Stephan Kernahan – Former Australian Rules Football Player
As we have seen in other profiles of top scoring Australian Rules Football players, success from a team perspective is not always a given.
Without a balance amongst all aspects of the game, having one or two leading goalkickers on a team is quite often a recipe for frustration in terms of team premierships if the players who fill the other roles do not pass muster.
It is not completely unheard of, however, for a top goalkicker to play on teams with consistently good winning records. Our look at this time will be at the exploits of the current number 15 on the Most Career AFL Goals list, a player from the Carlton Football Club by the name of Stephan Kernahan.
Stephan Kernahan Begins With Blues
Kernahan began with the Blues in 1986. He played in 25 games in his debut season, enabled by a good deal of experience gained from playing 136 games with Glenelg in the South Australian National Football League. He had chosen to stay in his birthplace of Adelaide even though he was signed by Carlton in 1981 in order to win a premiership with his mates, which he did in 1985.
Stephen Kernahan was immediately noticed as a potentially big-time goal scorer, but he was initially thwarted in two successive VFL Grand Finals when Glenelg was unable to get past Port Adelaide in 1981 and Norwood in 1982.
Frustration of a different sort came along in 1983. His Glenelg side was not doing all that well, losing its first 8 games and winning only 9 of 22 for the season. Adding to the ignominy of the situation, Kernahan was the top vote-getter for the Magarey Medal for the Best and Fairest of the SANFL, but was ruled ineligible due to an incident in round four that resulted in a suspension for round 5. He led the team in goal kicking that season and it seemed as though the pattern of top scorers playing for underachieving teams was becoming established.
Fortunately, that pattern was broken in 1985, when The Bays were able to prevail for a premiership over North Adelaide. Kernahan would be recognized with the Jack Oatey Medal as best on ground.
During this period, Kernahan played State of Origin games for South Australia. He was doing so as a full-forward when the side put an end to an 18 year losing streak against Victoria. He continued in this capacity throughout his days at Glenelg and Carlton. He certainly did nothing to sate the anticipation Carlton fans felt in anticipation of his debuting with the Blues in 1986. Any detractors would have to admit that his willingness to support his mates and play for Glenelg when he could have bolted for Melbourne and Carlton at any time was the act of a true team player.
The observation of big kickers playing on poor teams being a pattern of sorts is basically demolished by Kernhan’s record with Carlton. The team had losing records in games in which he played in only 1989, 1991, and his final season in 1997. Also remarkable is that even though he was slight of build to the degree that he was known as “Sticks,” he routinely was on the ground for over 20 games over the course of his 12 seasons with Carlton FC, and one of those, 1995, when he played 17 times, resulted in a flawless 17 win record.
1987 Was A Great Year
The 1987 season was a memorable one for Kernahan. He had his third best season in terms of goals, with 73. He was already, in just his second season with the Blues, the captain of the side. That total would lead the club and he would also be recognised as Carlton’s Best and Fairest.
The highlight of the season, however, would have had to have been the victory in the Grand Final, where Carlton had a mostly easy time of it in defeating Hawthorn 15.14 (104) – 9.17 (71), a 33 point victory that saw Carlton challenged only in the first, and then coming back to dominate the final three. It was also a satisfying measure of revenge for Carlton and its followers, erasing the memory of the 1986 Grand Final won by Hawthorn. Kernahan kicked two goals in the 1986 matchup and his three in 1987, along with three from teammate Craig Bradley, led the way for the Blues, who spread the scoring around to 10 players.
What followed was seven seasons of what could only be considered frustration for a team accustomed to the highest level of achievement, as Carlton was. There were a couple of losing seasons to be endured, along with some mediocre ones.
That came to an end in 1995. Carlton went into the Grand Final against Geelong and emerged to raise the flag as the result of a 61 point margin of victory in a game that was one-sided from the first bounce. Kernahan tied for goals with Greg Williams with five each. Just as in the 1987 premierhsip, however, Carlton had balanced scoring that featured nine players contributing.
During this entire period, Kernahan led the side in scoring from 1986 – 1996 and served as captain 1987 – 1997. He retired at the end of the season, after passing Harry Vallence to become the all-time leader in scoring for Carlton. That record is still intact, as of 2015, and his 738 VFL/AFL total places him at number 15 on the current list. His stat line as a footballer is quite impressive. Accounting for his stint with Glenelg, Carlton, and the games he played as part of the All Australian squads, he played in 403 senior games and kicked 1133 goals.
Subsequent to his playing days, he was a member of the Carlton FC Board of Directors. He served as interim President briefly in 2007 before assuming that role permanently in 2008, where he would remain until 2014. He devoted 29 years of his life to Carlton as a player, captain, assistant coach, board director and president.
In playing for a successful organisation, Stephan Kernahan defied the conventional wisdom that top scorers play for mediocre teams. The Blues were consistently competitive, as they always have been and Kernahan contributed not just scoring, but leadership in spurring his teammates to play their best as well.