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Double the talent: Footballers who played cricket

Mark Shephard  December 26, 2017 11:43 AM

McLean_Bob.jpg

Port Adelaide legend A.R 'Bob' McLean was also a distinguished cricketer. PHOTO: SANFL. 

WITH the Ashes cricket series well entrenched in the Australian summer, it’s interesting to ponder some of the exploits of Port Adelaide footballers who also graced the cricket field with distinction. 

As well as forging successful football careers at Port Adelaide, Eric Freeman, Neil Hawke and Ernie Jones all played Test cricket for Australia, while Bob McLean and Craig Bradley played first class cricket for South Australia.

Eric ‘Fritzy’ Freeman played 115 games of league football for Port Adelaide between 1964 and 1971.  As the side’s full forward, he booted 390 goals during his career, and was Port Adelaide’s leading goal-kicker five times (1965, 1966, 1967, 1970 and 1971); in 1966, his 81 goals saw him also top the SANFL goal-kicking list for that season. On 8 August 1970 (round 17), Eric kicked a remarkable 14 goals 4 behinds against Woodville at Woodville Oval (with the Magpies winning by 169 points – 31.25 [211] to 6.6 [42]).

Eric also played 11 test cricket matches for Australia as an all-rounder (right hand batsman and right arm fast-medium bowler) from 1968-1970 (Baggy green cap number 244). He played three tests against India, two against England and South Africa and four against the West Indies. He took 34 test wickets at an average of 33.2, with a best bowling performance of 4/52 against the West Indies in 1968-69. As a batsman, he scored 345 runs at an average of 19.2, with a top score of 76. He has the distinction of being the first batsman in test history to hit a six to ‘get off the mark’ in his test debut. He made one first class century, belting 116 for Australia against Northamptonshire in England in May 1968. In Sheffield Shield cricket, Eric twice took 8 wickets in an innings – 8/47 against New Zealand in 1967-68 and 8/64 versus New South Wales in 1970-71. On his return from the 1968 Ashes series against England, Eric walked off the plane to be greeted by Fos Williams who convinced him to play in the SANFL football finals series which had just started. The following Saturday Eric came off the bench at the 8 minute mark of the last quarter in the Second Semi-Final against Sturt and immediately had an impact, kicking two quick goals. In the Grand Final against Sturt two weeks later, he was Port’s only multiple goal-kicker for the game, kicking 2.2 after coming on early in the third quarter.

Neil Hawke, born in Cheltenham just a stone’s throw from Alberton Oval, played only one season of league football with Port Adelaide in 1957. But what a season it was! In just 5 games, he kicked 27 goals including a remarkable 15 goals against South Adelaide in round 16 at Adelaide Oval on 17 August in his third match. In 1958 he moved to East Perth in the WAFL (winning premierships with the Royals in 1958 and 1959 and kicking 114 goals in 1959). Neil returned to South Australia in 1962 where he completed his football career with West Torrens.

As a cricketer, Neil played 27 tests for Australia from 1963 to 1969. Like Freeman, he was an all-rounder (right hand batsman and right arm fast-medium bowler). Neil scored 365 runs at an average of 16.6, with a top score of 45 not out. He took 91 test wickets at an average of 29.4, with a best test bowling performance of 7/105 (versus England in Sydney in the 1965-66 Ashes series). Playing for South Australia, he was a member of their Sheffield Shield winning team of 1963/64 and took 8/61 against New South Wales in 1967-68.

Ernest (‘Ernie’) Jones was a remarkable all-round South Australian sportsperson around the turn of the 19th century. Like Hawke, Jones played only season of league football for Port Adelaide in 1901, finishing with 19 games for the Magpies; but he was instrumental in helping Port rise from last place on the premiership ladder in 1900 to runner-up to Norwood in the 1901 Grand Final, which was Ernie’s last game of league football. In the 7 seasons prior, Ernie played in four premierships for South Adelaide and then captained North Adelaide to its first-ever premiership in 1900 (against South!).

Nicknamed ‘Jonah’ and born in Auburn in South Australia’s Mid North, Jones was also a firebrand right arm fast bowler who played 19 tests for Australia from 1894-5 to 1902 and took 64 test wickets at an average of 29.01. His best bowling figures in an innings were 7/88 and in a match were 10/164. Jones made his test debut against England in Sydney in December 1894. He went on three Ashes tours of England in 1896, 1898 and 1902. In his first match on English soil, he played for the Australian touring team against a Lord Sheffield X1 at Sheffield Park in Surrey. Folklore has it that Jones had the famous England batsman WG Grace ‘dancing around the crease’ with his first three balls, and then his fourth ball saw Grace throw his head back, with the ball ‘parting his beard’ on the way through to the keeper! 

Allan Robert (‘Bob’) McLean is a true legend of the Port Adelaide Football Club. At 194cm and 99 kg, ‘Big Bob’ was an imposing figure on the football field as the Magpies’ leading ruckman (and forward) in his 147 games for the club from 1939 to 1948. He played in the 1939 premiership against West Torrens and topped Port’s goal-kicking four times in 1940, 1941, 1947 and 1948 for a career tally of 414 goals; his 80 goals in 1947 saw him also win the SANFL leading goal-kicker award for that season. Prior to joining Port, Bob played 73 league football for Norwood (but we won’t hold that against him) and he also played 3 games for St Kilda in 1941. Following his playing career, Bob turned his hand to football administration and was Port Adelaide’s Club Secretary from 1949 to 1968 (as well as General Manager/Secretary from 1969 to 1980) and Club Chairman from 1983 to 1989. Not surprisingly he was inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 2007.

Bob was also a distinguished cricketer, playing 20 first class matches for South Australia from 1945/46 to 1950/51. As a right hand batsman and leg spin bowler, he made 897 runs at an average of 28.9 and took 65 wickets at 38.4. He made two first class hundreds during the one week late in December 1949 – 213 opening the batting for South Australia against Queensland at the Adelaide Oval, followed by 135 against Victoria at the MCG. 

Craig Bradley played 98 games of league football for Port Adelaide from 1981 to 1985. ‘Braddles’ made a memorable debut for Port as a 17-year-old in the 1981 season, when he played in the Magpies’ winning premiership team against Glenelg. He won the club’s Best and Fairest award in 1982, 1984 and 1985. He then went to Carlton in 1986, for whom he played a further 375 games from 1986 to 2002. He was named as a wingman in Port Adelaide’s ‘Greatest Team 1870 to 2000’. He was inducted into both the South Australian Football Hall of Fame and the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 2006.

As a cricketer, Craig was a stylish right-handed batsman who played first class cricket for both South Australia (2 matches in 1983/84) and Victoria (2 matches in 1989/90). Across those 4 matches, he made 124 runs at an average of 17.7, with a highest score of 46.  As a junior cricketer, he played for Australia’s Under 19 team, making a century against Pakistan at the WACA.

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