A slice of SA Country football history – part 1 | By Peter Argent
It was back in 1983 when team coach and future AFL Hall of Famer Haydn Bunton Junior, along with team manager Murray Tippett, cobbled together the first SA Country team to compete in the inaugural interstate match against WA Country, played at Subiaco Oval on June 4.
They managed to bring together many of the best players from across SA rural football from this era.
This initial SA Country side was captained by Proprietary Football Club big man Roger Harris from the Spencer Gulf competition, while his deputy was Tony Proud (father of Glenelg vice-captain and key defender Max Proud) who at that stage was playing with Loxton North in the Riverland Football League.
The team included the precocious Indigenous footballers Joe Burgoyne from Mallee Park and Harry Miller Snr, of that season’s title-winning Lincoln South side in the Port Lincoln competition, along with fellow west coast players Clive Matthews from Kyancutta (now in the amalgamated Le Hunte competition) and Allan Gardiner from West Whyalla.
Other members of the team included experienced SANFL League player David Bradley (father of Glenelg’s hardworking Andrew Bradley) from Kybybolite, Harvey Chenoweth, who was coaching Gulnare-Redhill in the North Eastern competition as a 23-year-old, Central Augusta’s Paul Cummins, ruckman Stewie (Stuart) Davis from the Eudunda Roosters in the Barossa and Light competition, and a second Riverland talent, rover Dean Dunhill from Renmark.
Also donning the State tri-colours were Goolwa defender Neil Haren, Ardrossan Kangaroos’ Peter Hughes from the Yorke Valley League, Peter Kerr from Booleroo Centre, centre half back Peter Osborne from the Barossa District Football Club, Michael Saunders from Port Noarlunga, Curramulka talent David “Daffy” Short and West Gambier’s Peter Sheehan.
Former Sturt footballer Kim Smith, playing with Robe the time, and Lindsay Warner, a police officer playing at Border Downs, who during that epoch were in the River Murray competition, rounded out an impressive side.
The emergencies listed were Mark Azzopardi (Central Whyalla), Ian Dahlitz (Ramblers – Great Flinders), Gary Koch (Orroroo) and Mike Woods (East Gambier).
The squad trained at Football Park on Thursday, June 2 followed by a team dinner that evening at the Lockleys Hotel.
Bunton’s troops flew to Perth on the Friday morning on a TAA flight and trained at Subiaco Oval before a pre-game dinner at the Sheraton Hotel.
On a great day for football, this first contest proved to be a thriller, with WA Country coming from behind to defeat South Australia Country by only six points. The final score was WA Country 12.18 (90) to SA Country 12.12 (84).
The SA defence restricted WA to 1.8 in the first half, with the Croweaters leading by five goals at the long interval.
Full back in this game Harvey Chenoweth remembered that his team was in front for the majority of the contest in a close and tight affair, before they were over run late in the game, with WA taking the game late in the third quarter on a large Subiaco ground.
South Broken Hill ruckman/defender Peter Johns collected the best player honours for South Australia in this game, presented by then-SANFL president Max Basheer. Johns proved to be an outstanding performer.
“The Thursday before the game was the first time I met most of the blokes at our initial training,” Johns recalls in a recent interview.
“It was a definite highlight of my career and nice to perform on a big stage.
“The team was captained by Port Pirie footballer (Roger) Harris who played at full forward and kicked five goals in that game, and the vice-captain was Tony Proud from up in the Riverland.
“It was nice to think I was able to compete at this level.
“I do remember getting best player in the first game in ‘83.
“I had done my ankle a week before I went, but nothing was going to stop me from playing – so got it strapped and got through it.”
Both Proud and Dean Dunhill kicked a pair of majors.
Chenoweth, on the last line of defence, and the strong bodied Joey Burgoyne, who started in the back pocket before moving onto the ball in the last term, were also significant performers against the ‘Sandgropers’.
Burgoyne’s mate, Harry Miller Snr, explained that he ripped his hamstring during the contest, but he confirmed the strong bodied defence was outstanding in this game as a rebounding defender.
Other strong performers mentioned in dispatches included Port Augusta centreman Paul Cummins and the Whyalla-based Allan Gardiner.
This was the start of an annual event over the next few years, only reinvigorated at the start of this decade.
Another traditional annual interstate clash between SA Country and WA Country will be played for the first time at Optus Stadium in Perth on July 27.
Back row: N. Haren, P. Kerr, D. Bradley, D. Short, P. Osborne, P. Cummins
Middle row: A. Gardiner, P. Sheehan, P. Johns, R. Harris (Capt), A. Proud (V. Capt), L. Warner, H. Chenoweth, S. Davis, M. Saunders
Front row: H Miller, K. Smith, D. Dunhill, H. Bunton (Coach), J. Burgoyne, P. Hughes, C. Matthews.