The Green Team: Port Bulldogs

By Peter Argent

The Port Bulldogs Football Club has a rich and successful history in the ‘smelter city’ of Port Pirie.

Founded in 1909, the club started as Saint Marks, collecting a premiership in its opening season in the Port Pirie Churches Association.

Despite inaccurate kicking, 4.20 (44), they still defeated St Paul’s 5.4 (34) in the season-deciding match.

St Marks moved across to the Port Pirie Football League and were champions of the North in 1912, collecting further premierships in 1914 and 1915.

After World War I, St. Marks enjoyed another premiership in 1920, defeating long term cross-town rivals Solomontown by 13 points.
According to the local paper, The Recorder :

Members of the St Marks Football Club assembled in force at the residence of the president of the Port Pirie Football Association (Mr W. Noal) in company with Association delegates and umpires for the purpose of the participating in a social evening to celebrate the winning of the premiership by St Marks.

 There were further flags in 1921, ‘23 and ‘27 when St Marks players wore a uniform with a six-pointed star.

More success came in 1937 and 1939 under the coaching of Matt Walsh and the captaincy of Jack Brady.
After an ill-fated trip to Broken Hill prior to World War II, where the St Marks footballers got up to shenanigans, although there was no police action, Monsignor Clune no longer felt the football club should represent St Marks.

At the Federal Hotel it was decided the Port Football Club be formed to fill a sudden vacancy in the football calendar.

Still wearing the club’s traditional green and white, officially the Port Football Club re-launched with its match against Solomontown, enduring a 62-point loss.  Its first win came on June 7, 1941 defeating Proprietary by 20 points.

The first flag under the Port banner arrived in 1948 with George Jobson as playing coach.

The Port Pirie Football Association continued through the 1950s with Ports enjoying flags in ‘51 ’55 ‘56 ’58, ‘59 and ‘60.

John Connolly – regarded as one of Port’s greatest players – played in each of these premiership sides and was captain-coach of the last three.

He also led the Ports Bulldogs into the inaugural season of the Spencer Gulf Football League in 1960 in which Port defeated South Whyalla in that grand final, Port 11.9 (75) to South Whyalla 7.12 (54).

Recently inducted AFL Hall of Famer Jimmy Deane joined as senior coach of the club, leading them to a premiership over Central Augusta in a two-point heart stopping victory in the 1965 season.

The 12-team competition, which included Pirie Port Augusta and Whyalla, lasted until ‘66 before the stand-alone Whyalla League formed its own competition and departed from the Spencer Gulf.

North Adelaide champion full-back Bob Hammond moved into the district to manage a Dunlop Tyre Service Centre, being secured by the Bulldogs as captain-coach.

He would lead Ports to back-to-back flags, with wins against North Whyalla in ‘66 and South Augusta and ‘67 in the deciders.

Frank Hackett, as the playing coach, and skipper Salvatore Mezzino would take the Bulldogs to the 1970 flag when they defeated West Augusta by three points in another thriller.

Port Bulldogs 20 year reunion – 1997-99 premiership teams

This was the club’s last premiership for over a quarter of a century, before the polarizing Bob Boston arrived in 1996.

With Boston as the no-nonsense off-field general and Jamie McNamara as captain, Port won three consecutive flags from ‘97 to ‘99 and then continued another stint where they won three more from 2002.

In 2007, with John De Palma as coach and Andrew Fleming is Captain, Port defeated West Augusta for the title and, in the following season, with Fleming assisted by Ben Luteria in the leadership role, they won the 2008 crown over Central Augusta.

Across its illustrious 110 years, Port has produced many stars. Along with John Connolly, Ports now have inducted five legends into its Hall of Fame, including Kevin Brady, Joe Lambert, nine-time premiership player Peter Murphy and Lawrence Sheridan.

Current Norwood footballer Lewis Johnston, who was drafted to Sydney and then played at the Adelaide Crows, also was a Ports junior product, as is current Port Power listed player Sam Mayes.

Originally drafted to the Brisbane Lions, Mayes, a top 10 draft selection, had previously played League football with North Adelaide as a teenager.

A third generation Murphy, Jamison Murphy debuted for the Bulldogs as a 15-year-old in 2017.

A dual sporting talent currently attending Prince Alfred College, Murphy played State under 16s football in 2018 as a member of the title-winning SA team and was also captain of the Australian Under 16s cricket team.

His father, John Murphy, the second generation of the famous family, is still playing reserves at the club. He played alongside son Jamison and was a member of the six premiership sides between 1997 and 2002 under Bob Boston.

Above: John Murphy – still playing for Ports. Main image top: Bulldogs’ A grade | Images: Peter Argent