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Adelaide Football Club - Crows History Locker

Adelaide’s inaugural 52-man AFL squad was confirmed only 11 days before the opening round of the 1991 season, after a challenging and occasionally controversial four-month rehearsal and selection process.

Nearly 70 players spent time on the training track with the new AFL club at various stages across the first summer but only 42 would earn a spot, with the remaining ten list positions used to secure some of the State’s best juniors.

Building the squad started in October 1990 once the new Adelaide Football Club was confirmed but it was not as simple as inviting the best South Australian footballers to training.

SA football identities Bob Hammond and Neil Kerley were given the urgent task of seeking South Australian players already playing for other AFL clubs and securing the maximum ten players previously drafted by AFL clubs but who had stayed in the SANFL. This was made harder by the other AFL clubs also scrambling to sign many of the same players.

In The Pride of South Australia book, Hammond recalled: “We had to talk to players who looked like they would go and convince them to join a squad we would pick. This was even before an interim board was announced. A lot of players had been talking with VFL clubs for 12 or 18 months and here we were with five minutes to change their minds.”

Outstanding Port Adelaide junior Gavin Wanganeen (Port to Essendon), 1989 Magarey Medallist Gilbert McAdam (Central District to St Kilda) and Matthew Robran (Norwood to Hawthorn) were among the first players to make early calls on their futures.

Adelaide eventually locked in 1987 Magarey Medallist Andrew Jarman, Darren Smith, Rod Jameson, Stephen Schwerdt, Darren Bartsch, Andrew Payze, David Pittman, Matthew Kelly, Paul Rouvray and David Brown. It also thought it had secured Darren Jarman before the North Adelaide star was signed by Hawthorn after a trade with Brisbane.

Adelaide was allowed to sign Port’s two-time premiership wingman Simon Tregenza after Footscray’s draft hold expired, and Glenelg’s Chris McDermott was guaranteed a contract on the back of a decade of success in SA football with Glenelg and as State-of-Origin captain.

But the lengthy SANFL departure list included 1988 Magarey Medallist Greg Whittlesea and James Weeding (to Hawthorn), David Hynes (West Coast), Troy Clarke, Richard Champion, Doug Smart and Laurence Schache (Brisbane), Alan Schwartz, Shane Radbone (Essendon), Justin Staritski, Damian Murray (North Melbourne), Bruce Lennon (Richmond), Rohan Smith (St Kilda), Troy Lehmann, Kym Russell, Andrew Pascoe (Collingwood) and Brenton Klaebe (Fitzroy).

Gun forwards Allen Jakovich and John Fidge – both century goalkickers in the 1990 SANFL season ­– were also unavailable to Adelaide and then drafted by Melbourne and Essendon, respectively.

Richmond also exploited a loophole to secure Mt Gambier 17-year-olds Nick Daffy and Matthew Clarke in the November draft.

Notable absentees from Adelaide’s original training squad included North Adelaide’s State ruck Mick Redden and Port veteran and former Collingwood captain Mark Williams, who told media he was “insulted” not to be offered a spot.

And one of the State’s best midfielders, Garry McIntosh, knocked back the invite to training and stayed with Norwood.

Romano Negri leads a run at West Lakes, with Andrew Jarman, Andrew Payze, George Fiacchi and Nigel Smart.

Geelong forward Bruce Lindner was the first interstate target to commit to the Crows. Lindner played in West Adelaide’s 1983 premiership side before joining the Cats, where he played 66 games.

1982 Magarey Medallist and three-time All Australian Tony McGuinness then agreed to return home after five years with Footscray, as did key defender Danny Hughes after seven years with Melbourne.

Former South Adelaide rover Mark Naley also moved back to Adelaide but Carlton kept the 1987 premiership star on its list and he chose to play in the SANFL, where he won the 1991 Magarey Medal.

Post-draft Adelaide was clear to add overlooked SANFL players Wayne Weidemann, Peter McIntyre, John Klug, Andrew Johns (who decided to stay with Sturt), Mac Grummett and Robert Handley to the training squad. Handley played for Hawthorn in its 1985 VFL grand final loss and then St Kilda, with two stints at Central District, and Tasmanian Klug spent time at Richmond before joining Woodville.

Adelaide also considered pursuing Footscray legend Doug Hawkins, Carlton’s Wayne Johnston, Geelong’s Mark Yeates and Sydney’s Bernard Toohey. The club also held talks with Brisbane’s Matthew Rendell, the former West Torrens ruckman and Fitzroy captain, and Wayne Henwood, who moved to Sydney after playing in Glenelg’s 1985 and 1986 premierships.

Coach Graham Cornes said the initial training squad deserved recognition as they juggled jobs and a heavy training load: “They did work hard and there were long hours, the biggest commitment I felt was given by the guys in the first squad that was named in November 1990, they trained 13 days out of 14 and had two or three mornings a week as well doing weight training with no promise of a contract and no guarantee of a wage. That was probably the hardest they ever worked.
 
“I always held those guys in the highest esteem for the commitment they gave without getting much in return. Some of the guys weren’t even contracted before their first game, it was a huge rush.
 
“No one understands how strict our entry conditions were and how limited time we had, footy season 1990 ended and two weeks later we had an Adelaide Footy Club and three weeks later we were training, it wasn’t two or three years.”

