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Johnny Karney (West Torrens)

Prior to the 1919 challenge final, North Adelaide and Sturt had never met in a finals match.  It was somehow appropriate, therefore, that their first encounters should be so grimly and closely fought.

In the challenge final on Saturday 27 September North, having won the toss through Tom Leahy and kicked to the Cathedral end, opened brightly, and seemed well on course for victory when they led by 26 points at the first change.  The Double Blues, however, fought back strongly in the 2nd term, and by the long break had reduced their deficit to just 5 points.

Play in the 3rd quarter was congested, untidy, and pressure-packed.  Only 3 behinds were registered, 2 to Sturt, and 1 to the northerners, meaning that at 'lemons' the difference between the teams was a mere 4 points, with North on 5.4 (34) to the Blues' 4.6 (30).

The early stages of the final term were similarly frenetic, with defences still very much in the ascendancy.  With time-on approaching, and North ahead by one straight kick, 5.9 to 4.9, Sturt full forward Frank Golding marked near goal and played on immediately with a handpass to Les Smith, who kicked truly to level the scores.  The last significant scoring chance fell to the Double Blues, deep into time-on, but Owen Beatty, having marked a mere thirty metres from goal on no appreciable angle, kicked woefully to miss everything.  Final scores: North Adelaide 5.9 (39); Sturt 5.9 (39).

The replay was scheduled for the Labor Day holiday on Wednesday 8 October, and proved to be just as thrilling as the initial encounter between the teams.  After an evenly contested opening term, North gradually seemed to be asserting themselves, and they led by 7 points at the half, and 14 points at the last change.  Early in the final term North almost grabbed another goal but Ted Colquhoun rescued his team, and their season, with a spectacular last gasp save.  Sturt then went straight to the other end of the ground and goaled.  A second goal midway through the quarter reduced the margin to just 2 points, and with two minutes of the game left a behind to Owen Beatty made the scoreline North 2.6 (18) to Sturt 2.5 (17).  Ivor Nicolle's winning goal just 35 seconds before the final bell has entered football folklore, and remains arguably the most memorably dramatic moment in the entire history of the Sturt Football Club, perhaps only seriously challenged for that distinction by Keith Chessell's demon-exorcising post-siren goal to beat Port at Alberton in 1966.

The Double Blues had won the flag, and the dissension at Unley was briefly forgotten as the team and its supporters celebrated joyously.  Entering the Sturt changing rooms along with his chairman Fred Bennett, North captain Tom Leahy manfully suppressed his personal disappointment by declaring, "No doubt it was thought, after your long recess, that you would not find your feet again.  After the match which we made a draw, I expected a harder struggle today.  The game was played in a splendid spirit.  We would have loved to get the premiership, but it was not to be ours".

North Adelaide's moment would soon come, however.  Less than twelve months later, still under Leahy's captaincy, they would procure the 1920 pennant without the need for a challenge on the strength of a resounding 9.15 (69) to 3.3 (21) final victory over Norwood.

Postscript - The Challenge Final and Replay

Sturt's Ted Colquhoun

​Jack "Snowy" Hamilton (North)

​Les Marvell (West Torrens)

​North Adelaide's Percy Lewis

Ernie Stone (West Torrens)

Final Replay

"There will be few who will gainsay this.  Never this year have teams been so evenly matched.  West Torrens died hard." ('The Advertiser',  22/9/19, page 12)

In contrast to a week earlier, the weather was fine, and the condition of the turf, according to 'The Advertiser's' football reporter, "first-class".  A large crowd, estimated at somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000, was in attendance - somewhat more than might have been expected had there been any major counter-attractions, such as an important race meeting, on offer.

The West Torrens line-up was identical to that which took the field in the previous week's drawn final, while North were forced to omit Trescowthick because of injury, with his place being taken by Vincent Leahy.

