By Peter Argent
The Mallee Park Football Club may have fallen short of a grand final victory this year to Tasmans, but its record since the club’s formation in 1981 is outstanding.
In the 1985 campaign, after being bridesmaids in grand finals the previous three years, Mallee Park had a breakthrough win over Waybacks in a thrilling high-scoring game, the Peckers winning the ‘85 title at Centenary Park, 24.21 (165) to the Demons 22.9 (141). This reversed the result of the previous September.
The club’s sustained success over four decades has seen it participate in 75 per cent of Port Lincoln Football League Grand Finals in this time.
After the ‘85 success, the Peckers won four consecutive A grade flags from 1987 and then a further quartet from ‘93.
Playing in every grand final across this period until 1998, when Marble Range defeated Lincoln South, they returned the following season to win the 1999 flag. After a loss in 2000, the Peckers were triumphant again in 2001.
Mallee Park was bridesmaid three further times during the “noughties” – 2005, 2007 and 2008 – before winning again in 2009. After playing off in the 2012 and 2014 grand finals, they were Premiers in 2015 and 2016.
It all started back in 1980 when a motion was accepted for the Mallee Park Football Club to enter the Port Lincoln competition.
The club’s first president was Glenmore Miller, with Elliott McNamara in the role as chairman.
The Peckers’ initial senior coach was Lionel Yarran and Joe Burgoyne who was appointed the inaugural captain.
The club’s first official A grade game was against South and, despite a late eight goal charge in the last quarter, Mallee Park lost its opening encounter 19.16 (130) to 19.11 (125). Across the first season it would have an acceptable 8-9 win-loss record.
On Saturday, September 25, 1982 the inaugural match between two indigenous teams was played at Poochera Oval. In a high-scoring spectacle, Mallee Park finally won the game 22.16 (148) to Koonibba 21.13 (139).
The breakthrough 1985 victory included some of the great names of the club and South Australian indigenous football.
Fabian Davey played in the forward pocket while Harry Miller Senior (also playing coach) was of a half forward flank and Max Thomas, uncle of Kangaroos and Power footballer Lindsay, kicked five goals from centre half-forward.
The centerline was Eddie Betts, Malcolm Bilney and Timothy Dudley.
Barry Johncock played centre half back and the full back line was Byron Pickett, skipper Norm Pickett at fullback and Leonard Wells in the other back pocket. Peter Carter and Michael Burgoyne were on the ball.
There is a remarkable AFL connection with the club as well, with indigenous talent such as Graham Johncock, Byron Pickett, the Burgoyne brothers Peter and Shaun, Harry Miller Junior, Eddie Betts, Daniel Wells, Aaron Davey and even Gavin Wanganeen all having ties either to the club or indigenous football on the west coast.
Graham Johncock has a special place in Mallee Park’s history. A son of one of club’s legends, Jack Johncock, he played in both the Senior Colts and A Grade premiership sides of 1999 before being drafted of the Adelaide Football Club.
Johncock went on to play 227 AFL games across a 13-year career with the Crows and played in a pair of Indigenous All-Stars games and represented Australia several times.
While for much of his career Johncock was a clever rebounding defender, he was also Adelaide’s leading goal kicker in 2003 and won a Showdown Medal that year as well.
Johncock would return to Mallee Park to play and coach the club post his AFL playing days.
Main image above: Members of the historic ’85 Premiership team. Back row: Jack Johncock, Norm Pickett (A grade captain), Leonard Wells. Front row: Trevor Sambo, Howard Richards (B grade captain), Fabian Davey.