Neville Hayes (far left) was tough and uncompromising as an opponent, and off the field, was one of the most charming, gentle human beings you could meet.

NEVILLE HAYES had his reputation precede him. He was tough, very tough on the field - and yet quite the opposite when an opponent stopped being a rival on the final siren.

The contradiction was as true as the misread on his nickname of "Chicken" - a reworking of his middle name, Chic. "A gentle corruption of his second name," noted club boss Bob McLean at the time.

Hayes refused to be beaten - and embodied all Foster Williams expected as a captain and coach from his Port Adelaide players while he built a team that hated defeat.

Hayes was uncompromising - but his football was not always based on bash and crash, as was the way with Australian football (and Williams) during the 1950s. Hayes built his game on a solid serve of talent and speed ... and the extra herbs and spices were his aggressive approach to the contest and his opponents.

But this lasting image of the man who played in eight SANFL league premierships - including the record Six in a Row run from 1954-1959 - is his loyalty. A knee injury early during the 1965 season denied Hayes the right to savour a nine-premiership run with Motley, but the half-back duo shared so much else during their two-decade careers at Port Adelaide.

Across 13 seasons of league football, Hayes was true to one theme - winning the Port Adelaide way.

" 'Chicken' by nickname, but never by nature," wrote McLean in the club's centenary collection in 1970. "Neville Chic Hayes, one of the most dynamic half-backs this club has ever seen. If ever a footballer epitomised the saying, 'You play as you train' it was Neville Hayes. He was perpetual motion on the training track. There was never any hint of his loafing out of sight of the coach's eye. He had only one pace - flat out."

"Chicken" by name, but not by nature.

Fos Williams never had reason to question Hayes' devotion from the moment the local boy rose to league ranks in 1953 to start a 217-game run predominantly played on a half-back flank.

"A good footballer ...," Williams wrote of Hayes in his book Dynasty. "A good man. A great clubman. We could always rely on Neville to do whatever we needed for the team."

The man who truly appreciated Hayes' commitment was his Woodville High School colleague, Geof Motley.

In 1959, when Motley reluctantly succeeded Williams as captain-coach and inherited the challenge of extending the premiership run to an Australian record of six, Hayes ensured the transition from master to apprentice was seamless. He had Motley's back.

Motley never forgot who stood with him during that enormous challenge in stepping into Fos Williams' shoes ... and defending the premiership.

"I was delighted (and relieved) we were able to go on and win that premiership in 1959 ... and with my mate, 'Chicken' Hayes, of course," Motley said.

The two lads who were schoolmates, team-mates and best mates ultimately - and appropriately - became partners on the half-back line (flanking Greg Phillips) in Port Adelaide's Greatest Team (1870-2000).

Neville Hayes and Geof Motley pictured in Port Adelaide's 1963 side.

"Neville was exceptionally good as a player," Motley recalled of Hayes in the summer of 2022.

"He was a wonderful player. As hard as nails. He doesn't look like he was hard as nails, but he was a tough unit. He was one of the best hip-and-shoulder blokes I have ever seen. He never came off the line. 

"He would never stop running; his fitness level was phenomenal. He was quick, very quick. I wish I had been as quick as Neville. 

"He had a good kick that went where he wanted it to go all the time. There were blokes on hearing they would have Neville as their opponent, they would become nervous. He was a very important player for us. He would do over and above ...

"Rarely did he make a mistake. 

"We first met when we went to Woodville High School - in the days when we would play for the school in the morning and the colts for the club in the afternoon. We've been the greatest mates ever since. We know each other backwards. He used to even live at my place.

"He was a happy, go lucky bloke with his own sense of humour. He could say some clever and funny things from time to time."

Hayes followed Motley to the seniors at Port Adelaide in 1953 after an extraordinary apprenticeship in the juniors. He won the 1952 Tomkins Medal as the best player in the SANFL under-19 (senior colts). He was making his name as a half-forward. His move to half-back came after his league debut season was marked harshly by an errant handpass intended to Ron Leaver late in the 1953 SANFL grand final against West Torrens at Adelaide Oval. The play became a match-defining turnover.

"The way Neville put behind him that bad handpass in 1953 showed how determined he was to be a successful league footballer," Williams noted. "He made sure that for the rest of his career he was remembered for anything but that game."

No one ever questioned Hayes' devotion from the moment he rose to league ranks in 1953 to start a 217-game run.

Hayes defined the "Port Adelaide way". But more than any other quality in his football - and life - loyalty defined Hayes.

