21/04/2024
David Granger. Picture: Port Adelaide Football Club/Supplied

David Granger. Picture: Port Adelaide Football Club/Supplied

SUNDAY, September 26, 1982. To take the historic line from US president Franklin Roosevelt, this is the day that “lives in infamy” in South Australian league football history.

David Granger played his last game for the Port Adelaide Football Club, somewhat appropriately against Glenelg – the opponent that seemed to bring the best and worst out of “Grave Danger”.

Granger had been recalled from the reserves ranks – on the recommendation of reserves coach Brian Fairclough – for the preliminary final that was Port Adelaide’s last chance to extend the premiership-winning streak that had begun in 1979.

He started on the bench – and probably should have had the last kick of the game to win it for Port Adelaide, or at least send it to extra time with a match-levelling behind from 50 metres at the southern end at West Lakes.

Such a kick under enormous pressure was Granger’s moment … but the push-in-the-back free kick against Glenelg opponent Graham Cornes never came.

“Seven times out of 10 that would have been paid as ‘in the back’,” says Cornes who became forever attached to the Granger story from this knock-out final that still draws controversial debate today.

Forever in question, by the varying versions of how the game played out among the key figures in the Port Adelaide camp, particularly during the half-time break, is who set the agenda for this preliminary final.

Not in doubt is how it played out on the field – the television coverage of the game is indisputable.

West Lakes – under a heavy overcast sky – has never seemed so appropriately ugly for a football contest as it was this Sunday.

“There was something ominous about that day, that overcast sky – it hung over us as a foreboding atmosphere,” recalls Cornes of the day that was unlike any other in SA football history.

The lightning moment within the cauldron that carried 32,339 bewildered football fans was just before time-on of the second term when Glenelg led by 38 points. The premiership defence was in need of a miracle.

“I heard the roar,” Cornes recalls. From centre half-back, Cornes looked to his left and saw Granger warming up on the boundary and the Port Adelaide runner crossing the boundary to chase Ross Agius in a forward pocket.

“I said to Ben Harris (his opponent),” continues Cornes, ” ‘I think you are going to a forward pocket’. And he did.

“Then comes David Granger,” adds Cornes.

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“We collided in the middle of the ground … on a ground where there was nowhere to hide. I did raise my elbow. And then I was down. Then we settled down to watch the play that was in our forward line (at the northern end). And I went down. I only know what happened next because of the television video we have … but I don’t forget being on the ground and hearing the words of (former Glenelg coach) Neil Kerley – ‘Get up. Don’t let them know you are hurt’.

“It is a preliminary final. What can you do? You can’t fight back! You don’t want to get reported to miss the grand final.”

Granger’s presence does change the game.

“Everytime the ball comes within David’s reach you are wondering what will happen next,” recalls Cornes.

“There was ominous expectation with every contest that involved David.”

The consequences to Glenelg opponents Steven Barratt and Peter Maynard were significant by injury, as was the fall-out to Granger who was handed a career-ending eight-game suspension from the SANFL tribunal after being reported for striking Cornes by goal umpire Des Hillebrand.

Cornes had first come to know Granger when they were both in Melbourne in 1979 for brief VFL careers – Granger at St Kilda and Cornes at North Melbourne where he was a team-mate of Port Adelaide legend Russell Ebert.

“Russell had invited David to dinner and I felt I had come to know David quite well by then,” Cornes said.

“We had some good tussles in the SANFL. I had taken note that David had described me in a Football Budget player profile as his toughest opponent.

“From outside Port Adelaide, David will be seen as a thug. But on the balance of his career, he should be remembered as a really good footballer.

“He was a troubled soul. It is clear – and it kept coming up in his correspondence to us all after he stopped playing – that he had a troubled life with serious issues while he was growing up.

“He certainly was pained by not being at his father’s side before his death. He clearly was a product of his early environment.”

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