Chris McDermott leaves the field after playing his last game during Adelaide's clash against Fitzroy in round 22, 1996.

IF THE childhood sporting dreams of Chris McDermott had come true, he would have been fighting it out with Ian Healy for the spot as the Australian Test wicketkeeper in the 1980s and 1990s.

Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, in the decades before video games and iPhones and in the days of limited black and white television, every child had to know how to entertain themselves.

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McDermott was one of those boys who always had a bat and ball in summer, and then was kicking a plastic footy for hours in winter, sometimes with elder brother Mark, very occasionally with younger sister Jane and mostly for hours by himself, all the time commentating his deeds.

He comes into the Hall of Fame with a reputation of ball winning, durability, leadership and toughness earned across more than 400 senior games in all across his SANFL and AFL career, nearly half a lifetime since his last big time game of AFL footy in 1996.

Always at the bottom of packs, winning hard balls and oozing leadership in the most difficult situations.

The toughness is a family trait that recurs across the generations.


A dual premiership player with Glenelg and first captain of the foundation Adelaide Crows, as well as a multiple best-and-fairest winner and three-time All Australian, McDermott never really thought or planned to be a footballer until a career in league ranks was basically upon him, such was the call of cricket.

Best mate Stephen Kernahan was alongside him in all those junior representative cricket sides, but the inseparable pair were also playing, and starring, together during footy season.

"As a kid, I loved playing footy and was always around the game through my grandfather and my dad, but Ian Chappell was my absolute hero and I was a wicketkeeper who wanted to play Test cricket for Australia," McDermott remembers of his early sporting path.

"I'd been going OK with the state junior teams through the ranks, playing with Stephen, until this one day when I'm about 14 or 15 in a B grade district game against men, and this quick bowler was just too quick for me and I thought, 'I can't do this, I'm not good enough here'.

"In the space of about a day, footy became the priority."

Kernahan was always going to be a great footballer, with his undoubted talents and the pedigree of his father Harry as a former state ruckman, but the winter game would now call loudly for McDermott.

When McDermott says he was 'around footy' as a child, a deeper explanation is needed as the footy genes run deep in the family, and the genes are very, very tough.

Grandfather Les 'Bro' Dayman is in the SANFL Hall of Fame and was named at centre half-forward in Port Adelaide's Greatest Ever Team of its first 130 years – a multiple premiership winner and multiple best and fairest in the 1920s when footy of that time was for hardened men.

Bro managed a few run-ins with rival players and also some officials in his time, including the gate officials before a state game against Victoria when his entry ticket couldn't be found.

In Chris' childhood, Bro was an administrator at Woodville and he got to spend every weekend in the changerooms, soaking up the smells, the atmosphere, the ups and downs of league footy. He just loved the game so much and everything about it.

"I was a Pecker fan through and through, because I got to go there every week, and I had the badges and the green and gold striped jumper.

"They lost most of their games but I wasn't too focused on that because footy was just bigger than big for a child.

"I played footy all the time but I never really thought about how far I might go until I'm playing in the Under 17s at Glenelg, because I'm playing alongside Stephen and it's pretty obvious he's going to be a star in league footy. Can I play league footy?"

McDermott's drive to succeed was borne of incredible loss in this pivotal teenage period as he moves through the junior ranks, drawing on the toughness of those who came before him.

Grandfather Bro would pass away in 1979 after a full life but parents Helen and Brian would both tragically die of cancer within months of each other at the end of 1979 and midway through 1980 respectively, in the year before his first senior game at the start of 1981.

As a teen, Chris watched his mother drive herself and his siblings to and from her treatments at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, no matter how bad the nausea from the chemotherapy, and just keep going until she eventually succumbed.

"Mum was a Port Adelaide girl, so she's tough.

"She had breast cancer from the time I was about 11 and you know now they just didn't have the knowledge and the way to treat people they have these days.

"She's packing us into the car to go to treatments, which are pretty primitive back then, but no matter how sick she was, she's looking after the three of us.

"By the end of it, I always remember just how many scars she had, through all the treatments and the surgeries, but she never complained and got on with things. So you don't complain and you get on with what you can do, because that's the example she set for us.

"It was a long painful decline for mum, while it was very quick for dad in the space of a few months, perhaps because he'd lost mum."

