Neil Kerley Retired SANFL Player and Coach
Donald Neil Kerley is a retired Australian Rules football player and coach.
He was born on 20th of February in 1934 in Barmera, South Australia. He was nicknamed by his friends as Knucklesor Neil while to the football fans he was known as King Kerley or Kerls. He is known for taking three clubs, where he either played or coached, to the SANFL (South Australian National Football League) premierships.
Neil Kerley grew up on a fruit block in South Australia. As a young boy, he was a Norwood supporter.
When he was sixteen, Kerley left home and headed north on his motorbike. For two years, he worked on cattle stations to gain the skills and experience he needed to become an owner or manager.
At the age of eighteen, Neil Kerley was called for National Service and was stationed in the Adelaide Hills at the Woodside Barracks. While he was based there, a friend invited him to attend a Norwood game. Norwood was then known as The Demons and they had heard of Kerley’s skills in football.
The Demons wanted to recruit Neil Kerley, but turned down the offer because he didn’t like the way he was welcomed. A week later, West Adelaide approached him and he decided to play for them.
Career as Player
Neil Kerley started his football career at the age of fifteen. In 1948, he began playing senior league football at the Riverland Football League with Barmera.Between 1952 and 1969, he played mostly in the South Australian National Football League (SANFL).
When Neil Kerley started playing football, most players only played a single position at the field.However, Neil was capable of playing any position including that of a ruckman. Although he was not very tall, his ability to jump made him one of the best ruckmen in the league.
In 1952, he played his first game with the South Australian National Football League (SANFL) as a reserve. The game was at Thebarton Oval against West Torreans.
Captain-coach Brian Faehse was injured at the beginning of the game and Neil played centre half-back in his place. This was the only game that he played in the entire season.
After heading North in 1953 to workas a truck driverat a tent camp near the rocket testing range in Koolymilka, Neil Kerley was made the captain-coach for a local league at the age of 19. He led this team to the premiership and won the league’s Mail Medal.
Neil Kerley was approached by the former coach of the West Adelaide, who convinced Neil to take the role of coach in his place for the North Whyalla in the WFL (Whyalla Football League).
After becoming the coach for North Whyalla in 1954, Neil Kerley led the team to the 1954 and the 1955 premierships. In 1955, he himself played with West Adelaide, making this his second game with the South Australian National Football League (SANFL).
After that, the club registered him as a player. Neil wanted to join the South Gambier at the South-East and Border Football League as a playing coach in 1956, but West Adelaide convinced him otherwise. Kerley was persuaded to start a serious career in the South Australian National Football League (SANFL) and also helped findSouth Gambier another coach to replace him.
In his first season as a playing coach for West Adelaide, Neil led the team to the Grand Finals, where they played at the Adelaide Oval against Port Adelaide.
However, he wasn’t able to lead them to victory. This Grand Final was the first of the four that he lost during the time he was a West Adelaide player or coach.In 1958, Neil won four Best and Fairest awards for the West Adelaide club and was made captain in 1959.
Jack Oatey was the West coach prior to 1961. Neil succeeded himin the same year and led the club to its first premiership win since 1947. West had a 109 (16.13) to 73 (11.7) win over Norwood; and because the game was played on a hot day of35 degrees, this became known as “The Turkish Bath Grand Final”.
The heat helped the West because they got a week’s restonce they had won their second semi-final against Port. Meanwhile Norwood still had to play Port to make the Grand Finals. Neil Kerley was leading the first ruckman; he got three hand balls, six marks and 23 kicks.
Neil Kerley was awarded the Best and Fairest in both 1961 and 1961. At the 1962 Grand Final of the South Australian National Football League (SANFL), he led the Bloods against Port Adelaide, but they were not able to win the rematch. The club let go of Neil as a captain-coach and replaced him with his team mate Dough Thomas.
However, he agreed to play through his remaining contract with the club.
