DUAL PREMIERSHIP COACH Stephen Williams has outlined how he helped steer Port Adelaide to the SANFL’s ultimate success in the midst of the club being torn apart in the late 1990s.
Speaking at the club’s 150th Anniversary Gala event at a packed Adelaide Convention Centre on Friday night, Williams recalled how the players pushed on to claim the 1998 and 1999 premierships amid some difficult circumstances.
Williams became the club’s SANFL coach during the 1996 season, taking over from ten-time premiership coach John Cahill, who moved on to become the club’s inaugural AFL coach.
Williams would preside over an important time in the club’s history, as it entered the AFL, and the SANFL team was forced to train at Ethelton and separate its administration.
“It was one of those things where the new facility hadn’t been built at Alberton and there wasn’t enough room to have two clubs train at the one ground,” Williams said.
“It was hard, particularly for the guys who had been at Port Adelaide for their whole lives, they’d won premierships, they’d been star players and all of a sudden, you’re at a suburban club, there’s no fencing around it, there were people walking their dogs at training.
“I can remember actually one night a bull terrier just screaming across the oval while we were doing a drill but to the credit of the board… they really got in there and the facilities almost mirrored what we had at Alberton.
“The lockers were there, we had a big bath and it was actually a newer version of what was under the old stand at Alberton so although we got moved away and it wasn’t ideal, we were given the best facilities that we could probably have and better than what most SANFL clubs had anyway so the club did look after us in that regard.”
And while taking over from a ten-time premiership winning coach in John Cahill and then being forced away from Alberton would be intimidating for most, Williams said he took it in his stride.
He explained that the platform for success was already there, regardless of facilities or who was at the helm.
“Obviously we’d had fantastic success under Jack – ten premierships,” Williams explained.
“It was always going to be a hard act to follow but I had a lot of experience behind me with obviously Dad at home, and (brother) Mark and (sister) Jenny, Mum always had her opinions as well so I had some fantastic people around me.
“Guys like Gary Tredrea, Geoff Morris so it made the transition easier, plus the guys that I played with, I had a great respect for them and they had a great respect for me.
“They knew the job had to be done and the winning formula was there so it was just about keeping the ship steady and on we go.”
Cahill was part of a panel with Williams, along with then administrator Greg Boulton, and the legendary coach and four-time premiership player remembered what it was like leading the side in the SANFL during the club’s push to enter the AFL in the 1990s.
He explained that the playing group was shielded from any pressure to win, but always wanted to anyway.
“We didn’t really notice it because we needed to win games,” Cahill said.
“We were there to play football. The board, they had the vision so we left off-field to them.”