Main content
We are Port Adelaide

Politics, power and passion: 1994, 20 years on

The 1994 Port Adelaide premiership team celebrates their famous come-from-behind win over the Eagles at Football Park (Source: The Advertiser)
The 1994 Port Adelaide premiership team celebrates their famous come-from-behind win over the Eagles at Football Park (Source: The Advertiser)
On Sunday, members of Port Adelaide's 1994 SANFL Premiership side will join together before the League match at Alberton to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of their historic grand final victory over Woodville-West Torrens.

In a time where premiership flags were aplenty at Port Adelaide, the 1994 premiership bore such significance to players, administrators and supporters alike. The entire Port Adelaide community had little idea what was on the line that day.

Daniel Norton was there on that historic day and, as one of the many true believers standing in the outer at Football Park, had ridden the highs and lows of the previous five years and the 1994 season itself.

He takes us 20 years back in time and reflects on that historic day...

1994: The most important year for Port Adelaide

IT was Sunday October 2, 1994, a day that, to this moment, remains one of my most memorable days supporting this great club.

It was a day that saw the Magpies claw itself off the canvas and exemplify that famous Port Adelaide spirit in a way never seen before.

And it was the one of the sweetest victories of all, because so much was riding on the result.

But to truly understand the remarkable nature of Port Adelaide’s 1994 premiership win, one must take a broader of view and look at the season as a whole, when battles raged both on the field and off it within SANFL ranks.

It was the year when many clubs were posturing and promoting themselves as the best alternative to become the recipient of South Australia’s second AFL entry licence, which would be announced in December of that year.

After Port Adelaide’s failed bid of 1990, the club dusted itself off and repositioned itself in the market place for another tilt at lobbying the SANFL and AFL powerbrokers to realise its long-standing dream of playing in the now-national competition.

But, suddenly, so did every other SANFL club.

A Norwood/Sturt merger model jumped on the bandwagon, along with the cartel making up Central/North/West/Eagles followed even by a late play from Glenelg and South to form an alliance.

With this power struggle unfolding quite publicly in the background, Port Adelaide would start the 1994 season in typical fashion with three straight wins.

However things were soon to turn sour.

With injuries and form lapses to key players and the burden of expectation building, the Magpies would lose seven out of their next ten games to fall out of the top five and appear likely to miss the finals for the first time since 1985.

And with this form line you can only imagine the ridicule that was coming the club’s way in regards to their AFL aspirations...

“Port Adelaide is not even the best team in South Australia."

"They won’t make the SANFL finals and they want to play in the AFL as the second South Australian team with the Crows?"

"What a joke!”

These were all common themes aimed at anyone associated with Port Adelaide, or brave enough to promote their credentials away from Alberton Oval.

The barbs certainly started to mount on the terraces of suburban grounds throughout the winter of 1994.

But as we all know (and suspect those who ridiculed Port Adelaide feared deep within), it is very foolish to write-off Port Adelaide.

Incredibly, Port Adelaide would click into form and win their next nine games in succession by an average of 50 points to go from also-rans to second on the ladder as the competition entered the finals.

The First Challenge: A draw, extra time, extra special

The first week of the finals saw Port Adelaide take on Central District in the qualifying final - a game that would simply add another layer of intrigue and charm to the Magpies’ already remarkable campaign.

After a tight contest for most of the afternoon, Central would forge clear late in the last quarter to lead by seven points with just over a minute remaining.

But with less than a minute on the clock and the hands of time passing rapidly, legendary Port Adelaide forward Scott Hodges, who in 1994 stepped away from the limelight of Crows duties in the AFL to instead play with the club he loved in the SANFL, would kick truly from the goal square to reduce the margin to a point.

All manner of chaos would follow with players from both sides putting life and limb on the line, and with under ten seconds remaining Port Adelaide midfielder Darryl Borlase popped up like a sprinkler on the attacking side of a stoppage.

His flying shot at goal from 40 metres out would sail across the face of goal for a minor score and ensure the first draw in SANFL finals history.

Extra-time soon followed and after 127 minutes of playing time, Tony Malakellis again broke the deadlock with a goal and another major four minutes later from Hodges saw the Magpies progress to the Second Semi Final against the Eagles.

Disaster and redemption

This semi final against Woodville-West Torrens would prove to be a disaster for Port Adelaide.

