As reigning Australian champions, South Australia’s selectors took their responsibilities seriously ahead of the 1914 Australasian Football Carnival in Sydney. Before picking the team a full scale practice match was conducted between 36 hopefuls in front of 8,000 spectators at Adelaide Oval, with team no. 1 defeating team no. 2 by in excess of 10 goals. After pondering the various match-ups in this encounter - this, it should be noted, was an era when players strictly adhered to their positions on the field - the selectors announced a squad of twenty-two players who would represent the state in Sydney. Prior to their departure a warm-up match between the carnival team and a “next best” combination was arranged for Adelaide Oval on Saturday 1st August.

Perhaps because most people expected an exceedingly one-sided match a modest crowd of just 3,000 or so turned up. From the opening bounce the carnival side raced straight into attack and Johns had a goal on the board, courtesy of a deft snap from North’s Ernie Johns, within a minute. The rest responded vigorously to this but John Robertson of Port Adelaide proved to be a tower of strength in the carnival team’s back line and repelled a succession of attacks. After the Sydney carnival Robertson, who boasted exceptional pace and was an extremely accurate foot passer, was awarded a Referee Medal as South Australia’s best player.

Finally, the Rest managed to find away through the opposition’s defence and Steve McKee of South, later a popular sports journalist, registered the underdogs’ first goal. The carnival side responded vigorously but good defending by Baker and Eaton for the rest kept them out for a time. Eventually, however, West Torrens ruckman Stan Patten found a way through, giving the carnival side a narrow lead. 

The rest reacted swiftly and decisively, and Steve McKee capped off some clever interplay by nabbing his and his team’s second goal. The remainder of the quarter saw the carnival players in the ascendancy, and goals to Frank “Dinky” Barry of South, Patten and Barry again gave them a comfortable quarter time lead. Scores were: Carnival Team 5.2 (32); The Rest 2.3 (15).


The second term began in almost identical fashion to the first, although this time it was Sturt’s Frank Golding rather than McKee who registered full points. Shortly afterwards Angelo Congear of Port grabbed another six pointer "and the game was resolving itself into a goalkicking exhibition by the first team, who, though they appeared to be putting little ginger into their work, held their opponents easily.[1] A second major to Frank Golding of Sturt  moments later gave the carnival side a 6 goal cushion and events were panning out exactly as most spectators would have expected.

McKee reduced the deficit with his third goal but Congear responded quickly for the first team, and the scoreboard showed a remarkably straight-kicking carnival side on 9.2 (56) comfortably leading the rest on 3.4 (22).

The underdogs had certainly not thrown in the towel, however, and a goal to Jack Dunn of Port gave them hope. The rest then enjoyed a prolonged spell of dominance but could only manage a succession of behinds. Goals to Port’s Frank Hansen for the rest and Johns for the carnival team followed before half time leaving the former four straight kicks to the good.

The third quarter saw the next best team turning the match on its head. Shortly after the resumption Robinson kicked truly and minutes later Baker did likewise. With the crowd cheering them on the underdogs continued to attack and a glorious drop kick by McKee looked to have registered full points but it turned out it had been touched before going through the goals. Not long afterwards Robinson made no mistake and suddenly the deficit was a mere 5 points.

The rest continued to attack and further goals to Baulderstone and McKee followed, giving them a 6 point lead. The key to the number two side’s dominance was a winning ruck combination in the shape of Maynard, Baulderstone and Drummond, and an upsurge in the form of West’s Dick Head in the centre.

The carnival team made a semblance of a rally culminating in a goal from Congear which levelled the scores. There followed a behind to Hansen which gave the rest a 1 point advantage, and then Baker, with a lovely snap, made the margin 7 points, to the obvious delight of most of the crowd.

Leading their men to the ball, and using it more astutely than their opponents, the rest continued to attack for the remainder of the term, and shortly before the bell Hansen added another goal to their tally making the three quarter time scores 13.12 (90) to 12.5 (77) in their favour.


​The rest opened the final term brightly with Thomas, Head and McKee prominent, but the carnival team's defence stood firm. Then, from their first attack of the quarter the state side registered full points off the boot of Johns. From the resumption the carnival side attacked again and Port's Jack Ashley put them a point to the good with his first goal of the match. Shortly afterwards the teams were deadlocked on 91 points apiece after Dunn brought up a single flag for the number two combination.


​Next, the two sides exchanged goals, Drummond scoring for the next best and Golding for the carnival team. A point to Johns gave the carnival side the lead by that margin but to the cheers of many in the small crowd the rest responded with a goal to Robinson and, with time on having started, the underdogs led by 5 points. The remainder of the match saw the carnival combination attacking relentlessly but all they could manage was a single minor score. The bell rang with the scoreboard showing next best 15.13 (103) defeated carnival team 15.9 (99) giving the latter "the surprise of their lives".[2]


Among the spectators looking on were the members of the Western Australian carnival team who were en route to Sydney. A few days later they would go down by 5 points to South Australia in the best and closest match of the series. South Australia ended up defeating every state except Victoria to finish in a commendable second place.


FOOTNOTES

[1] “The Mail”, 1/8/14, page 4S.


[2] Ibid., page 4S.

John Robertson (Port Adelaide)

Frank Golding (Sturt)

Ernie Johns (North Adelaide)

Rest Beat the Best - Practice Match, Saturday 1st August 1914: South Australia versus South Australia Next Best

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