AFL Chief Executive Officer Gillon McLachlan today paid tribute to Australian Football Hall of Fame member Neil Kerley AM, describing him as the lifeblood of the game in South Australia.
Kerley, 88, died in a car accident late yesterday in the South Australian Murraylands. A life member of the SANFL and the AFL, McLachlan said Kerley was the pre-eminent figure in the game in South Australia of the post-War era, coaching at five of the 10 SANFL clubs, winning memorable premierships in three different sets of colours and driving the passion for state football across more than three decades.
"Neil Kerley was the embodiment of football in South Australia. He devoted his life to the game, brought improvement and success wherever he went across the SANFL competition and was absolutely driven in the cause of state football, and particularly putting a victory over the Big V," Mr McLachlan said.
"From his first league game as a teen for Westies in the early 1950s, he was hard, passionate, tough and rugged, but also skilful, as he built a formidable reputation as a player and then an outstanding career as a senior coach across more than 600 games. In coaching the Croweaters for 10 separate years of state football, he was the lifeblood of the game in the state and relentlessly drove the reputation of SA football and its footballers on the national stage.
"He was the founding football manager at the Adelaide Crows, supporting his close friend Graham Cornes as the club's inaugural coach, and remained both a one-eyed Crows' fan and dedicated proponent of the SANFL from the formation of the national competition," Mr McLachlan said.
Kerley represented SA on 32 occasions while his four premiership successes as a coach number among some of the most famous Grand Final victories in SANFL history. He captained-coached West Adelaide to victory over Norwood in 1961 in the hottest grand final on record, known as 'The Turkish Bath of 61', and later led the Bloods to another triumph in 1983, with spectacular attacking football produced by the highest-scoring team in SANFL history.
He led South Adelaide to its most-recent premiership in 1964, a stunning triumph in his first year with the Panthers after they had been bottom in 1963 -- the only time a team has come from tenth to first – while the 1973 victory for Glenelg was the Tigers' first premiership in 39 years.
The legend of his state-game duels with the likes of Ted Whitten, Ron Barassi and John Nicholls grew with every year, with Kerley savouring the 1963 victory for SA over Victoria at the MCG as the highlight of his career, the first win at the MCG for SA in 37 years.
"Neil Kerley coached at five SANFL clubs and, at every one of those clubs, he immediately improved their stocks when he took the reins," Mr McLachlan said.
"He was totally committed to state football as a measure of the very best players, and then was an inaugural member of the Adelaide Crows' Football Department, upon their formation.
"In addition, he served as a member of the AFL's All Australian selection panel from 1997-2005, being inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 1997 for his contribution to the game.
"The AFL extends its sincere condolences to Neil's family and many hundreds of friends across the game in both South Australia, and nationally. Vale Neil Kerley," Mr McLachlan said.
Neil Kerley's record
165 games for West Adelaide 1952, 1955-63 for 87 goals
56 games for South Adelaide 1964-66 for 57 goals
55 games for Glenelg 1967-69 for 59 goals
32 games for South Australia for 14 goals
West Adelaide coach 1961-62, 1981-84 and 1992-93
South Adelaide coach 1964-66
Glenelg coach 1967-76
West Torrens coach 1977-80
Central District coach 1988-90
South Australia coach 1967, 1970-72, 1975, 1977-80 and 1984
Australia coach 1987
Premierships 1961 (captain/coach), 1964 (captain/coach), 1973 (coach), 1983 (coach)
Best and Fairest 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1967
All Australian 1961
O'Halloran Trophy 1963 (Best player in an interstate match)
Captain 1959-62 (WAdel), 1964-66 (SAdel), 1967-69 (Glen)
SAust captain 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966