Just as he had a week ago, North's captain Tom Leahy won the toss and elected to kick to the southern end of the Adelaide Oval, although what slight breeze there was seemed to favour the northern end.

1st Quarter

Many of the Torrens players must have experienced a sense of déja-vu as they saw their team surge into attack from the opening bounce, only for Jack Hamilton to intervene, and clear the danger with archetypal smoothness and conviction.  North then pressed hard in a bid to find an opening, but Clarence Curnow marked strongly in front of the goal posts to relieve.

The next few minutes saw the blue and golds displaying some of the excellent combined play, featuring deft, intelligent handball and short, crisp stab passing, that had characterised their best performances during the minor round.  A frantic passage of play near the Torrens goal culminated in a North defender spearing a low kick toward the half back left boundary, only for Stan Patten to pick the ball up on first bounce, run on, and register the first goal of the game with a thumping punt kick from roughly fifty metres distance.

Torrens continued to play the better football, and a couple of minutes later Patten nabbed a second goal from a similar position to his first.  With only six minutes having elapsed, the blue and golds had almost equalled their entire previous week's score.

In complete contrast to a week earlier, players of both sides, particularly North, were kicking long, and marking well.  There were occasional fumbles, but these seemed to be attributable to over-eagerness, and as the quarter went on they were less frequent.

For several minutes the play moved from end to end at considerable pace, but there was no addition to the scores, although a long shot from North's centre half forward Dayman seemed to be sailing through for a goal only to be marked right on the line by Allen, the West Torrens back pocket player.  

Several minutes elapsed before North again had a chance to score, through Fullarton, but this time it was Marsh who came to the blue and golds' rescue with a fine saving mark.

North continued to attack, however, and with time running out Dayman finally managed to post their first score of the afternoon, a major, courtesy of a hurried snap from close in.  Moments later, and within seconds of the bell, another seemingly goal-bound shot from the northerners was juggled and then dropped a metre or so from the line by a Torrens defender, and umpire Johnstone controversially awarded a mark.   Needless to say, many of the North players protested, but the umpire was unmoved, and before play could resume the bell sounded to end the term.  QUARTER TIME: West Torrens 2.0 (12); North Adelaide 1.0 (6)

2nd Quarter

Torrens centreman Karney had injured his shoulder during the opening term, and began the second quarter in a forward pocket.  He was replaced in the centre by O'Loughlin.

Stan Patten, the Torrens skipper, grabbed the ball from the opening centre bounce of the term and kicked toward centre half forward, where Marvell marked well.  His shot for goal failed to make the distance, however, and the North defence combined well to relieve.  The blue and golds were soon back on the attack again, and during a strenuous passage of play near goal umpire Johnstone, adjudging that a North defender had thrown the ball away when tackled, awarded a free kick to the tackler, Les Marvell.  From a mere twenty metres out directly in front the Torrens goalsneak had no trouble in raising two flags.

North's response was spirited and effective as a long, probing punt kick by Davey was marked in the goal square, three metres out, by Dayman, who made no mistake.  From the ensuing centre bounce, North attacked again, and as Tom Leahy chased the ball in front of goal he was manhandled by his Torrens opponent and promptly awarded a free.  His goal to tie the scores elicited the loudest roar of the afternoon from the hitherto fairly subdued crowd.

The first behind of the afternoon arrived a couple of minutes later, to Torrens.  From the kick in, Dayman took an excellent mark and initiated a promising looking North rush which was eventually short-circuited by O'Loughlin.

For some five minutes around the middle of the quarter Torrens enjoyed a purple patch during which they attacked relentlessly, but the red and white defence was, for the most part, equal to the task of containing them.  

The most fluent move of the game so far saw the blue and gold quartet of Manning, Marvel, Karney and Patten maneuver the ball the length of the ground to well within range of goal, where Mayne marked.  He kicked badly, however, only just managing to register a minor score.  North responded with some neat football of their own which culminated in Fullarton hitting a fast leading Vin Leahy on the chest with a bullet like stab pass.  Less than thirty metres out, on the slightest of angles, Leahy duly converted to put the northerners in front for the first time in the match.

