazing goalkicking benchmarks that, simply, will never be broken in senior football. To kick 100 goals in a season on eleven consecutive occasions, often double or triple teamed, is testament to his incredible abilities and consistency in rewarding his teammates.

3. RUSSELL EBERT (Port Adelaide): The only four time Magarey Medallist – a record never likely to be broken – and maintained a high standard throughout a decorated career. Classy disposal and able to work out of trouble very well, he was a pivotal reason for Port’s success throughout the 70’s.

4. LINDSAY HEAD (West Torrens): One of the best of his era, Head’s creativity for West Torrens gave him the title or arguably the best player to pull on the blue and gold. Also able to play a number of positions, his clearance work and pinpoint disposal had some of the best evasive skills to keep winning the ball.

5. PAUL BAGSHAW (Sturt): Arguably the best player never to win a Medal, Bagshaw’s sublime output through Sturt’s golden era of the 60’s and 70’s was a prime reason for their success. Able to play up forward in the twilight of his career, he rarely wasted a possession and was able to play a variety of roles.

6. MALCOLM BLIGHT (Woodville): While VFL interrupted his SANFL career for some time, the performance on either side was breathtaking. To kick 126 goals in a bottom team at the age of 35 in 1986 was testament to his quick mind, evasive skills and pure skills on both sides of the body. His output prior to leaving for the VFL was enough alone to list him as Woodville’s greatest ever.

7. IAN MCKAY (North Adelaide): One of the all time great full backs, his containing roles on John Coleman in state football remain legend. He was very rarely beaten at any level and his high leaping and athleticism forced opposition forwards to work on containing his output. Also an exceptional leader, one of the best defenders produced by South Australia.

8. LEN FITZGERALD (Sturt): To win three Magarey Medals from only 125 games indicates his huge impact, fairness and ability to continually win one-on-one contests. Averaging 1.6 goals a match, his leadership skills were exceptional and despite standing out of football for three years, he was able to return in peak form.

9. PETER CAREY (Glenelg): It may be argued that there were better ruckmen who played considerably less games, but for sheer consistency over an South Australian record 448 matches, his record is impossible to ignore. Still playing great football at the end, his bodywork, clever tapwork and ability to match it with all comers brings him high on the list.

10. TOM LEAHY (West Adelaide/North Adelaide): One of the pre-eminent ruckmen in SANFL, his bodywork, athleticism and ability to cope with all different styles of ruckwork set the bar for all future big men to meet. Playing with great distinction for both West and North, he remains one of the most capped State players of all time in SA.

11. Rick Davies (Sturt)
12. Bob Hank (West Torrens)
13. Dan Moriarty (South Adelaide)
14. Bob Quinn (Port Adelaide)
15. Walter “Wacka” Scott (Norwood)
16. Tim Evans (Port Adelaide)
17. Tom Mackenzie (West Torrens/North Adelaide)
18. Jim Deane (South Adelaide)
19. Garry McIntosh (Norwood)
20. Graham Cornes (Glenelg)
21. John Abley (Port Adelaide)
22. John C. (Dinny) Reedman (South Adelaide/North Adelaide)
23. Stephen Kernahan (Glenelg)
24. Brenton Adcock (Sturt)
25. D.K (Fred) Phillis (Glenelg)
26. Ken Eustice (West Adelaide/Central District/Glenelg)
27. John Halbert (Sturt)
28. John Cahill (Port Adelaide)
29. Bruce Schulz (Norwood)
30. Neil Kerley (West Adelaide/Glenelg)
31. Peter Darley (South Adelaide)
32. Jack Owens (Glenelg)
33. Jack Tredrea (Port Adelaide)
34. Fos Williams (Port Adelaide)
35. John Platten (Central District)
36. Bruce McGregor (West Adelaide)
37. Andrew Jarman (North Adelaide/Norwood)
38. Michael Graham (Sturt)
39. Anthony “Bos” Daly (Norwood/South Adelaide/West Torrens/West Adel/North Adel)
40. Michael Taylor (Norwood)
41. Frank Golding (Sturt)
42. “Shine” Hosking (Port Adelaide)
43. Don Lindner (North Adelaide)
44. Chris and James Gowans (Central District)
45. Ron Phillips (North Adelaide)
46. Michael Aish (Norwood)
47. Scott Hodges (Port Adelaide)
48. Gary Window (Central District)
49. Bill Wedding (Norwood)
50. H.R Head (West Adelaide/Glenelg)
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Post by Lee on Mon Feb 13, 2012 7:54 pm

Taking a fresh look at this, CK, I'll give my thoughts over several posts.

Here's a heads-up and down. I'd say Lindsay Head is far too high and H R Head is way, way too low.

H R Head was a multiple premiership winner, a MM winner and clearly one of the very best, if nor the best, player of his time. I'll go into more detail later and give some thoughts on the rest.

It's an impossible job to do such a list and I'm surprised how much of it I agree with, so very well done IMO.
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Post by FOOTYfollower on Mon Feb 13, 2012 9:10 pm

I'm not sure McIntosh would be 19, I'd probably be more comfortable with Aish up around there though.

Greg Phillips was so influential in SANFL premiershps when the SANFL was the main gig in town, I'm not sure how he could be left out.
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Post by Lee on Mon Feb 13, 2012 9:21 pm

Tim Evans and Graham Cornes are also way too high, IMO, along with John Abley. All fine players, but others were much better.

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Post by Chambo Off To Work We Go on Mon Feb 13, 2012 10:40 pm

I can live with it all except one thing.

To put the Gowans as one, disrespects them a little I think.
Put them in one above the other - there must be some difference even if small.

Or tie them and skip the next - not overly in favour of the latter.
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Post by FOOTYfollower on Mon Feb 13, 2012 10:47 pm

Yeah, personally I don't think the Gowans belong in there, although I can partially understand CK's reasoning for doing so.
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Post by Adelaide Hawk on Tue Feb 14, 2012 5:47 am

I'm having difficulty reconciling Rick Davies at 11 when John Marriott couldn't make the top 50. Lists like this are very difficult because there are so many x-factors such as player reputations, etc, but well done.

I also doubt that Gary Window could seriously be considered in the best ever 50 when players such as Peter Marker, Doug Olds, etc couldn't make it.
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Post by Chambo Off To Work We Go on Tue Feb 14, 2012 11:01 am

Yeah I'd have Jumbo #1, but then that's me! Very Happy
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Post by Flag No.10 on Tue Feb 14, 2012 11:09 am

How good a player was Fos Williams? I've not heard much commentary on him as a footballer but I'm surprised to see him ahead of Platten who I think is absolutely elite.
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Post by burgerking on Tue Feb 14, 2012 11:53 am

someone forget to list Granger....SmileSmileSmileSmile


Last edited by burgerking on Tue Feb 14, 2012 1:45 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Post by Chambo Off To Work We Go on Tue Feb 14, 2012 12:33 pm

burgerking wrote:some forget to list Granger....SmileSmileSmileSmile

He'd be top of another list BK!
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Post by Adelaide Hawk on Tue Feb 14, 2012 1:57 pm

Chambo Off To Work We Go wrote:Yeah I'd have Jumbo #1, but then that's me! Very Happy

Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of Davies, I rate him highly. It's just that many people from that era (Jack Oatey, Fos Williams, etc) have rated Marriott the best ruckman they've seen. I was just making the comparison that another ruckman is at 11 whereas Marriott has missed the top 50.
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Post by Chambo Off To Work We Go on Tue Feb 14, 2012 9:12 pm

Yeah no worries.
Marriott was before my time, like quite a few of those on the list.

I am supremely biased of course, but I never saw anyone completely dominate a game like the Jumbo could. He would have had 3 or 4 games that just couldn't be bettered. IE 76 GF and the 83 game against West where he got the 15 goals.

I have no problem with Carey in the top 10, he was a super (pun) player and nice guy for a heck of a long time. These 2 guys defined rucking in that period 70 - 85 period.

Although as we know Jumbo's knees were stuffed by 83 and his retirement to full forward prolonged his career. Quite a handy career at the goal front too. Although Merv Keane didn't see it that way and South got a few years of decent service out of him as a result.

Here's a story (of the many) that defines the Jumbo.
The Chambo Choir were assembled at Unley for the game against South in 2009. It was a commemorative game and Jumbo was at the match at the behest of the South Footy Club.

He sat almost directly behind us and in tribute to the great man, the Choir launched into our usual song "Chambo off to work we go". However, we switched the lyric to "Jumbo off to work we go". Well the Jumbo loved it and gave us a flowery wave in appreciation.

But that wasn't the end of it. After the match he was in the club having a drink with some of his old Blues mates. We were at the bar ordering and thanked him for also having a photo taken with the Choir (now proudly displayed in my office). As he walked past with 4 beers, he wisely cautioned us, "have a good day boys, but stay off the p!ss."

A very charismatic man is the Jumbo. Very Happy

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Post by Paul on Wed Feb 15, 2012 1:13 am

Also agree doubt on the Gowans brothers, should/would they even be ahead of say Paul Thomas or Rick MacGowan from the same club?
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Post by Adelaide Hawk on Wed Feb 15, 2012 7:12 am

Some may disagree, especially younger SANFL fans, but I could never entertain anyone post-Crows for a top 50 spot. Over the history of the SANFL we have had many champions who were amongst the best players in the country. As sad as it is, top contemporary SANFL players are those who were unable to forge careers in the AFL. The Gowans boys have had very successful SANFL careers, but they were unable to make the St.Kilda team and I'd really like to think we've had at least 50 players over the years who were better.
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Post by C.K on Wed Feb 15, 2012 7:42 am

The inclusion of the Gowans twins was a bone of contention originally when this article was first published. Let's look at their record overall for each:

James: Jack Oatey Medallist in 2000, Bob Quinn Medal in 2002, 2003 Best and Fairest, 9 premiership medals

Chris: Tthe only player to win two Jack Oatey Medals, Bob Quinn Medal in 2007, leading goalkicker in a premiership team in 2003 (for a non key forward). 9 premiership medals.

