A tribute to Geof Motley OAM

South Australian football is paying its respects while mourning the loss of one of its greatest achievers, Hall of Famer Geof Motley.

Michelangelo Rucci

NO-ONE has walked off Adelaide Oval as a player celebrating more success as an SANFL premiership winner than Geof Motley. Nine, including six in a row from 1954-1959, mark Motley as one of the greatest achievers in South Australian football.

The SANFL today mourns the loss of the Port Adelaide legend – a member of both the national and South Australian football Halls of Fame – who died on Tuesday. He was aged 88.

Magarey Medallist and former SANFL administrator Peter Woite, who inherited Motley’s trademark No. 17 jumper at Port Adelaide, noted of his former mentor: “Geof’s record speaks for itself … you can’t get a better record in Australian football.”

It reads:
NINE league premierships (1954-1959, 1962, 1963, 1965). From his league debut in 1953 to his retirement by a knee injury during the 1966 season, Motley finished each season in either a league grand final (11) or a preliminary final (two)
MAGAREY MEDALLIST in 1964. He polled votes in 12 of his 19 matches in 1964. He was never reported during his football career despite playing with a hard and physical edge
FOUR best-and-fairest titles at Port Adelaide (1958, 1959, 1963, 1965)
PREMIERSHIP COACH in 1959, completing the six in a row for Port Adelaide. As player-coach for three seasons, Motley took Port Adelaide to the 1959 flag and the 1960 and 1961 preliminary finals before he was sacked to allow Williams’ return as non-playing coach in 1962
STATE representative 28 times including the famed 1963 team that beat Victoria at the MCG where the VFL selectors regarded Motley as South Australia’s best player
CAPTAIN at Port Adelaide from 1959-1966 when he closed a then club record 250-game career. He was never dropped from the league team after his debut in 1953.

Motley also coached at North Adelaide for three seasons (1967-1969) and served the SANFL as chairman of selector and manager of State teams during the 1970s and 1980s. He later became a successful player manager with a reputation for integrity and a high demand for honesty.

SA Football Commission chairman Rob Kerin paid tribute to Motley while recognising his outstanding contribution to Australian football on and off the field.

“Geof will be well remembered by the South Australian football community as being a fierce competitor, but one who was also incredibly fair and highly respected,” Mr Kerin said of Motley.

”There are few SANFL players who have surpassed the incredible successes of Geof Motley and it’s certainly a sad time to lose another great of our game.”

"Geof's record speaks for itself ... you can't get a better record in Australian football."

Magarey Medallist Peter Woite

Motley was deeply entrenched in the Port Adelaide Football Club soon after his birth on January 3, 1935 with his upbringing close to the club’s traditional home at Alberton Oval.

He entered Port Adelaide ranks in 1950 with the junior colts and soon became – with Fos Williams – the symbol of Port Adelaide’s dominance in South Australian football during the club’s so-called Golden Era during the 1950s and 1960s.

After his promotion from colts to league, he was never dropped to the B grade – he never played a reserves match.

The lasting image of Motley is his collecting the Thomas Seymour Hill premiership trophy in the old members’ stand at Adelaide Oval at the end of the epic 1965 grand final against Sturt when he became the only man to represent Port Adelaide in the club’s nine “Golden Era” premierships from 1954-1965. This moment marked Port Adelaide surpassing Norwood to become the most successful league club in South Australian football.

“Geof’s first nine years at Port Adelaide (including junior grades) ended in grand finals,” recalls Woite. “When Port Adelaide lost the 1960 preliminary final Geof almost quit – he considered not playing in a grand final as the end.”

Fellow Magarey Medallist Jeff Pash once described Motley as “fearless and resolute”. In his notable style Pash wrote of Motley: “The shape of his flying play for the ball and of his recovery is brave and pleasing; he flies with abandon and bounces up smiling from some impossible rolls and spills. Others certainly have more elegant techniques, and they, too, are admired in their place; but Motley is unique.”

Former Port Adelaide and South Melbourne defender Max James recalls Motley made his reputation as a player extend beyond the SANFL by his exemplary performances in the red South Australian jumper.

“I remember as a Port Adelaide board member I was in Melbourne where (St Kilda and national Hall of Fame legend) Darel Baldock spoke so highly of Geof,” James said. “He told the story of how hard it was to play on Geof. He never conceded anything at all.

“Great player. Great person. And so well respected by everyone, everywhere in football.”

"My admiration of Geof is from knowing him as an opponent, a team-mate in State football and off the field where we never had a harsh word among us.''