The play of both teams was becoming faster, and better to watch, and the crowd was beginning to give voice to its appreciation.

Hollis and Campbell teamed well for Torrens along the grandstand wing, and the latter found Manning in the forward pocket with a good pass.  Manning's kick was a beauty, and the blue and golds were back in the box seat.

No more than a minute later Hollis was again in the thick of the action, this time combining well with Stone to release Karney close to goal, and the nimble Torrens rover was able to run to within near point blank range and easily secure full points.

Another dangerous looking Torrens attack followed almost immediately, but North's half back flanker Hamilton, playing with his customary verve, poise and brilliance, intercepted superbly and sent the ball well over the centreline into his team's attacking half, where Fooks gathered and kicked long towards the goal square.  As the inevitable pack formed, Tom Leahy came rushing in from behind and soared high to take a sky-scraping mark, easily the best of the game so far.  He made no mistake with his kick, and shortly after the resumption the bell sounded with the scoreboard showing the blue and golds holding a slim, 2 point advantage.  HALF TIME: West Torrens 5.2 (32); North Adelaide 5.0 (30)

3rd Quarter

Johnny Karney resumed after half time with his left arm strapped to his side, a legacy of the shoulder injury sustained during the opening term.  As in the second quarter, he stationed himself in a forward pocket, but it was clear that West Torrens would effectively be playing a man short from now on.

The first five minutes of the third term saw the ball being swept repeatedly from one end of the ground to the other, although there was a discernible contrast in the way the two teams achieved this.  The northerners favoured long kicks to position, whereas Torrens relied heavily on handball, which they utilised with swift, almost unerring efficiency.  The opening score of the quarter, a behind to North, came courtesy of a Vin Leahy place kick.

As Torrens endeavoured to battle their way back into contention the play became more scrambly, with many players of both sides leaving their positions to chase the ball.  Tom Leahy was playing a hero's game both in the ruck and all over the ground, and the blue and golds were reduced to employing illicit means to keep him under control.  Umpire Johnstone was quick to penalise any misdemeanours, however, and 'the prince of ruckmen' was awarded at least ten free kicks during the term.

Another player to catch the eye was North's half back flanker Williams, who took a series of telling marks.  Taking a leaf out of his fellow half back flanker Hamilton's book, his disposal was first rate, too.

During the second half of the quarter it was noticeable that Torrens were playing with much greater aggression, and there were many more scrimmages and stoppages as a result.  On one occasion, play had to be suspended for a couple of minutes after the North Adelaide centre half forward Clem Dayman was knocked out cold during a marking contest.  He eventually got groggily back to his feet.

The blue and golds' only score for the quarter came via a rushed behind, but had Johnson's booming kick from almost the centre of the ground carried a couple of metres more it would have produced one of the goals of the season.  THREE QUARTER TIME: West Torrens 5.3 (33); North Adelaide 5.1 (31)

4th Quarter

The early running in the final term was made by North, who soon had a behind on the board off the boot of Tom Leahy.  The veteran ruckman was at his indefatigable best, and the behind came after he comprehensively out-bodied his Torrens opposite number in Wade to take a typically commanding mark.

The blue and golds attempted to respond, but North's half back line was too good, and within a couple of minutes it was the northerners who were again attacking relentlessly.  After a particularly frantic scrimmage close to goal the ball spun loose into the goal square and North's full forward Dan O'Brien was just able to toe poke it over the line before being flattened.  The goal gave the red and whites a lead of 5 points, but there were still at least twenty minutes of play remaining.

Those twenty minutes saw plenty of fast, furious football, but also plenty of fumbling as the pressure of the situation got through to the players.  North were winning consistently in the air, but Torrens' ground play was superior.  Overall, this produced something of a stalemate, with neither side able to manufacture a decisive opening.  Torrens were clearly missing the drive from centre that would normally have been provided by Karney, and as the quarter wore on their forwards began to wander further and further towards the middle of the ground in search of kicks.  This proved to be entirely counter productive, however, as all it did was make the play more congested, enabling North to force repeated stoppages in the play.  

Towards the end of the match Tom Leahy had an excellent chance to score when he was freed across half forward but his kick for goal was well saved almost on the line by Mayne.

When the bell sounded, the red and whites were on the attack, and Torrens had only one man, the injured Karney, ahead of centre.  Although overall there was very little if anything between the two teams, the blue and golds looked a very tired lot by the end.  FINAL SCORE: North Adelaide 6.2 (38); West Torrens 5.3 (33)

​​BEST - North Adelaide:  T.Leahy, Williams, Dayman, Davey, Hamilton, Fooks  West Torrens: Johnson, Manning, Willis, Wade, Campbell, Mayne

GOALS - North Adelaide: T.Leahy 2; Davey, Dayman, V.Leahy, O'Brien  West Torrens: Patten 2; Karney, Manning, Marvel

​Edwin Daviess (West Torrens)

North's Bert Fooks

​Dan O'Brien (North Adelaide)


"....... football has seldom been witnessed in such dreary circumstances."  ('The Advertiser', 15/9/19, page 10)

​The match commenced in heavy rain, with an extremely strong north-westerly breeze blowing more or less directly across the oval from wing to wing.  Apart from the seated areas in the grandstands, the crowd was sparse - quite understandably, given the weather conditions.  At one point a large group of male spectators, tired of being at the mercy of the elements, stormed the members' stand after its gates had been opened to admit a contingent of ladies; before the police could intervene, the stand was full to overflowing, with not only the seats but all of the aisles crammed with boisterous, bedraggled, but mainly good humoured supporters.

North Adelaide's captain Tom Leahy won the toss and elected to kick to the southern end, which was probably marginally favoured by the wind, although overall its impact was negligible.  The ground surface was exceptionally slippery, rain having been falling continuously since mid-morning, and there were also about a dozen puddles of water of various sizes ranged all over the oval.  Within minutes of play starting the ball had become like a heavy, sodden bar of soap, and for most of the afternoon the spectacle presented to the crowd would be more akin to soccer or water polo than football.

1st Quarter

Predictably, play from the outset was very scrambly, with numerous scrimmages, and much soccering of the ball off the ground.  Torrens attacked first, but the North half back line held firm.  Then it was North's turn to push forward, which they did with a fair amount of craft and purpose given the conditions, and five minutes in Fullarton snapped the first goal of the game.

During the opening minutes, players of both sides had had difficulty keeping their feet, but as the quarter went on they began to cope better with the conditions.

Torrens responded to North's goal by raising the tempo of the play.  They even managed to produce a few passages of decent football, one of which culminated in their first score of the match, a behind.  For most of the remainder of the term the blue and golds were in the ascendancy, but it was not until moments before the bell that a chain of passes involving Karney, Patten and Marvell ended with the last named running into an open goal to fire his team to a 1 point advantage at the first change.  QUARTER TIME: West Torrens 1.1 (7); North Adelaide 1.0 (6)

2nd Quarter

With the rain showing no signs of abating, North opened the second quarter by mounting their first concerted attack since the early stages of the first term, but Torrens were quick to repel them.  

With the ball still comparatively dry, Torrens were making good use of handball, and a neat sequence of inter-passing saw them maneuver the ball to within a few metres of goal, only for Tom Leahy to intervene for the northerners and relieve the pressure.  The blue and golds attacked again, and a snapped behind from Marvell gave them the first score of the term.

