Former Sturt and St Mary's star Michael Graham in action.

A FOOTBALL field can leave a player feeling mightily exposed in many different ways.

It takes obvious courage to stand in front of a descending pack, but it's just as difficult when a player is confronted by the moment where an opponent will flat-out embarrass them on the biggest stage of league footy.

HALL OF FAME Check out the inductees, Legends and more

In the 1970s, as he starred in both SA and the NT as a 12-months-per-year footballer, Michael Graham could make you look stupid.

As he enters the Hall of Fame with more than 500 senior games combined with Sturt (SANFL) and St Mary's (NTFL), Graham was a footballer blessed with extraordinary pace and keen goal sense.

If he had the ball, and there was space in front of him, he was gone. Many a defender was left flailing behind him, grasping at thin air, and resigned to being on the highlights, left in the wake of 'The Flash'.

The second-youngest of 15 children, with 10 brothers and four sisters, Graham has had a life in football and enters the Hall of Fame as his last crowning achievement in the game, to sit alongside a place in the Indigenous Team of the Century, the Sturt Team of the Century and the NT Team of the Century.


"I'm overjoyed to be in the Hall of Fame," Graham says. "I have to admit, I did a bit of a dance in the room when I got the phone call from Richard Goyder."

A trailblazer when few Indigenous players were at senior level in the game in SA, Graham was also an inspiration for those who would follow in his footsteps, including the likes of Michael O'Loughlin and Andrew McLeod who would aim to emulate his deeds.

Graham was a pivotal member of the 1974 and 1976 Sturt flags, while spending his southern summers up in the Territory, where he won a further three NT premierships, a Chaney Medal as best on ground in a premiership and a Nichols Medal as best and fairest in the league for the renowned St Mary's team.

"I was always fast and my game was about using my skill to win the ball and try and create something, and kick a goal.

"If I got the ball and I was in front of you, with a bit of space ahead of me, it was 'see you later' and I was gone sprinting off," he laughs.

Parents Cecil and Doris were living on the Yorke Peninsula in SA when he was born at Wallaroo and he spent his early days at the Point Pearce mission, before he then grew up in Penola in SA's South East.

"I need to thank mum and dad for everything they did for me and my brothers and sisters. They put on the pathway for a good life with the things they taught me," he says.

Graham was a prodigy in the strong Western Border League when Sturt came calling for his services.

Legend of the Game Jack Oatey was his coach at the Double Blues and Graham credits all his football success to the coach who brought seven premierships to Unley, including the last two that Graham was a key figure in.

"I was playing in Penola, after the family moved there when I was young, and I won the league medal at 18.

"I got invited to join Sturt and Jack Oatey changed everything about football for me. He taught me so much and his emphasis was always about skill, and being skillful to win the ball and get it to your teammates in a better position.

"He had this booming voice that demanded you to be doing the right thing at training and he was like a second father to me, teaching me about footy and teaching me about life. I hung on every word he said and he's the reason I was a good player.

"He emphasised over and over again to develop your skills, bring your teammates into the game and get the ball to a better position every time you got it in your hands.

"Jack's training was pretty simple. We did circle work over and over again to make sure we could use the ball and we did goalkicking every single time we walked on the field, because he wanted us to be good kicks for goal, but he made sure we had good skills."

Alternating between a wing and half-forward, depending the best use for the Double Blues of his pace and his goal sense, Graham would kick more than 450 goals in his SA career and was an automatic state selection through the 1970s in a golden era for the competition when crowds would reach 50,000 for a round of footy.

Graham was the player who would kick three goals in a quarter, take a big mark or lift his teammates with an inspirational burst forward and break open a game. His display in the 1976 Grand Final, when Sturt would upset an overwhelming favourite Port Adelaide, was crucial in support of an extraordinary game from Rick Davies, a fellow member of the Hall of Fame.

In his summers, he would head north and his time in the NT would open the eyes of players there that success could be found in the south.

"The whole point of playing footy is to experience a premiership and I was fortunate to be part of premierships in my footy that give me great friends and great memories today, years and years after they happened.

"I've loved footy since I was little, playing with my brothers, and this is the ultimate for me."

Football has never really left his life and, after his time at the top, he would coach across the NT and in country leagues, while playing as long as he possibly could, including at Masters' Level up until two years ago.

If he can have a bit of luck with injury and keeping his body in good nick, Graham fully intends to farewell the game at this year's national masters carnival, at the ripe old age of 72.

"I kept playing all the way when I was coaching and I've always kept playing in the Masters in the last few years because I love playing footy still. I last played a game early last year but I want to play one more carnival this year, and then I might be ready to give it away," he admits.

The wider family is equally thrilled with his induction, and Graham is thankful to each of those who have shared part of his life along the way, and remain close to him.

Eldest daughter Severa and former partner Susan McGuinness, former wife Debra and their children Patricia, Michael-John, Olivia and Alan, and wife Leeanne and their child Paris and his stepchildren Jacyn, and Kane, all take pride in the recognition for Graham's achievements within the game. Most of all, Graham is looking forward to spending time on the night with other greats of the game from battles long fought and decided.

"This is the last thing I can be a part of, after being in Teams of the Century and having great memories with premierships and the people I've been able to play with and against.

"Football has given me so much and it's still a great game for anyone to be part of."

Graham enters the Hall of Fame as one of the Indigenous greats at state-league level who paved the way for those who came after and have starred at a national level.

Michael Graham (SANFL / NTFL)

282 games for Sturt, 1971-85, 455 goals
230 games for St Mary's (NTFL) 1969-70 to 1986-87
11 games for SA
1974, 1976 SANFL premierships
1978-79, 1983-84 and 1985-86 NTFL premierships
1969-70 and 1973-74 Club Best and Fairest
1978-79 Club Leading Goals
1973-74 Nichols Medal (Season Best and Fairest, NTFL)
1978-79 Chaney Medal (Grand Final Best on Ground, NTFL)
Captain 1975-76
1970 Western Border Medal
Sturt Team of the Century (half-forward)
Indigenous Team of the Century (interchange)
Northern Territory Team of the Century (half-forward)
SANFL Indigenous Team of the Century (half-forward)