WHO should be Port Adelaide's first "Legend" in the Australian Football Hall of Fame?
The candidates would be:
Bob Quinn, the war hero who embodied Port Adelaide spirit and passion while earning Magarey Medals on each side of his service in north Africa and the Pacific during World War II,
Fos Williams, another World War II serviceman who came to Port Adelaide in 1950 to set the premiership-pinned foundation that inspired the ultimate rise from suburbia to the national AFL,
John Cahill, the record-equalling 10-time premiership coach who gave on-field substance to Port Adelaide's off-field campaign for an AFL licence and instant credibility in the national league,
Russell Ebert, the record-breaking four-time Magarey Medallist always regarded as one of the top-three players in SA football history (along with Barrie Robran and Malcolm Blight, who are both "Legends" in the Hall).
This can be a trick question.
Port Adelaide already has a "Legend" in the game's national Hall of Fame - a man who was a player, coach, umpire and media performer in three states across three decades: Haydn Bunton senior. And the champion rover's move to Port Adelaide in 1945 gave Bunton, after all his celebrated individual success, his only taste of a league football finals series.
Bunton played 119 VFL games for Fitzroy from 1931-1937, claiming the Brownlow in his debut season and in 1932 and 1935. The closest Fitzroy came to a top-four VFL final series with Bunton as a player was in 1933 when it ranked fifth, half a win behind Geelong.
From 1938-1941, Bunton - enticed to Perth with work - played 72 WAFL league games with Subiaco and was honoured with three of the WA league's Brownlow equivalent, the Sandover Medal in 1938, 1939 and 1941. The best finish for Subiaco with Bunton as captain-coach during these four years in the eight-team competition was sixth in 1940 and 1941.
In the Depression era of the 1930s, Australians had their morale lifted on the sporting stage by Phar Lap in thoroughbred racing, Sir Donald Bradman in cricket and Bunton in football while he achieved the unmatched collection of triple Brownlow and Sandover medals. In the early 1930s, Bradman and Bunton crossed paths to play one game for a New South Wales country cricket team.
At Fitzroy, Bunton was hailed for having "unlimited stamina, courage and the quickest mind of any footballer." On seeing his statue at the MCG - the bronze with Bunton leaping with the football tucked under his arm - noted writer Martin Flanagan commented: "He looks like Mercury, the Roman messenger of the gods."
Bunton was born in Albury, New South Wales in 1911. At 33, after being discharged from army service, he was on his way to Port Adelaide in 1945 for his swansong season as a player.
Port Adelaide secretary Charles Hayter completed the recruiting coup of the era - and paired two extraordinary rovers, Quinn and Bunton.
At first, the external expectation was based on Bunton coaching Port Adelaide, as he had done with little success at Fitzroy (2-16 win-loss record in 1936) and at Subiaco (16-31 across three seasons).
After flying from Perth to Adelaide to be met by Hayter at Parafield airfield in early May, Bunton declared he would concentrate on playing. Quinn, most appropriately, returned to Alberton as captain-coach for Season 1945 - regaining the leadership roles he had during the 1939 premiership-winning year and at the start of 1940 before he enlisted for war service while the season was in its early stages.
"I am looking forward to a season in Adelaide football because I like the style here," Bunton said. "I will not be a stranger to Port Adelaide as I've come up against Bobby Quinn, 'Bull' Reval and Lew Roberts before."
All that was needed was a clearance - or, more to the point, the paperwork from the clearance that WAFL club Subiaco had agreed to sign.
Unfortunately, despite Hayter sending a telegram to the WA Football League secretary asking for the clearance to be sent by air mail, the clearance was sent by regular post. It arrived too late - by about an hour - to meet the SANFL's requirements for issuing permits that week. And Port Adelaide was not going to push the issue after copping the SANFL's wrath a fortnight earlier over a mix-up on player permits.
After being forced to miss the round 2 clash against North Adelaide at Alberton Oval (won easily by Port Adelaide with a 61-point margin), Bunton was selected for the round 3 clash against Norwood at Kensington Oval on May 12.
The match marked the first league football match at the eastern ground in 47 years and drew the state governor Lieutenant-General Sir Willoughby Norrie for the opening ceremony that included his enacting the "first bounce" on the regrassed Kensington Oval.
In the pre-game inspection on the Friday, Bunton described Kensington Oval as "better than any suburban ground in Victoria and Western Australia".
After a deadlock at half-time, 5.3 each, Port Adelaide outplayed Norwood - 5.14 to 2.3 in the second half - to win by 29 points. But the critics were not kind towards Port Adelaide's star recruit with one football writer declaring: "Haydn Bunton was a disappointment. He rarely handled the ball and seemed to be completely out of touch."
By July, Bunton's performances in the league-leading Port Adelaide team drew more favourable attention from the national media.
In an interview with Hec de Lacy in the Sporting Globe, Bunton was, however, still needing to deal with criticism of his game, in particular his kicking:
I was a big man. I had to break out of packs at a speed which let me no chance to kick accurately. I tried to develop the stab kick, but I had to slow up to do it. That was useless to my style of play (in the VFL).
I therefore developed a quick handpass and racing on, called for the ball again.
When I went to Western Australia, I found that the crushes were less intense this. In Victoria. I think few faulted my kicking in Perth.
This season in Adelaide, I find the game more open. Further, I'm playing a different kind of game and my kicking isn't so bad.
Quinn, a master of the stab kick, could not understand how Bunton had been tagged by the critics and fans as a player with a poor kick. "Quite a good pass," was how Quinn summed up the kicking of his new team-mate at Port Adelaide.
Bunton played in 15 SANFL minor round games with Port Adelaide that claimed the minor premiership with a 15-2 win-loss record, four wins clear of second-placed Norwood but just six rather than eight premiership points clear.
(Port Adelaide's two premiership points from the season-opening win against West Torrens at Alberton Oval on April 28, 1945 were docked by the SANFL for fielding Whyalla recruit Colin Grimm without a permit. SANFL secretary Thomas Seymour Hill entered the Port Adelaide changerooms before the match warning club officials that Grimm could not play because the league's permit committee had not voted unanimously (it was 7-1) to register Grimm. Charles Hayter was far from impressed when the premiership points were docked telling the SANFL: "If you think Port Adelaide is going to take this lying down, you are wrong. You are dealing with a very famous club ... and I am not going to be responsible for what happens next." Hayter was prepared to take Port Adelaide out of the competition, as a predecessor John Sweeney had done before the 1902 SANFL finals series).
Port Adelaide's dominance in Season 1945 was signalled by Quinn leading his team to 12 consecutive wins from the start. In the last five games, Port Adelaide's two losses were to non-finalists Sturt and West Adelaide - and the 67-point loss to Sturt came with the key note: "The contention that the eclipse of Quinn marks an off day for Port Adelaide team seemed justified." Quinn was scoreless. Bunton managed 0.2
September 15, 1945 marked Bunton's 206th league game in club football - and first league final. Port Adelaide overcame a slow start to build a 24-point win at Adelaide Oval - and direct passage to the grand final - with an eight-goal second term.
Bunton kicked two goals in a semi-final that was noted for the dominance of ruckman Bob McLean in what was described as his "best display for the year ... Norwood had no answer to his reach in the ruck and desperate efforts to block him merely resulted in a stream of frees for interference".
Port Adelaide started the grand final against a raw but ambitious West Torrens team as favourites based on the head-to-head results between the teams: a 78-point win for Port Adelaide (with no premiership points) in the season-opener at Alberton Oval followed by a three-point win six weeks later by Port Adelaide at Thebarton Oval.
A record 8.3 start in the grand final - for a 32-point lead for Port Adelaide at quarter-time - built the impression Bunton would finish his league playing career with a premiership. But West Torrens' seven-goal second term changed this script. Port Adelaide lost this grand final by 13 points, 15.25 to 15.12.
In between the semi-final win against Norwood and the grand final loss to West Torrens, the football legend of Bob Quinn was enhanced with his second Magarey Medal. League chairman Eric Millhouse made the presentation on Adelaide Oval saging: "No more popular player has won this medal."
Quinn polled an impressive 45 votes; Bunton, two. Quinn's margin on the runner-up, Norwood wingman Doug Olds, was 17 votes: 45-28.
A season that began with inevitable fascination in Port Adelaide securing the talents of a triple Brownlow Medallist - with three Sandovers on the resume - ultimately ended with the legend status of Bob Quinn growing. Magarey Medallist for the second time. State captain of the South Australian team that overwhelmed Victoria by 52 points at Adelaide Oval. Leading goalkicker at Port Adelaide (51 goals). And club best-and-fairest champion for the third time. All while carrying the scars to his arms and legs from his war wounds, some that carried early fears he would not survive.
Bunton closed his playing career and turned to umpiring in the SANFL in 1946, quitting in protest when the SANFL chose future Hall of Fame umpire Ken Aplin to officiate the Port Adelaide-Norwood grand final.
"Evidently," said Bunton, "my interpretation of the rules does not suit the umpires board and its appointments seem most erratic. After receiving a lot of congratulatory messages from both players and officials in the West Adelaide and Port Adelaide teams after my exhibition in the preliminary final last Saturday I find myself suddenly thrown out. From reports I have received this season I thought I had done a good job, but it appears there is a certain amount of prejudice somewhere and I think it is better if I drop out as a league umpire in South Australia."
Bunton resisted returning to Victoria to take up the coaching job at North Adelaide in 1947. He resigned after failing to take North Adelaide to finals in 1947 (sixth) and 1948 (fifth) leaving future Hall of Famer Ken Farmer to lead the club to the flag in 1949.
Bunton turned to the media becoming a noted newspaper critic.
Bunton died on September 5, 1955 four days after being critically injured when his car crashed into three gum trees just north of Gawler.
The inaugural inductions to the Australian Football Hall of Fame included Bunton as a "Legend" for having "a particularly significant positive impact on the game of Australian football."
This certainly applies with Bob Quinn, Fos Williams, John Cahill, Russell Ebert ... and, from Port Adelaide stock, Craig Bradley - the only man to have played more than 500 senior games of Australian football in a grand career that began at Alberton and ended at Carlton with 19 state games with South Australia and nine international caps with Australia.
Port Adelaide's Hall of Fame greats are honoured in the Archives Collection, the limited-edition treasure of the club's unrivalled story in 150 years of Australian football. The book can be ordered here.