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How tragedy helped unite Port Adelaide - twice

poses for a photo during the Port Adelaide 2012 team photo day at Alberton Oval in Adelaide.
John McCarthy's death in September last year rocked the football world
I think it's a human reaction, I'm sure the guys aren't continuously talking about [McCarthy's death] but it's back there in the subconscious
Steve Williams
FEW MEN know tragedy and grief with the knowledge and understanding of nine-time Port Adelaide premiership player and coach Stephen Williams.

A club champion in his own right, Stephen was born into Port Adelaide royalty as son of legendary player and coach Fos Williams.

His twin older brothers Mark and Anthony played significant senior footy for the Magpies too and Mark would obviously go on to coach the club to its first AFL flag in 2004.

Just as his father lead Port through the 50s and 60s, Stephen played a key role in its control of the late 80s and 90s.

But it was a period of domination sparked by unimaginable heartbreak.  

On April 29, 1988, Anthony Williams was killed in a building accident, passing away in his younger brother's arms.

It was the sort of tragedy that could have torn Port apart.

Instead it galvanized the playing group, with the Magpies breaking a seven-year premiership drought to claim nine of the next 11 flags.


Stephen told AFL.com.au his brother's death changed the side's take on football and life.

"I think Anthony's death just made us think 'let's enjoy it, because it's not going to last forever'," Williams said.

"I was 27 and had never played in a premiership but from that point on I played in six.

"[Anthony's death] certainly had something to do with that, it just made me realise that your time is now, you've just got to make the most of every opportunity that's given to you.

"Everybody sort of took it on as their responsibility to honour Anthony as best we could.

"With that commitment and bond, nothing was too big of a task – if we could get over the accident, get over Norwood that week – there was something special in the group.

Port's current crop of players has had to deal with another heartbreaking tragedy.

Just as Anthony's passing rocked the club to its core almost 25 years earlier, John McCarthy's death on September 9 last year left many wondering how Port Adelaide would put itself back together.

One club official questioned whether several players would return.

But rather than destroy the club, McCarthy's accident appears to have created an unbreakable bond within the playing group.

Stephen said the similarities between the situations were striking.

"John had come across from Collingwood looking for a new start, it was a really young team just as ours was," he said.

"You almost become like a brother when you get into a footy club atmosphere like that.

"I'm really good mates with Craig Ebert (Brad's father) and I've known Brad as he's grown up – you wouldn't meet a nicer kid than Brad – he obviously bonded really well with John.

"They had lots of plans for after the season and that sort of stuff ... in a lot of ways it's probably got a lot of similarity about it."

As Anthony's death offered fresh perspective in 1988, Stephen believed McCarthy's had influenced the 2013 squad.

Tragedy forced the '88 Magpies to take stock and work to seize every chance; Williams said the Power had done the same this season.

"I think it's a human reaction, I'm sure the guys aren't continuously talking about [McCarthy's death] but it's back there in the subconscious," he said.

"When things get really tough and you've just got to give that little bit extra when sometimes you might think, 'oh well, it's only a game' – you can dig deep.

"He's in their thoughts, they're making the most of every opportunity."