Father Brian, who had driven taxis across long hours for his working life to support the family, succumbed to cancer as well within the next six months, leaving the three siblings orphaned as teens. Remarkably, they received permission from authorities to remain together and stayed in the family house as a unit, and somehow made it work. Mark joined the Police Force, Chris battled through the final two years of high school and Jane left school at 14 to become an apprentice hairdresser, with her running the household.

The Kernahan family lived up the road a bit, with Stephen's parents Harry and Annette to watch over the trio as occasionally required, but it worked for the McDermott clan because it just had to work.

"It's a myth that I lived with Kernahans and it's somehow this story that emerged over the years that wasn't true. They were close by but we stayed together in the house. Jane was a bossy little bugger, as she would tell you now, and she ran the house from about the age of 15. There were ups and downs but we had great support with people dropping food at the house or helping us out, and we made it work. It's what you do."

For every match of his league career, McDermott would find a quiet spot in the changerooms to centre himself for the game ahead, and think of his parents.

He had a drive and a determination to win every contest, and just keep going all day – traits that would serve his entire career.

He'd run out in the Glenelg senior side on the first day of the 1981 SANFL season, alongside best mate Kernahan, who was also making his league debut that day.

John Halbert, a member of the Hall of Fame and one of the greats of SA footy, gave McDermott his league debut and the pivotal influences on his footy development are Halbert, Graham Campbell (grandfather of Collingwood's Brayden Maynard) and 1981 teammate and later coach, Graham Cornes (another member of the Hall of Fame).

McDermott is eternally thankful for Halbert giving him his first league game as a 17-year-old and who then backed him constantly through a form slump in year two.

In 1983, Campbell would give McDermott much greater responsibility as the first choice ruck-rover, propelling him towards being a star player when Cornes had finished as a player at Glenelg.

Lastly, Cornes' return to the Bay as senior coach in 1985 would be the defining player/coach relationship of his career, both at Glenelg and then with the Adelaide Crows.

"John, Graham and Graham were all good for me in different ways and gave me different things and helped me.

"Cornesy is obviously the key man as we had 10 years together at Glenelg and then the Crows as coach/player.

"He was a really strong father figure to the core group and he led us to success. Captains and coaches have ups and down, which is OK as long as you work through them, and we have a great relationship.

"We butted heads non-stop for 10 years from the time I was Glenelg captain and then when he made me captain at Adelaide, because we'd argue about roles and tactics and approach, but he was the coach and he knew I'd step in line as captain and I would lead his standards and drive the team. And it worked for us over a long period and we were successful."

McDermott would be a regular member of the SA sides in the 1980s that enjoyed its best-ever run against Victoria in this golden period of State of Origin football, playing alongside the likes of Kernahan, Craig Bradley, John Platten, Michael Aish, Peter Motley and so many more who now sit in either the SANFL Hall of Fame, the Australian Football Hall of Fame, or both.

A lead part of Glenelg’s back-to-back premierships in 1985 and 1986, he was one though who was never strongly drawn to the thoughts of heading across the border like Kernahan and those others who headed to the VFL. In this period, he was also part of the SANFL's short-lived 'player retention scheme', in which some of the best players in the state were paid to stay home in Adelaide, and away from the clutches of ravenous Victorian clubs.

"I had an approach from Fitzroy in about 1982 and I got drafted to the Bears at the end of 1986, but I never had anyone important in my life saying to me 'go, go, go', and try your luck there. At the same time, I was probably thinking to myself it's easier to stay, and people were also telling me at the time to stay, so I stayed in Adelaide."

SA football changed forever in 1990 when Port Adelaide launched its bid to join the national competition, going behind the back of the other SANFL clubs, and Glenelg, led by Cornes, was a vociferous off-field opponent. The SANFL would eventually have the Port Adelaide move blocked, leading to the formation of the Crows, and Glenelg would meet Port Adelaide in a controversial Grand Final at Football Park to settle some scores.

The Magpies would win that game and Cornes' post-match spray to the victors that day, in their own changerooms, ended a decades-old tradition where the losing team would congratulate the winners.

McDermott, as losing captain, was standing next to his coach and former teammate and remembers it vividly, particularly as it was his job as new captain a few weeks later to try and build a new club, which included Port Adelaide players.

"As we were walking in, Graham said to me, 'speak first, because they aren't going to like what I'm going to say'.

"You go in and do the right thing as the losing captain, to say congrats to the team that's just beaten you in the biggest game of the year, and then Graham just blew up the whole room by implying they'd wrecked football in the state.