With only 35 of the final squad expected to be offered contracts, Adelaide’s wait-and-see policy caused some disruptions over the summer.

The new club’s player payments plan included signing on fees, base salaries and match payments totalling about $1.5 million in the first year.

Most players, however, continued to train up to 13 times a fortnight without any financial compensation or guarantee of a contract.

Port premiership star Scott Hodges, who won the 1990 Magarey Medal after kicking an SA record 153 goals, was the first high profile player linked to widespread concerns. The full forward eventually refused to train with Adelaide unless his contract offer was improved.

North Adelaide’s Darel Hart was next in the headlines and by Christmas he was among the 16 players who had signed contracts. The rest of the training squad was told there would be no more contracts offered until late January.

Port and former Collingwood defender Greg Phillips trained with the Crows until Christmas but then chose the security of a contact with his SANFL club.  

Hodges eventually signed with the Crows in January 1991 and ruck Mark Mickan returned from Brisbane to compete for a contract, although he also was not satisfied with the first offer.

Peter Schwarz, Paul Pisani and Stephen Williams were among the players who left early in the year, and an ankle injury wrecked the chances of Port premiership captain Russell Johnston.

West Torrens tall Paul Bulluss was also cut but was one who went on to build a career at a rival AFL club, playing 97 games for Richmond from 1993 and representing South Australia in State-of-Origin against Victoria in 1995.

State full forward Rudi Mandemaker, Scott Morphett, Daryl Heath, Grummett, Scott Field, Peter Bennett, Michael Whitford, George Fiacchi, David Niemann, Handley, Brian Haraida, David Hutton and David Stoeckel were named in at least one of the internal trials.

But by late February most of this group had departed after Adelaide was forced to sign and register enough players before its first AFL match in the pre-season knockout Foster’s Cup competition.

It was March 11 when Adelaide announced its final squad of 52, to be led by McDermott (captain) and McGuinness (vice-captain).

The squad included only seven players with VFL experience – McGuinness, Lindner, Mickan, Hughes, Bruce Abernethy (101 games for North Melbourne and Collingwood), 1985 Magarey Medallist Grantley Fielke (15 games for Collingwood) and Michael Murphy (three games for North Melbourne).

David Marshall, who turned 31 during the 1991 season, was the oldest on the list and had played 323 games for Glenelg. Former West Torrens captain and State defender Bruce Lindsay, North Adelaide’s 1987 premiership captain Darel Hart, Trevor Clisby, Clayton Lamb, Central District best-and-fairest Scott Lee and Norwood defender Tom Warhurst were among the other experienced SANFL players who survived the pre-season challenges.

South Adelaide’s Mark Bickley was one of a handful of players listed but not given a contract before the season. He signed a contract before his first AFL game in round four.

The final big piece of the squad puzzle was the addition of ten highly-rated South Australian teenagers, selected with input from SA junior football leaders Russell Ebert and Alan Stewart. This group included 16-year-old Rostrevor College schoolboy Ben Hart – who 18 months later would be an All-Australian – promising tall Shaun Rehn, Brenton Sanderson, Adam Saliba, Peter Turner, Randall Bone, Damien McCarthy, Jonathon Ross, Damien Mellow and Jarrod Hocking. North Adelaide’s Saliba had been part of the initial training squad before withdrawing but the club was keen to try to harness his talent.

Thirty-seven of the original Crows played AFL games in 1991.

1991 Adelaide squad

Bruce Abernethy (recruited from Port Adelaide), Allan Bartlett (Glenelg), Darren Bartsch (West Adelaide), Mark Bickley (South Adelaide), Randall Bone (South Adelaide), David Brown (Port Adelaide), Trevor Clisby (North Adelaide), Grantley Fielke (West Adelaide), Ben Hart (North Adelaide), Darel Hart (North Adelaide), Eddie Hocking (Central District), Jarrod Hocking (Glenelg), Scott Hodges (Port), Danny Hughes (Melbourne/Port), Rod Jameson (Glenelg), Andrew Jarman (Norwood), Matthew Kelly (Norwood), John Klug (Woodville), Clayton Lamb (Glenelg), Scott Lee (Central District), Bruce Lindner (Geelong/West Adelaide), Bruce Lindsay (West Torrens), Matthew Liptak (Glenelg), Chris McDermott (Glenelg), Tony McGuinness (Footscray/Glenelg), David Marshall (Glenelg), Rodney Maynard (Norwood), Damien Mellow (Norwood), Mark Mickan (Brisbane/West Adelaide), Michael Murphy (Glenelg), Damien McCarthy (Woodville), Peter McIntyre (South Adelaide), Romano Negri (Woodville), Paul Patterson (West Adelaide), Andrew Payze (West Torrens), David Pittman (Norwood), Shaun Rehn (West Adelaide), Jonathon Ross (Norwood), Paul Rouvray (Glenelg), Stephen Rowe (Norwood), Adam Saliba (North Adelaide), Brenton Sanderson (Sturt), Stephen Schwerdt (Central District), Nigel Smart (South Adelaide), Darren Smith (Port Adelaide), Grant Tanner (Norwood), Sean Tasker (North Adelaide), Robbie Thompson (Glenelg), Simon Tregenza (Port Adelaide), Peter Turner (North Adelaide), Tom Warhurst (Norwood), Wayne Weidemann (West Torrens).