ON THE eastern side of Adelaide Oval, a statue has now been in place for more than six years since its dedication in August 2015.

Russell Ebert is mid-stride, ball in hand, looking downfield and about to decide what to do next with possession. He is lithe, supremely fit and every bit the elite athlete.

To watch him live through the 1970s and early 1980s, that was something else again.

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You knew that possession would hit a Port Adelaide teammate, invariably in a better position, whether it was by hand or foot. Either hand, either foot.

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Hall of Fame Legend: Russell Ebert

Port Adelaide's four-time Magarey medallist is elevated to 'Legend' status in the Australian Football Hall of Fame

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Russell Ebert was a footballer of the current day, who just happened to start his career more than 50 years ago. He prepared with a dedication way advanced of his era, committed himself utterly to the perfection of his skills, was successful, driven, determined and hard, yet fair, never straying outside the rules as many of his time often did, particularly those trying to slow him down or lessen his influence.

Off the field, the quiet, shy Loxton country lad grew into a leader, captain and coach, and then continued to grow so much more beyond his playing days that he led an entire community.

His death late last year was mourned by thousands across football, particularly at his beloved Magpies, but mourned too by the countless numbers he touched with his charity and community work across a lifetime, and his quiet leadership for people to strive to be their best selves.

Russell Ebert has passed away at the age of 72. Picture: Port Adelaide Football Club

The Ebert file is the most individually decorated in SA history, from the unmatched four Magarey Medals, a club record six best and fairests, a club record games tally, 29 state games when those matches were the pinnacle, and triple premiership player.

It didn't happen by accident, as former teammate and latterly club chief executive Brian Cunningham was privileged to have the locker next to him as they built their storied careers at Alberton.

"We watched what he did as a teammate and he was so much better and more professional than all of us," Cunningham remembers.

"When he first arrived, he was a bit right-sided but he worked on it so much that you didn't know which was his best kick within a few years.

For a midfield player, he was an amazing high mark and he consistently took pack marks where he would flatten packs and take bodies with him, outmuscling and beating centre half-forwards and centre half-backs in the air.

- Brian Cunningham

"Handball, and attacking handball, was just coming into the game in SA in the late 1960s, because of the Victorian influence and what Sturt was doing with their handball skills under Jack Oatey, and Russell worked on his handball so much that he was just the best at it within a few years.

"He trained hard to be supremely fit and he was a ball of muscle that could hit a precision kick or long handball like no one else and his vision opened up the ground and brought other players in our team into the game.

"He invented the overhead handball that none of us could do, and you'd just see each week, every week, this incredible level of performance."

Russell Ebert in action for Port Adelaide. Picture: supplied

While it could be argued his straight-line speed was not the quickest, and his endurance was outstanding without being elite, every other part of his game was a 10 and a reading of the play that was beyond all others allowed him to always be in the best position, giving him time to make the best decisions.

At the turn of the 1970s, SA football was the domain of Barrie Robran – first to be elevated as Legend from the SANFL competition and a triple Magarey Medallist whose career was tragically shortened by injury.

Ebert won his first Magarey Medal at the peak of Robran's powers and the pair duelled in successive Grand Finals at Adelaide Oval in 1971-72, with team honours both times going to the North Adelaide champion.

By 1974, a consistent elite weekly level of output meant Ebert had a second medal and, as Robran began to fight the injuries that would curtail him, SA football became the domain of the Port champion wearing No.7.

Check the best players on a Monday and if he wasn't first, he was second and occasionally third. Every single week.

Russell Ebert celebrates one of his premierships. Picture: supplied

"Fos Williams was our coach when we both started and Fos believed in hard, tough and direct football," Cunningham remembers.

"Get the ball forward and win every contest.

"He wanted no risk and absolute discipline in all his players. In 1971, he banned the drop kick because it was such a high-risk kick but a good drop kick has always been the best kick in the game because it goes so much quicker and lower to a forward, and is nearly impossible to stop.