In 1963, his contract with West Adelaide ended, and in 1964, he joined South Adelaide as a Captain-Coach.The Panthers were at the bottom before Neil signed on in 1963. However, Neil took them from the last place to the South Australian National Football League (SANFL) premiership.
This was the last time the Panthers won the premiership till date. Neil was with the South Adelaide till 1966 and played 56 games for them.
Next, Neil signed on with Glenelg Football Club in 1967 as a player coach. He won the Best and Fairest award in 1967 and led the Glenelg Tigers against Sturt at the 1969 Grand Finals.He retired from league football in 1969 following the defeat to Sturt.
In 1970, he moved on to full-time coaching.
Neil played a total of 276 South Australian National Football League (SANFL) games and kicked 123 goals. He played sixteen seasons in his career which started in 1952.
Career as a Coach
Neil Kerley retired in 1969 and became a full-time coach for Glenelg in 1970. He led the Glenelg Tigers to the Grand Final in 1970, where they lost the game to Sturt.
In the 1971 and 1972 season, the Tigers were not able to make it to the finals and ended up in at the sixth position. However, 1973 was a good season for them as they finished the round of 21-game minor with a club best of 20 to 1.The only game that they lost during thatseason was in round eight when they played against North Adelaide at the Prospect Oval, home ground to the Roosters.
Still, he coached the club for another premiership where the team defeated North Adelaide at the Adelaide Oval by seven points. This was the last Grand Final game played at the Adelaide Oval.
He coached Glenelg for the 1974 and the 1975 South Australian National Football League (SANFL) Grand Finals. Sadly, the team lost the 1974 Grand Final to Sturt and the 1975 to Norwood. The 1976 season was the last season for Neil Kerley as the coach of Glenelg.
In 1977, Neil Kerley started coaching West Torrens. At that time, West Torrens had been under-performing for a long time. He managed to bring the team up from the bottom to the sixth position in 1977 and then to the fifth in 1978.
The club’s performance deteriorated once again in 1979, but in 1980 Kerley took the team to the last final game and the club finished in fifth place.
The president of West Adelaide Bob Lee club convinced Neil Kerley to join the club as coach in 1981.Through the late ‘60s and ‘70s, the team was at the sixth position and it was easy to defeat. When Kerley stepped in, he started recruiting strong players and came up with a game plan that led West Adelaide to defeat Sturt in the Grand Finals of 1983.
After a good season in ’83, West could not repeat the same performance again due to injuries, which made the team finish sixth in the 1984 season. Till date, the 1983 premiership that West won with Neil Kerley as their coach is the only one the team boast about till date.
After the 1984 season, in search of something new, Neil Kerley accepted the position of a Tender Captain and Fitness director for the campaign of South Australia’s America’s Cup. However, Kerley made a comeback as the coach for Centrals in 1988 and led them to the fourth place in the 1988 and 1989 seasons.
In 1991, the Adelaide Crows were newly formed in the Australian Football League and Neil Kerley was appointed as a Football Manager for the team. He was with the team till the 1991 season before he went back to coach West Adelaide in 1992. However, by 1992, the Bloods had lost many strong players to the newly formed Crows and they could only manage sixth place.
The club let go of Neil Kerley for the second time as coach. This was the end of Neil Kerley’s career as a South Australian National Football League (SANFL) coach. However, his was a rich career as he had coached 28 seasons since 1961 and remains the only coach who has won premierships over multiple clubs in three decades.
Neil Kerley is one of the six children born to Laurie and Lillian Kerley. He had four brothers and one sister. His father died when he was 11 years old in 1945. Neil’s father had served in the Australian Imperial Force and fought in the Second World War.
Neil’s mother died in 1992.
He married Barbara Gordon on 25th February, 1955 at St. Teresa’s Catholic Church while he was coaching North Whyalla. The couple have three children.
Neil Kerley has spent a lifetime with ups and downs. However, he will always be remembered by his teammates and team members due to his achievements and numerous contributions to the AFL.