"At the end I'm thinking 'get me out of here'," he laughs.

McDermott is definitely not one for grudges, and wasn't one then.

"My approach is that if you're carrying around a grudge, particularly for a long time, you better look in a mirror. We had to build a new club a few weeks later."

Those early days of the Crows were heady – packed out Football Park, Tony Modra hangers and a finals rush in 1993. It was full bore from the moment the first-ever trial game in 1991 against Essendon was a lockout and the first-ever game for premiership points saw the super-hyped Crows thrash Hawthorn, with McDermott knocked out when sandwiched between Dermott Brereton and the late Paul Dear.

"Too slow to get rid of the ball there McDermott. Idiot," he laughs.

There are All Australians and best and fairests in these years as McDermott is a core player in the establishment of the new club. Over and over again, he wins the hard ball, leads by example and is the face of the new club making its way in the big league.

But his prime AFL years are before the arrival of Blight, the messiah, and a failed relationship with new coach Robert Shaw across 1995-96 sees his career done on the eve of the Crows' glories of 1997 and 1998 as his body was wearing out after years of relentless punishment at the bottom of packs.

"Footy changed overnight when the Crows were born and six weeks later there are 70 people training at Footy Park trying to get a list place. We just ran and ran and ran.

"It was my job to bring everyone together but the change in footy in SA at this time was a much bigger issue off field with the supporters and the clubs, and not really with the players trying to make a team.

"I always remember that I stopped the guys in the tunnel before we went on the ground for the first time in that opening game against Hawthorn and said, 'this will be a really significant moment in the history of the state'.

"I'm glad I did it and building a new club was phenomenal, particularly when you think about the things that Tony Modra did in those years."

In McDermott's time at the top, Robert Harvey was the toughest opponent while Kernahan laps the field as the best he played alongside.

"Harvey was just a superman. I couldn't run with him. I thought I did OK on him one day at Moorabbin and the next day in the paper he's got 20 kicks and 21 handballs.

"Sticks is just the best, particularly because of the position he played on the ground and how dominant he was there for so long, but he's also such a great human, not that I would say that to his face," he laughs again. 

McDermott would coach a couple of years at North Adelaide in the SANFL and spend considerable time in the media, but his life was already changing post-AFL, and these days he's an observer from afar.

He met wife Jo after his days as a league player and twins Fraser and Harper only recently turned 18 (this is published in June), having never known of any involvement for him with a league club.

The induction into the Hall of Fame is special, to provide an explanation to his children that perhaps dad went OK.

"Footy was fully my world until I was 35, and then I met my wife and your whole life changes with another person in it at the centre, and then along come kids.

"My life these days is so far away from footy, so it was a shock and an honour to have something like this come along. It's pretty exciting for all of us."

Through it all in the time he played, the McDermott approach was to do what needed to be done. Win a hard ball. Bring a teammate into line. Lead with actions and not just words.

Post-football, and perhaps this is really the lead to any McDermott story, and not the postscript, is that doing what needs to be done has seen him give more to the people of South Australia than perhaps 100 people would give in their lifetimes.

A chance meeting with a youngster Nathan McLean nearly three decades ago would form a strong friendship between elite player and admiring fan that bloomed for several years, until it was cut short by McLean's tragic death, another statistic of childhood cancer.

McDermott's own loss of his parents as a teen rushed back at him, and he was motivated to do something about it, as his football career was coming to its end.

Get out there and raise funds and try and stop the shocking numbers of children who were lost too early by contributing to research.

Try and make a difference.

As he nears 60, the Little Heroes Foundation (formerly the McGuinness / McDermott Foundation he launched in 1996), has now raised beyond $40 million for SA families.

Beyond anything he did to win his place in the Hall of Fame, he holds a place of honour in our game.

Chris McDermott's Record:

277 games for Glenelg 1981-90 and 1995-96, 184 goals
117 games for Adelaide Crows 1991-96, 31 goals
10 games for North Adelaide 1997
15 games for SA
1985, 1986 Premierships
1986, 1987, 1988 (all Glenelg), 1992 (Adelaide) Best and Fairest
1986 (carnival), 1987 (carnival), 1992 All Australian
1987 Simpson Medal
1987 Fos Williams Medal
Captain Glenelg 1989-90
Captain Adelaide 1991-94
Coach North Adelaide 1997-2000