For the third time in the year the Eagles proved far too strong and they smashed the Magpies by a massive 73 points to progress straight through to the Grand Final ... after the obligatory week's rest of course.

Earlier in the year they had beaten the Magpies by 65 points at Football Park and 52 points at Woodville.

Port did get one back late in the year at Alberton but this seemed a lifetime ago.

And the doomsayers reemerged...

“Port Adelaide are too old and too slow,” decreed the experts while many others predicted the Eagles were certain to go back-to-back after their premiership success in 1993; apparently a new powerhouse of the SANFL was evolving after the merger of Woodville and West Torrens at the end of the 1990 season.

Port would be pitted against Central again this time in the preliminary final with the winner to take on the Eagles on the first Sunday of October.

There was to be no nail biter this time around. An angry Port Adelaide, desperate for another crack at the reigning premiers, steamrolled a hapless Central outfit to the tune of 90 points.

So back to that memorable day, SANFL Grand Final Day, Sunday 2 October 1994.

A ticket to greater heights

The Eagles were unbackable favourites.

In fact, the bookmaker odds for an Eagles win paid little more than bank interest, and the so-called footy experts were no different.

The narrative was clear – the Eagles would be far too good for an old, tired Port Adelaide.

After all, how could Port Adelaide turn around a 73-point loss to the Eagles from a fortnight earlier, especially after the Eagles had an extra week’s rest?

The first quarter would start under grey Football Park skies, drizzling rain and within a blink of an eye – the first 20 minutes to be exact – the Eagles led the Magpies by six goals to zip.

Nothing. Zlich. Nada.

The bookmakers and experts appeared spot on.

And as the commentators observed, "The Eagles are absolutely on fire."

With a measly two behinds on the brink of quarter time, Port Adelaide, many felt, was all at sea.

The Magpies – courtesy of consecutive goals to captain Tim Ginever and Hodges – closed the gap to four goals at quarter-time but given the wet conditions and their heavy legs after three consecutive finals games, it still appeared a mountain too big to climb.

An absolute arm wrestle ensued in the second quarter but the Eagles still held a comfortable lead at half-time.

Throughout a gripping third quarter the Magpies started to will themselves back into the game. Sterling performances from midfield warriors such as Stephen Williams and Ginever ensured the Magpies regained the momentum by simply chasing, tackling, smothering and harassing their way into the contest.

By three quarter-time the game was truly in the balance despite the Eagles leading by 12 points on the scoreboard.

The Port Adelaide faithful - the true believers in the outer - was in full voice and by a minute into the last quarter was in a complete frenzy as Hodges sunk a long-range bomb straight through the centre of the northern end goals at Footy Park.

The gap closed again.

The tide was turning. In fact, it was soon to become a Magpie tsunami fuelled by the never-say-die attitude that has been part of our club’s DNA since 1870.

What followed was a Port Adelaide blitz.

Nine goals in 24 minutes, no less. Four more of which were kicked by Hodges.

It saw the mighty Magpies turn a 36-point first quarter deficit in the wet to a 37-point victory by the final siren.

It was an astonishing turnaround - 73 points to be exact - ironically the same margin that the Eagles won by a fortnight earlier in the second semi.

As a sea of black and white rejoiced in the terraces, where, unbeknownst to many, AFL chief executive Ross Oakley was sitting along with SANFL president Max Basheer and nod knowingly that Port Adelaide would be the second South Australian side to be admitted into the national competition.

If there was any reason to doubt before, this famous day removed any uncertainty: Port Adelaide simply had to be in the AFL.

For nobody could compete with the Port Adelaide community on that famous afternoon – a united supporter base that truly believed, a team that simply refused to lie down, and a club that had higher ambitions well within its sight.

As a club we will be forever indebted to all past Port Adelaide premiership teams but especially the class of ’94, for coach John Cahill and his champion team consisting of the likes of Ginever, Williams, Hodges, George Fiacchi, Roger Delaney, Darren Smith, Rohan Smith and young Jack Oatey Medallist Darryl Wakelin had guaranteed Port Adelaide’s rise to the AFL.

Oh and those doomsayers and critics were nearly right when they labelled the 1994 Magpies premiership team as “too old and too slow”...

They just forget to add “too good”.
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs