THEY said we couldn't do it; we've shown what Port Adelaide is made of - we beat everyone."

Stephen Williams let it be known exactly how he felt as ABC Television commentator, the late Mike Parsons, thrust a microphone before the victorious Port Adelaide coach while the celebrations began around Football Park.

Port Adelaide had - on the 25th anniversary of the SANFL adopting a top-five final series - finally completed the tightrope walk on the four-week knockout run to the premiership.

"Everyone talks about Norwood doing it from fifth (in 1984); fourth or fifth, it's the same - you have to win four knock-out finals," said Williams this week.

And Port Adelaide reached the 1998 SANFL grand final with assertive conviction winning the elimination final against Central District by 61 points, the first semi-final against Norwood by 76 points and the preliminary final against West Adelaide by 77 points. A collective winning margin of 214 points in three sudden-death finals.

This path set up the classic Port Adelaide-Sturt finale - the sixth since 1965 when Williams' father Fos secured Port Adelaide's 23rd premiership to stand alone as South Australia's most successful league football club.

"As a kid," said Williams, who was four-years-old in 1965 when Port Adelaide beat Sturt by three points before a record crowd at Adelaide Oval, "I had lived those grand final losses to Sturt (in 1966, 1967 and 1968), so this grand final had a lot of significance ..."

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Flashback: Port v Sturt 1998 Grand Final - PTV

Flashback to our win over Sturt in the 1998 Grand Final

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But first, let's set the scene ....

Season 1998 was the second of Port Adelaide existing in two leagues, the national AFL and suburban SANFL. And the SA Football Commission had drawn the line through Port Adelaide's heart by demanding no links between the two operations, forcing the SANFL squad to work at Ethelton (a stone's throw from the club's original home at Buck's Flat, Glanville). The AFL and SANFL commercial operations could not even sell memorabilia at the same souvenir stand. 

"The club did a great job setting up our new training base at Ethelton, but it was different to Alberton Oval (where the AFL squad was based)," said Williams. "An open park, no fence, no grandstands ... but I never heard anyone complain. We wanted to be in the AFL; we did that as a club. And it was important to keep standing up as Port Adelaide in the SANFL."

The SANFL relented on access to Alberton Oval in 2001, allowing one training session each week for Williams' squad. The total removal of the SANFL's restrictions became the "One Club" theme from 2010 - and the genesis for the "Never Tear Us Apart" anthem and philosophy today.

Centre half-back Brian Leys describes the move to Ethelton as a non-issue when compared with all the other questions posed of his Port Adelaide team-mates in 1998.

"Game day was still at Alberton - and our driving force was about winning," Leys said. "It wasn't, 'Look at what is happening to us; we're training at Ethelton, it's all about the AFL ...'

"Our motivation was built around proving people who did not believe in us in the SANFL ... and there was no shortage of them."

Port Adelaide had lost its crown as the SANFL premier to traditional rival Norwood in a disappointing grand final at Football Park in 1997.

"We had done a pretty good job getting there," said Williams, "particularly when we beat (minor premier Norwood) in the second semi-final (by 22 points). The grand final was not so memorable."

Brian Leys and his teammates proved many doubters wrong to propel Port Adelaide to premiership glory in 1998.

Port Adelaide started the path of redemption by opening Season 1998 with four consecutive wins. For the rest of the home-and-away series, Port Adelaide could not manage more than two successive wins - a bad sign leading into a finals campaign in which it would need to win four consecutive finals.

"Obviously," says Williams of the 12-8 win-loss count that had Port Adelaide ranked fourth on the 25th anniversary of the first SANFL top-five major round, "we had slumped during the year. 

"But we were finding form at the end of the year (winning three of the last five games after a bye, including ominous thrashings of 1997 premiers Norwood by 60 points at Alberton in round 22 and North Adelaide by 64 points at Prospect in round 23).

"It all came together during the finals. When it opened (against Central District in the elimination final) with (19-year-old) Peter Burgoyne kicking a couple of ripper goals, we were on a roll."

Adds Leys: "Look at what Bryan Bienke did in that final series ... he must have kicked 19 goals in those four finals; he was amazing."

As Williams noted on the way to collecting the Thomas Seymour Hill premiership trophy for the second time as a coach (after six as a player), Port Adelaide did beat everyone on the path to the grand final against Sturt - and convincingly.

Let it sink in again: Central District by 61 points in the elimination final. Norwood by 76 points in the first semi-final to dethrone the champions. West Adelaide by 77 points in the preliminary final. This was emphatic form. They scored 57.32 (374); they conceded 26.14 170). By percentage, the count was 68.75. 

"We're averaging 10-goal wins, in finals," Leys said. "We went into those finals wanting to prove people wrong. You can say that is Port Adelaide every time it gets to finals. We always have that resolve at Port Adelaide to win finals when everyone wants to see us fail.

"But this finals series had its own story. We had not finished in the top three, so we did not have the double chance. We were a different group - no Ginever, no Fiacchi, no Delaney, no Smith. There had been a changing of the guard. And we had something to prove."

Williams notes he had a group of Port Adelaide players - in particular Alf Steed and Mark Clayton - who had been at the club for a long time, waiting for their loyalty to be rewarded with success in league grand finals.

"That's what makes this premiership so special - the reward for guys who had been with us for a long time and deserved their moment," Williams said. "It's hard to take being at Port Adelaide for a long career without a premiership."

You just have to admire them, they never give up Port Adelaide. In the finals they have been devastating.

ABC commentator David McKay

Stephen Williams lofts the Thomas Seymour Hill premiership cup with his team after their ominous charge through the 1998 finals.

Sturt was minor premier - with a 16-4 win-loss record, three wins clear of West Adelaide and Norwood. It had a 1-1 count against Port Adelaide, winning by 20 points at Adelaide Oval on May 22; losing by 32 points at Alberton Oval on July 25.

"And they (Sturt) did not want to play us," Leys said. "They did not have a good score against us in the '90s. They might tell a different story, but if they were honest they would say they wanted to play someone else in that grand final. 

"We are a club built on finals success," said Leys, who joined Port Adelaide in 1995 after 110 AFL games with Richmond from 1988-1994. "When you come into the Port Adelaide team, you are among people who know what grand finals are about. This is a great club to be with; the drive to be successful is second to none.

"And they (Sturt) feared us. They knew we had the form to beat them. We had a style of play that would put them off their game. We were demanding of each other. 

"They were playing in their first grand final for a long time (1983); we had been there for almost of all the 90s. We knew we could beat them. We were physical - as they found out when Tom Carr made that bump on Nathon Irvin (in the second term).

"That was a great grand final ... an open game of footy."

Leys lined up on Port Adelaide AFL-listed ruckman-forward Barnaby French as Sturt's centre half-forward. Even before the first bounce Leys was asserting his authority, testing just how nervous the Sturt players were in facing Port Adelaide.

"They (Sturt) changed their line-up that day ... and that didn't bother us either," Leys said. "They moved Stephen White from centre half-forward to a forward pocket to put Barnaby at centre half-forward. No issue for us." 

Neither White nor French scored a goal; nor a behind and their collective disposal count was 19 and just four marks.

After the torment of the 1997 grand final, Chalmers cleared away some demons by kicking the first goal of the 1998 play-off - and finished the game with three goals and acknowledged as the best-afield with the Jack Oatey Medal.

Bryan Beinke kicked four goals to take his tally during the final series to 19 - four in the elimination final against Central District; seven in the first semi-final against Norwood and four in the preliminary final against West Adelaide. His season ended with a flag, the AR McLean Medal as Port Adelaide best-and-fairest and leading goalkicker with 39 goals.

To come from the elimination final is the best the club has ever done.

Stephen Williams on accepting the 1998 SANFL flag

Alf Steed celebrates with the 1998 premiership flag.

In reflecting on the 1998 triumph, Williams hit on the extraordinary success Port Adelaide achieved in the 1990s that almost perfectly reflects the start of the "Golden Era" in the 1950s under his father Fos' watch.

FIFTIES: Premierships in 1951 and from 1954-1959 with Geof Motley collecting the sixth of the six-in-a-row in 1959. Grand final loss to West Torrens in 1953.

NINETIES: Premierships in 1990, 1992, 1994-1996 and 1998-1999 with John Cahill handing the reigns to Williams midway through 1996 to concentrate on Port Adelaide's rise to the AFL. Grand final loss to Norwood in 1997.

"Losing Brett Chalmers in the first minute with a knee injury, playing just one ruck that left (teenager Warren Tredrea) 'Tredders' to ruck was a disaster," says Williams of the 1997 SANFL grand final.

"To respond with flags against Sturt in 1998 and Norwood in '99 was fantastic.

"(Had '97 been different) we would have won six in a row .... Still, I reckon the guys in the '50s deserve that record to themselves."

There is something about Port Adelaide in September. You can't help but admire and respect how they come together to achieve success in finals.

Carlton premiership player Ken Sheldon


Port Adelaide has ranked fourth five times in the SANFL top-five finals series that was introduced in 1973.

1973 - lost in elimination final to Norwood at Norwood Oval

1975 - lost in preliminary final to Norwood at Football Park

1978 - lost in preliminary final to Norwood at Football Park

1991 - lost in elimination final to West Adelaide at Football Park

1998 - unbeaten in four finals

Elimination final - d Central District by 61 points

First semi-final - d Norwood by 76 points

Preliminary final - d West Adelaide by 77 points


Football Park, October 4 

Port Adelaide     2.2   4.4   7.7    11.9 (75)

Sturt                    2.4   4.8   5.12   9.12 (66)

BEST - Port Adelaide: Chalmers, Brown, Poulton, Beinke, Carter, Borlase. Sturt: Atkinson, Weatherald, Geddes, Thredgold, Maloney, Irvin.

GOALS - Port Adelaide: Beinke 4, Chalmers 3, Bamford, Brown, Obst, Steed. Sturt: Burton 3, Irvin, Lange 2, Kennett, Weatherald.

JACK OATEY MEDAL: Brett Chalmers

CROWD: 44,838


Port Adelaide 

F: B. Beinke, S. Hodges, A. Steed

HF: D. Brown, B. Chalmers, P. Burgoyne 

C: S. Tregenza, D. Borlase (c), T. Ormond-Allen

HB: S. Carter, B. Leys, J. Poulton 

B: N. Fiegert, R. Ambrose, T. Carr

1R: D. Jaques, D. Morgan, A. Bamford

Interchange: A. Obst, P. Northeast, M. Ashley

Coach: Stephen Williams


F: S. White, J. Burton, M. Powell

HF: T. Kennett, B. French, J. Twitt

C: N. Irvin, B. Atkinson, B. Lennon

HB: M. Pitura, M. Soderstrom, S. Maloney

B: S. Robinson, C. Thredgold (c), A. Geddes

1R: S. Feast, J. Richter, T. Weatherald

Interchange: M. Katinyeri, A. Lange, A. Whiteman

Coach: Phil Carman