"It makes me laugh still when Fos told us all at training before the 1971 season, 'No-one is allowed to kick a drop kick except Russell,' and he kept kicking them on good-weather days until 1975-76."

From a debut in 1968, he had to wait a decade for a flag, and his third Magarey Medal year in 1976 saw the supreme disappointment of a hot-favourite side taken apart on the last day of the season by a dominant Rick Davies, in front of the largest crowd in SA football history.

It burned with captain Ebert so much that no stone was left unturned for the 1977 decider, a victory over Glenelg by eight points in one of the great Grand Finals in front of nearly 60,000.

By now, his game and influence was total, and the premiership completed him, but didn't sate him.

Russell Ebert looks on during a game for North Melbourne. Picture: NMFC.com.au

For his own experience, a year was spent with North Melbourne in 1979 for a taste of the VFL, despite being past 30, and only opting to fly-in/fly-out on a Thursday for a single weekly training session before Saturday's game. He still led Kangaroos for the season in possessions and finished on the podium in the best and fairest, and then headed back to Alberton.

A fourth Magarey Medal was added in 1980 and two more premierships, now with the team under the leadership of Cunningham.

Cunningham marvelled at the level of performance across 17 years, but says that's only part of the reason behind Legend status.

"I know all about Russell the player, and the medals, and the flags, and the countless great games I watched from the best seat in the centre square.

"But Russell is a Legend because he of what he did and gave to our club for the 35 years after he played. He led our community and he worked to give so much to people who had less, and he guided people to be better.

"Only after his career did people outside Port Adelaide come to know the person he was."

Ebert on game-day always seemed quiet and introverted to outsiders, thinking only of the job ahead. Around family and friends outside of the club, he had a sharp, sly sense of humour and was deeply caring of others, having grown up one of six children in SA's Riverland.

He first met Dian when both were just 17. A nurse in training, she thought the young bank worker was keen on her sister but Dian made sure he wasn't getting away.

The Ebert family pose in memory of Russell during the round two clash between Port Adelaide and Hawthorn on March 26, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

"We were at a dance in Waikerie and I think Russell wanted to go out with my sister, but she had her eye on someone else," Dian jokes.

"He was very shy but he always had the most beautiful smile.

"He was caring because he was part of a big family and he always thought of others. He was so well brought up and he was a very fine catch."

The time without him since has been difficult, after more than 50 years together, but Dian cherishes watching him as a father to three and then a grandfather to six between the ages of three and 15.

Above that, thousands of hours given to others, so much that he was named SA's Local Hero in the 2021 Australia Day Awards. Through that year, he bravely fought his illness without complaint, Dian at his side every step.

"I was proud of him every day I was with him across our lives. I wish he was here to see this but he absolutely deserves it and myself and the children are so thrilled," she said.

Russell Ebert celebrates a State of Origin win as South Australia coach. Picture: AFL Photos

In Cunningham's view, the honour franks the position of Port Adelaide on the national stage.

"It's fantastic for the family but it's also great for the club," he said.

"The whole reason Port Adelaide wanted to get into the AFL was because we wanted to play on the biggest stage against the biggest clubs in Australia.

"This says to the football world that our best player is on the podium with the best players to ever play."

Russell Ebert's career honours

  • 392 games for Port Adelaide 1968-78, 1980-85, 295 goals (club games record).
  • 25 games for North Melbourne 1979, 15 goals
  • 29 games for SA, eight goals
  • 3x Premierships 1977, 1980, 1981
  • 4x Magarey Medal 1971, 1974, 1976, 1980
  • 6x Best and Fairest 1971, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1981
  • Leading goalkicker 1968
  • Jack Oatey Medal 1981
  • Captain 1974-78 and 1983-85
  • Port Adelaide Greatest Team (Centre)
  • Coached Port Adelaide 116 games 1983-87, 64 wins, 52 losses
  • Coached Woodville 64 games 1988-90, 24 wins, 40 losses