AS PORT ADELAIDE celebrates the 150th anniversary of its foundation in 1870, legendary club figure John Cahill has reflected on his involvement at Alberton.
Cahill has spent 63 of his 80 years immersed at Port Adelaide, leaving a remarkable legacy of achievements and records in his wake, but he revealed his relationship with the club almost never began.
Growing up Cahill was a South Adelaide support, idolising dual Magarey Medallist Jim Deane who himself had a crossroads moment with Port Adelaide as the club’s preferred coaching candidate before a failed clearance pathed the way for Fos Williams to take the reins.
“I boarded with my Aunty in Sturt Street one night a week so I put an Adelaide address so I could play for South Adelaide,” Cahill revealed on Adelaide radio on Tuesday morning.
“I actually lived in the Port Adelaide area.”
However, after shining brightly during his brief stint with the Panthers juniors (winning the 1956 McCallum Medal – SANFL under-17 best and fairest), a discussion with his father lead Cahill to Alberton to ask for permission to train with Port.
After overcoming his allegiances the other side of South Road, Cahill quickly landed on his feet at Alberton and caught the eye of the selectors with his brilliant play in the juniors and soon began to feel at home North of Cheltenham.
“In the under-19s – or the senior colts as we called it – I knew the reputation of Port Adelaide and probably that’s what turns you against them because they were so successful,” Cahill said.
“But the next year I made the A-grade list.
“I was really nervous and I walked into the A-grade rooms for the first time and a guy called Chicken Hayes – Neville Hayes, a brilliant player – as I walked into the rooms he said, ‘Johnny Cahill it’s great to have you here, well done!’
“And I just felt I belonged from that day. So really it was Chicken Hayes that made me feel like I belonged at Port Adelaide. He was the one.”
Port Adelaide’s legacy through 150 years is that of unrivalled success – 37 senior premierships, four times Champions of Australia and the only club to rise from suburbia to the national stage.
Cahill credits the club’s achievements to the high standards for success and professionalism that have been rooted in the foundations at Alberton Oval.
“I think because (the club) demands a lot,” Cahill says of Port Adelaide’s accomplishments.
“We had a set of rules. Fos was very hard. We had Bob McLean, as good of administrator as you’d get anywhere and just a legend.
“Bob was terrific, Fos was a demanding coach, would do it all himself, so they set good standards and didn’t really accept much rubbish.”
Cahill’s time with Port Adelaide tells an incredible tale – four premierships as a player player (1959, 1962, 1963, 1965), an astounding 10 as coach (1977, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1995), and being entrusted with overseeing Port’s entry to the AFL as coach.
It was as a coach that Cahill felt he had more of an impact and revelled in doing things the Port Adelaide way.
“I think I enjoyed coaching more,” he said.
“I loved coaching and it was something I felt I was always going to do.”
After finishing his playing career in 1973, collecting a best and fairest and leading goalkicker award on the way out, Cahill took over as coach from Fos Williams as he departed for West Adelaide.
It wasn’t long until Port Adelaide appeared in a premiership decider under Cahill’s watch. While the 1976 Grand Final would not go Port’s way, it is a moment in time he cites as galvanising inspiration for the period of success that would soon follow.
“’76 we made the Grand Final and we lost it. We shouldn’t have lost it really,” Cahill recalled.
“We had the best team in my opinion, but Jack Oatey was a very good coach and I was a pleaser. As a coach you cannot be a pleaser. You can’t want everyone to like you, that doesn’t happen.
“So driving home Grand Final night and we’d lost. I never blame anyone, it was always my fault and I thought, ‘What could I have done better?’ and I thought I could have been harder and tougher.
“From then on I did it my way … they had to train the way I wanted.
“So it was ’76 (Cahill’s turning point as a coach). I lost ’76 because I didn’t coach as well as I could have, that is my opinion. Then I won the next 10 I was in.”
Over its 150 year journey Port Adelaide became known for their ruthless commitment to winning.
The club’s reputation was forged on peerless dedication and aggression towards success, while inspiration from his contemporaries also helped shape Cahill’s coaching style.
“I took my coaching style from three people,” Cahill revealed.
“I took the commitment from Fos – he was dedicated, he was fearless.
“I took leadership and inspiration from (Neil) Kerley, he had that, it was a gift. You talk to the players that played under him, he was inspiring.
“And I took the skill from Oatey. Oatey saw handball before we did it and I could see it was carving up the game.”
By the time Port had decided to make its bid for the national competition in the 1990s, the club’s identity and self-belief had been well established.
Cahill credits this resolve with how the club handled the pressure and hostility directed towards Alberton as Port dreamed of competing in the AFL.
“That was really hard. It (bidding for the AFL license) turned the rest of the state against us,” Cahill said.
“They didn’t realise we just believed in ourselves, we wanted to play well, were really competitive and we had a winning edge.
“A strong successful culture breeds a winning attitude. That was the one we worked on – our culture was so successful that we had a winning attitude.
“And we just backed that in all the way.”