Australian Football Hall of Fame member and “proud and passionate South Australian” Neil Kerley has died in a car crash. He was 88.
Kerley made his mark on Australia’s home-grown football code as an outstanding player, coach, administrator and media figure.
Even long after his retirement as a player, Kerley’s passionate support for South Australia – especially in State of Origin clashes with arch-rival Victoria – was unrivalled.
Kerley – affectionately nicknamed “Knuckles” – played 276 games for West Adelaide, South Adelaide and Glenelg, and represented his state 32 times.
He also coached five SANFL clubs to a total of four premierships.
When the Adelaide Crows entered the AFL in 1991, Kerley was appointed their inaugural football manager as a key support figure to first-year coach Graham Cornes.
“Neil’s contribution to the game is immeasurable and he embodied what it means to be a proud and passionate South Australian,” Crows chairman John Olsen said in a statement.
“As a player and coach, he was tough and uncompromising and he commanded respect, and he will be remembered as one of football’s great characters.
“In the context of his overall career, his time at the Crows was brief but his impact is best described as significant given he helped build the club from the ground up.”
Kerley’s verbal stoushes with Victorian counterpart Ted Whitten before State of Origin fixtures were the stuff of legend.
But the fiercely proud South Australian admitted in 2014 he perhaps should have headed east at some point in his career.
“Not coming to Victoria [was a regret],” he told Fox Footy’s Open Mike.
“If I could have walked out of there and played here the following year, then yes, I would have come, for a couple of years maybe.”
The AFL paid tribute to Kerley and his impact on football in South Australia.
“Neil Kerley was the embodiment of football in South Australia,” chief executive Gillon McLachlan said.
“He devoted his life to the game, brought improvement and success wherever he went across the SANFL competition and was absolutely driven in the cause of state football, and particularly putting a victory over the Big V.
“In coaching the Croweaters for 10 separate years of state football, he was the lifeblood of the game in the state and relentlessly drove the reputation of SA football and its footballers on the national stage.”
Kerley died on Wednesday afternoon in a car accident in the Murraylands region of SA.
He is survived by his wife Barb and family.