Magarey Medallist John Halbert

State team-mates and SANFL rivals Geoff Kingston and Magarey Medallist John Halbert paid tribute to Motley admiring the player and the man.

“My admiration of Geof is from knowing him as an opponent, a team-mate in State football and off the field where we never had a harsh word among us,” Halbert said.

“I stood him several times when playing at centre for Sturt. You would come up against the opposition’s best player – and you had to work very hard against Geof. He was true to all that Fos Williams’ demanded of his teams – get at the ball as hard as you can, win it and kick it down the line as far as you can. Geof had very good ball skills, very good kicking skills.

“Geof always gave his best in State games. He was a very important part of that 1963 team at the MCG – on a half-back flank with Ken Eustice on the other flank and Jeff Bray at centre half-back. That line was very powerful in our win against Victoria.”

Kingston, the 1961 All-Australian and SANFL’s leading goalkicker in that season, recalls never being let down by Motley as a team-mate while on State duty – and always being beaten by Motley as an opponent.

But the lasting memory was the guidance Motley offered him while playing as a rival.

“Peter Aish and Geof Motley, they were the two toughest defenders to play against – and one day at Alberton Oval, Geof was beating me badly,” Kingston recalled. “I was frustrated to the point that I whacked Geof.

“At the next break, while we were going to our respective team’s huddles, Geof stopped me and said, ‘You’re too good for that; you don’t need to be doing that’. That was the gentleman in him. I never threw another punch.

“I always had the greatest respect for Geof. He was unbeatable. He was tough. But he also was a gentleman.

“It was comforting to know he was on your side when you played State football. He was one of the toughest opponents I ever had – as good as Ted Whitten was for Victoria. He was as good as anyone I played against.”

At Port Adelaide, Motley is recalled by his team-mates for his loyalty – and as a mentor to the young players he guided when serving as a selector until his fall-out with the club in 1977.

Hall of Fame premiership coach John Cahill also remembers the exemplary standards Motley set as a player and a captain.

“Geof was a fearless leader,” said Cahill who succeeded Motley as Port Adelaide skipper. “He was my captain from 1959 and he led by example. He was very courageous. And talented. Be it at half-back or centre, Geof stood tall as a captain. He led with conviction and if something needed to be done – or said – Geof was there to lead us.”

Port Adelaide premiership captain Brian Cunningham grew up watching Motley from the terraces on the east side of Alberton Oval during the 1960s and closed his administrative career in 2004 dealing with Motley as a player manager.

“Rugged, tough, brutal and physical – but fair and brilliant, as the Magarey Medal demands,” Cuningham said. “At Port Adelaide, Geof is an icon as one of the greatest players we have ever known in any era. As a State player, I saw how he would take on the biggest names in the game – in particular the Victorians – and he would nullify their part in the interstate matches from half-back.

“As a player, I enjoyed the time and encouragement he gave me. He was very positive. I saw Geof at his best in so many ways.”

Woite recalls the love and devotion Motley carried for his son Peter when he faced life-threatening moments after a car crash in Melbourne in 1987 while plying for Carlton after starting his SANFL career at Sturt.

“The way Geof took care of Peter was amazing, absolutely amazing – it tells you of the strength and character of the man who was so caring to so many,” Woite said. “He was a great friend. I thought the world of Geof. His guidance to me and many others not only made us better footballers but also better people. Geof was a man who made his presence felt. His judgment was so good, always. He always was in control.”

James said: “I was so fortunate to have Geof as my mentor as a young footballer – and as a friend as an old, past footballer. He was so generous to me as a young fella. He always encouraged. He was never flustered. He always was in control of his emotions. He made a great mentor who gave you great knowledge.”

Motley was inducted to the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 2008 as the 28th South Australian at the time to be in the national pantheon of football greatness.

Motley spoke humbly of his achievements and of the game’s significant part in his life.

“When you start in footy you don’t know if you are going to be in it for the long term or short term or how long it is going to last,” Motley said. “I didn’t have a clue what was going to unfold in my football career. I have been involved in the game for a long time, so it has to mean something to you. I have seen an enormous amount of change in my time. And as I have said before, the game is that bloody good no matter what we do to retard it, the game will always survive. It has to be the best game in the world.

“I have had a philosophy during my journey along a reasonable period of time – you feel sad when it all finishes, but you should never cry about it. You should smile and be happy it happened. I am.”

Geof Motley’s name is to be remembered at Adelaide Oval on the race used by the Port Adelaide Football Club at the Riverbank end.

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