"Eight times a premiership player," recalled team-mate Steve Traynor. "That would tell you all you need to know about his football. That record speaks for itself - more than 200 games, two best-and-fairest titles (1957 and 1960) and a long record in State football (representing South Australia 21 times).

"And yes, he was a very, very fierce footballer. Neville played on a half-back flank in the era when they stood a half-forward flanker. They played an opponent rather than guarded space in a zone.

"Neville never let his opponent get away from him. People would say of Neville that if his opponent had to step off the football field to have a toilet break, 'Chicken' would still be stuck to his side. He gave nothing.

"But don't let anyone say he was just a tough stopper. He had very good football skills. He had so many outstanding football qualities: Good kick. Good mark. And very fit. He had outstanding pace. He was never beaten for effort or for heart. He was rarely beaten at all - he just would not allow it. His record sums up what he was as a footballer.

"Neville was the perfect player for Foster (Williams). When Fos was demanding 100 per cent from his players, he knew one player never needed to be told - 'Chicken' Hayes. He was hard, just as Fos liked it. When the heat was raised in finals, Fos knew 'Chicken' would not wilt. He brought more heat to the contest. He was tough."

Renowned as a "fierce" footballer, he was a player with a long list of outstanding football qualities.

On closing his league career in 1965, Hayes stood by Williams in the coaching ranks taking over the reserves team after starting his coaching apprenticeship in the junior grades. From the fans' terraces on the outer at Alberton Oval to the junior ranks in the changerooms was a young rover - and eventual league premiership captain - admiring Hayes for the legacy he had left for a new generation of Port Adelaide players. Brian Cunningham remembers Hayes as a great mate.

"Neville was my father's favourite player and when I sat on the boundary at Alberton watching Port Adelaide games, I could understand why," Cunningham said. "Dad loved Neville as a player. We all did. All those Port Adelaide players of that era never disappointed us. Neville was tough, he was hard - and you needed to be that way in such a physical game. But he also had a magnificent skill set. You don't play that many State games without those skills.

"By 1971, I made it up from the juniors to the reserves and had Neville as my coach for eight games. Gosh, he was good. He was such a motivating man. 

"And then after football I knew Neville by teaching at Prince Alfred College. Off the field he became a good friend. The tough bloke on the field was a beautiful man off the park. He was funny. He was a joker. He was just a wonderful man."

Hayes' status in South Australian football was acknowledged with his Hall of Fame induction at State level in 2002, at the same time the equivalent honour was bestowed on him at Port Adelaide. 

Hayes was just one of six players (along with Motley, John Abley, Dave Boyd, Ted Whelan and Lloyd Zucker) to feature in all six of Port Adelaide's consecutive flags from 1954-1959. He had to endure a broken collar bone twice to be part of the 1956 premiership side - the first in the season-opener  against Sturt at Alberton Oval and the second in the grand final triumph against West Adelaide. 

His rivals also remember Hayes as a quality footballer - and quality man.

Neville pictured with his wife of over 60 years, Margaret.

"He was talented, very quick ... and very aggressive," says Sturt premiership captain John Halbert, the 1961 Magarey Medallist.

"A lot of people will say that Neville was overly aggressive in a time when football was a tough game. That was the reputation that came with Neville. But in all my time as an opponent and a State team-mate I did not witness any element of his game that was over the top. He was very strong. He made his presence felt. He hated to be beaten - and he worked hard to make sure he was not beaten. He was true to everything you expected of Port Adelaide. And it was no different in State football. He was strong. He was aggressive. But he also stood out for being a very talented and very quick player.

"After our football careers ended, I came to know Neville through my teaching work when he was at Prince Alfred College. He was a very pleasant, happy individual."

Hayes' team-bonding character was noted - and appreciated - by young and old at Alberton.

"At 18, and as a new player in the team," recalled Traynor, "Neville was nine years my senior and he was mixing with young and old team-mates. He was tough on the field, but he was quite a gentle man off it."

Fellow Magarey Medallist Jeff Pash described Hayes as a "player of all-round gifts who backs his judgement".

West Torrens goalkicking hero and 1961 All-Australian Geoff Kingston saw at close hand the power of Hayes as a defender - and the contrast to the on-field reputation when Hayes was his State team-mate.

"Neville 'Chicken' Hayes ...he was anything but chicken," Kingston said. "He was as chicken as a Sherman Tank. 

"He was a puzzling contradiction - tough and uncompromising as an opponent, occasionally stepping outside the rules to whack you out of sight of the one umpire. 

"He and his defensive army - including Motley, Abley, Kretschmer, Whelan and Elleway - could scare the shit out of you; but as a State team mate - or socially - he was one of the most charming, gentle human beings you could meet."