I've left out the "intangible" factor of the influence they have had on their football club over the years, but in my mind, their record stacks up very comparably to many players.

I take your point, AH, about post- 1990 players, but a player can only "beat who is there at the time", so to speak. Many Norwood fans, for example, speak fondly of the 1997 team, and Central fans will rightly be very proud of their achievements in the last 12 seasons. Are they somehow heavily devalued because of the post-1990 theory?
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Post by FOOTYfollower on Wed Feb 15, 2012 8:12 am

I agree absolutely with AH.


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Post by C.K on Wed Feb 15, 2012 8:14 am

Where does that theory leave a player who never nominates for the draft, but chooses to solely play SANFL and dominates the competition for many years in the future?
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Post by FOOTYfollower on Wed Feb 15, 2012 8:19 am

Depends on the relative strength of SANFL to AFL/VFL at the time, as well as how they went in State (of Origin) footy.

For that reason, I'd have McIntosh on the list, but further down, but not the Gowans.

edit - the chances of anyone in the future dominating the SANFLfor 10/12 years, but never nomainating for the AFL draft would be extremely negligible.
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Post by Flag No.10 on Wed Feb 15, 2012 8:47 am

Whatever the Gowans twins have achieved, as footballers I wouldn't have them in the same class as guys like Stephen Hall, Mark Naley, Robert Day, Bob Simunsen, Roger Luders and dozens and dozens of others who aren't in that list.
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Post by C.K on Wed Feb 15, 2012 8:53 am

FOOTYfollower wrote:Depends on the relative strength of SANFL to AFL/VFL at the time, as well as how they went in State (of Origin) footy.

For that reason, I'd have McIntosh on the list, but further down, but not the Gowans.

edit - the chances of anyone in the future dominating the SANFLfor 10/12 years, but never nomainating for the AFL draft would be extremely negligible.

Can tell you at least very one good SANFL player, with plenty of time on his side and a very solid start to his SANFL career, that has chosen not to nominate for the draft for a number of reasons - but yes, it's not a common situation.
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Post by C.K on Wed Feb 15, 2012 8:56 am

Flag No.9 wrote:Whatever the Gowans twins have achieved, as footballers I wouldn't have them in the same class as guys like Stephen Hall, Mark Naley, Robert Day, Bob Simunsen, Roger Luders and dozens and dozens of others who aren't in that list.

With absolute respect and acknowledgement to a wonderful career, I don't think Stephen Hall would make a top 200 of this list.

I agree with your overall point, and believe me, this was an incredibly tough task when I did it. Before publication, I shared it with a select number of people whose SANFL knowledge, historical background and past work in SANFL was exceptional, and while the Gowans inclusion was the common one raised, many seemed to feel that a number on the list were reasonable.

That said, I reakon 50 posters writing this list, would probably have around 32-35 in common and plenty of room to move on the rest. Naley and Luders, for example, were absolutely on my original short list of around 110, as was Simunsen.
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Post by Lee on Wed Feb 15, 2012 9:17 am

I have to say that the fact that a player has played in 'x' number of premierships should rate a long way down on the criteria for these judgements. Playing in a premiership is nearly always a 'being in the right team at the right time' situation, IMO.

There are obvious examples. players who never won a premiership but were out and out champions, or players who were good 'role' players who won several premierships.

Obviously Bob Skilton. Did Jimmy Deane ever play in a premiership? etc, etc.

As for the list, preparing one in the first place is a mammoth task, so kudos to CK, but how about we start re-arranging it to come up with a 'Talking Footy SA' top 50?

How about we continue the general discussion and then start at CK's No 1 and work our way down?
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Post by Flag No.10 on Wed Feb 15, 2012 9:41 am

C.K wrote:
Flag No.9 wrote:Whatever the Gowans twins have achieved, as footballers I wouldn't have them in the same class as guys like Stephen Hall, Mark Naley, Robert Day, Bob Simunsen, Roger Luders and dozens and dozens of others who aren't in that list.

With absolute respect and acknowledgement to a wonderful career, I don't think Stephen Hall would make a top 200 of this list.

I agree with your overall point, and believe me, this was an incredibly tough task when I did it. Before publication, I shared it with a select number of people whose SANFL knowledge, historical background and past work in SANFL was exceptional, and while the Gowans inclusion was the common one raised, many seemed to feel that a number on the list were reasonable.

That said, I reakon 50 posters writing this list, would probably have around 32-35 in common and plenty of room to move on the rest. Naley and Luders, for example, were absolutely on my original short list of around 110, as was Simunsen.

Sorry CK, I meant Tony Hall from Glenelg, not Stephen. And I'd agree Stephen wouldn't make that list.
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Post by FOOTYfollower on Wed Feb 15, 2012 7:39 pm

redandblack wrote:

How about we continue the general discussion and then start at CK's No 1 and work our way down?

Ok, I'm happy to kick this off redandblack, with a top 10 for starters:

1. Barrie Robran
2. Russell Ebert
3. Ken Farmer
4. Bob Hank
5. Malcolm Blight
6. Lindsay Head
7. Len Fitzgerald
8. John Platten
9. Dan Moriarty
10. Paul Bagshaw


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