One of the greatest Magpies: Greg Phillips

Greg Phillips is an AFL Hall of Famer and was a star for both Port Adelaide and Collingwood.

Now, he spends most of his time giving back to a sport which has welcomed his star daughter in with open arms, women’s footy.

Jack Hudson: Take us back to your childhood, what was it like and where’d you play your juniors?

Greg Phillips: I’m a west coast boy from South Australia, I grew up in a place called Minnipa, on the highway one to Perth, just before Ceduna.

I was there until my parents shifted us to Port Lincoln, we played school footy and played for Lincoln South there.

I went to Port Adelaide when I was about 16.

JH: What was it like going to Port?

GP: It was a bit of a shock being a country boy moving to the city.

I barracked for Sturt as a kid and we had no TV, just listened to the radio.

I think in ’59 and ’60 Sturt were very good so we jumped on as kids.

It was a good lifestyle living on the farm and learning to drive and help dad with sheep, cattle and pigs.

It was a mix of farming duties.

JH: You made your debut in 1976, what was that like being so young and playing senior football?

GP: Playing my first game was pretty exciting, Russell Ebert, Bruce Light and the late Randall Gerlach, were in that side.

There were some real good heroes, it was exciting, bubbly and I was running around like a chook with his head chopped off.

JH: You played in your first flag as an 18-year-old – what was that like?

GP: That was unbelievable.

1976 was my first year when Sturt beat us in the grand final, it was a good turn around in 1977 to be involved in a winning one.

Back then, the Port Adelaide Magpies tens of thousands of people would come back to the club to celebrate winning a premiership.

It was just something that blew my mind away, the supporters were very strong, they certainly loved Port Adelaide.

JH: You played in another three premierships before you moved to Collingwood – what do you remember about them?

GP: The best thing about it is the players, Bobby Whatman, Trevor Sorrell and the guys like that.

It’s great to have like Tony Giles, Mark Williams, Stephen Williams.

You grow with all the players and the champions of the club, they played a lot of games.

The thing that I loved the most about it was meeting and playing with so many good players at Port Adelaide, that’s really the highlight of it.

The question always gets thrown up about which year was the best, and I say you can’t say it, because there’s so many good players you’ve met, made great friendships and you enjoy the success together.

It was just a dream come true the way things turned out.

JH: You were an All-Australian in 1980 and a Fos Williams Medallist in 1982 – what did State of Origin mean to you?

GP: I was lucky enough to play 20 state games, and that was the same scenario in that you get to play with the opposition’s best players.

You have this thing where you don’t like Glenelg but you still see Peter Carey and (Graham) Cornes, they all of a sudden become team-mates in State of Origin.

To play with them, that was a highlight of my life and we still have these SANFL reunions with the 200 Club and it’s always good to catch up with them.

I was proud because back in those days against the Victorians, they were very strong.

They didn’t like losing, but when SA did get over the line and rub their noses in the mud a bit it was always good.

It was exciting times and a great ride.

JH: Do you believe State of Origin has a place in today’s footy if it were to come back?

GP: I do, you look at the rugby league they still have the players that want to play it and the crowds still go with it.

The club’s real concern is if they get any injuries to their top players, some of them on a million dollars a year, they’d make a state of origin side.

There’s always that thing in the back of the mind whether they’d let them play or not.

I would love it to come back, and not just Victoria and South Australia, but Western Australia and those sides as well.

I’m like everyone else, I’d love to see it but I don’t think it’s going to happen.

JH: How did the move to Collingwood come about?

GP: I ended up making a move with my wife to give it a go, it was 1983-1986.

I think in those days when you used to watch ‘The Winners’ and so on, it was the best city of football then and SA wasn’t far behind.

It was just a thing in my mind that I wanted to give a go.

It was great because I had John Cahill coach their for two years, then Bob Rose and Leigh Matthews, also it was a good time.

We had a good side, but we weren’t quite good enough to win a flag.

But I was lucky enough to come back and win a few more in Adelaide.

JH: You returned in 1987, what was it like coming back?

GP: It was good because we were coming back to family for one, and coming back to a club that I had played with in the past.

I was joining players like Tim Ginever, George Fiacchi and Roger Delaney, all these other guys that I had been playing good footy with the Magpies.

It was good to come back and fit in there, I was lucky enough to be involved in another few more premierships and captain the side at the end of my career.

Then Port got into the AFL, so it all timed well.

I ended up only playing 84 games with Collingwood, and could’ve made the 100, but I made the choice to come back and I got pretty lucky to winning another four grand finals.

Greg Phillips. Picture: portadelaidefc.com.au.

JH: How did it feel to come back and win four flags?

GP: I came back and Russell Ebert was the coach and we only had him for one more year, then John Cahill came back into the role.

I thought Ebert was unlucky he didn’t keep coaching but when Jack came in it seemed everything just fit into place.

It was like the early days in the 70s and the early 80s.

Then the late 80s got to continue the good work.

It was great, I always look back and see the great players I played with with the Magpies, it’s been a tremendous ride.

Being involved and winning premierships is great, but you don’t lose your mates.

JH: What was Jack like as a coach?

GP: He ended up coaching 10 winning premierships, and I was involved with eight of them as a player and two as his assistant coach.

I knew Jack probably better than Jack knew himself.

I think he was a great motivator and great with setting your goals and give you the opportunity to do it.

He’d not only support me but support the other players.

He used to back them in and give them advice.

Football has changed naturally with all the defensive players, running back, but I think John picked his team well, played to his advantages, and I think most of us enjoyed success earlier, we knew how when the final pressure was on to stand up in the pressure of the moment.

That’s always what he wanted, he was always very strong and very demanding.

His success even as a player, he blended that into all us players, he’s a good coach and his record speaks for itself.

JH: How did it feel to have the title of premiership captain next to your name?

GP: When you look back with Williams, Quinn, Cahill, Ebert, the names that’s on the number one locker, it was fantastic to be just captain but to win the premiership as the captain, it really puts the cream on the cake.

I had a lot of good players underneath me that had the same belief and goals that I did.

It wasn’t hard being captain back in my day with such good players.

I enjoyed it, and my whole family got behind me, we all enjoyed the success together.

JH: Eventually you retired and did some coaching, who have you coached so far and what has it been like?

GP: I was with Port, and then I went to Salisbury North in the amateurs and we made some finals.

I coached out in the Adelaide Plains with Virginia, coached there for five years.

I’m with the SMOSH West Lakes women’s team now, we started in May.

I’ve loved helping the girls make their dreams come true, the women’s football has been unbelievable since the AFLW has come along.

SMOSH has a fantastic junior development.

It’s something different for me, but I hope it’s something I can pass some positiveness in not just the way we play, but the way we enjoy to play footy, just teach them the skills and the basic part of playing footy.

It’s been fantastic and I take my hat off to every club that’s involving women’s sport, not only footy, but cricket, hockey, soccer, whatever, it’s great to see women get involved.

Greg Phillips with daughter Erin. Picture: portadelaidefc.com.au.

JH: Watching Erin grow up and seeing how talented she is at football and basketball – what was it like seeing her excel?

GP: Erin was one of these girls that was good no matter what sport she wanted to play, whether basketball, golf, she had the talent.

Even when she was away for nine to 10 years in the USA with basketball, she always wanted to play footy, she was very good at it.

At SMOSH West Lakes, she won the under 14 boys best and fairest, she was the only girl in the side.

That was in her blood to play footy, but to see the way she’s adapted to play with the Crows and the things that have come along with the awards and flags, we’ve been nothing but proud and supportive of her, as well as her sisters Amy and Rachel.

Also their partners and our grandchildren, we’ve all jumped on board.

This is the icing on the cake, we’ve had a fantastic time, and I know Erin has.

What she’s done for the whole state and the whole women’s sport and for her family, friends and neighbours, she’s had a great career and even if it’s only three years, it’s been exciting and it’s something we’ve enjoyed.

JH: Going through the mid-2000s, was it hard knowing her talent with footy that she had no pathway with it?

GP: At that time, yeah.

Because she enjoyed it so much, but the old saying goes ‘one door shuts another one opens’, and I think for her to go across to the WNBA and be involved in two championships.

Her road has been fantastic, she’s made a lot of friends, she’s been all over the world playing basketball.

To play for Australia, I think she’ll lay down sometimes at night and think how well things turned out for her.

We’re all very proud of her.

JH: That first season of AFLW, seeing her dominate the competition, was there a sense of satisfaction knowing she’s that good?

GP: There’s no doubt as a father you love your children, she was pretty special and I knew she had the talent.

I’ve seen a lot of footballers like Gavin Wanganeen, Craig Bradley, you can pick when they have that ability and she was no different.

She picked up where she left off when she went for the Crows.

I always knew she could play the game, it was just a matter of her playing with the team at the Crows and getting involved, the team doesn’t evolve around one, I think they’re so successful because they’re a close knitted team.

There’s good players all around, good players become better players when there’s more around them so, it’s been really good to watch and it’s been something once Erin has got her mind set on something, she’ll give it 100 percent.

While I knew she had the ability and the will to win, I definitely had no doubt.

JH: You were named in the greatest Port Adelaide team of all time – did you ever expect that?

GP: It’s been unbelievable to be involved in that.

There are a lot of players maybe that couldn’t miss out, but I made it, and I’m probably just as proud as Erin as what she’s done.

To be a boy coming from the west coast to Port Lincoln to Port Adelaide to make the team of the century has been special to me, it’s something that sits in my mind, and it’s good to go back to the footy club and see supporters and members of the Magpies and touch base with them.

It’s been great, and I’ve loved every moment of my football career.

JH: Coaching women’s footy with SMOSH – do you find it more rewarding than say coaching local men’s footy?

GP: You’re probably right, the women coming together to learning the game whereas the boys at Salisbury North or Virginia grew up playing the game.

The women that are playing today you cannot knock their endeavour or their attitude, they want to learn and they want to go somewhere in life to play footy and to get involved.

At the other night, two girls came out, they were both 28 and never played before, they were both trying their hardest.

That’s the thing I like about it, when they come out to have a go, they’re not there to just muck around, they’re there to learn and to do something that was maybe in the back of their mind when they were younger.

Maybe they watched the Magpies when they were 10, and would’ve loved to play that.

They’ve got the opportunity now to play, I’m there as a coach but a mentor as well.

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