​As the quarter continued, all science and system departed from the play, which consisted mainly of a series of frantic scrimmages, interspersed with hurried, hopeful kicks off the ground.  Moreover, the ball seemed to be out of bounds almost as often as it was in play.  Many of the players were soon coated from head to toe in mud, and it became increasingly difficult to tell the teams apart.  There appeared to be little adherence to the principle of sticking to your position, and for the most part upwards of twenty players might be said to be on the ball.  From time to time, Torrens would endeavour to initiate a sequence of handpasses, and although one such move gave rise to a second behind of the term to Marvell, for the most part the conditions were quick to reassert themselves and play reverted to a frenetic, uncoordinated mud scramble.

Midway through the quarter North mounted a promising attack, but Torrens centreman Johnny Karney, having intercepted the ball close to goal, embarked on an exhilarating fifty metre run that briefly brought the somewhat sombre crowd to life.  His kick landed on the half forward line for the blue and golds, but North's will 'o the wisp defender Jack Hamilton intervened and promptly sent the ball back from whence it came.

An untidy sequence of "punches, kicks along the ground, and certain unorthodox maneuvers" enabled North to launch another promising attack, but the Torrens defence seemed virtually impregnable at this stage of the match, and combined well to relieve.  Moments before the bell North full forward Dan O'Brien had his team's first and only shot for goal of the term, but the ball sailed out of bounds.  At the long break, Torrens had extended their lead from 1 to 3 points, with Les Marvell having been responsible for his team's entire score.  HALF TIME: West Torrens 1.3 (9); North Adelaide 1.0 (6)

3rd Quarter

Quite a number of players changed their shorts during the half time interval, and when they re-emerged from the changing rooms they would have been gratified to discover that the rain had, at last, abated.  Once play got underway, however, it proved to be just as scrambly and unkempt as ever.

Five minutes into the quarter a rushed behind gave the red and whites their first score since the opening term, and when Torrens attempted  a swift riposte they were repelled by Hamilton who, almost alone among the thirty-six players on view, seemed capable of handling the ball cleanly, and disposing of it with vim, vision and purpose. 

North, seemingly the stronger and more desperate side at this stage of the match, forced the ball forward once more and it was scrambled through for another behind to reduce the margin to just 1 point.  Shortly afterwards, Bert Fooks, a former Torrens player, cleverly gathered the ball in a scrimmage and snapped truly to give the northerners the lead their more decisive play since half time warranted.

From the ensuing centre throw-up (bouncing the ball being entirely out of the question) Torrens attacked briskly, but O'Brien, now taking a run on the ball, took a well judged relieving mark.

An unusually fluent phase of play saw Torrens maneuver the ball to well within range of goal, only for Marvell to ruin everything by fumbling badly.  As a result, he was bundled unceremoniously aside by the North defenders, and the danger was cleared.

​Play was becoming more willing and strenuous, and there was a good deal of illicit activity - tripping, jumper tugging, even hacking - going on outside the ken of umpire Johnstone, who in any case seemed inclined, for the most part, to keep his whistle in his pocket, no doubt as a concession to the conditions.

Towards the end of the term it was noticeable that the strength of the wind had declined, but the heavy surface and slippery ball still made skilful football virtually impossible.  Torrens finished the quarter in the ascendant, but found it hard to get closer to goal than their half forward line.  At last, however, a loose ball was gathered up by Manning some forty metres out and, with time and space to run on and steady, he made no mistake from a distance of about twenty-five metres to restore the blue and golds' lead.  THREE QUARTER TIME: West Torrens 2.3 (15); North Adelaide 2.2 (14)

4th Quarter

​Torrens had played with a loose man in defence for most of the third quarter, and, despite only leading by the narrowest of margins, persisted with this ploy in the final term.  Ironically, it almost succeeded, for although North spent a lot of time in attack they were largely unable to get close enough to goal to attempt a shot.

The first golden opportunity of the quarter fell to Torrens, however, as Marvell gathered the ball in acres of space well within scoring range, with only North full back Wallis between him and the goals.  Instead of taking a shot though the nippy rover backed himself to dodge around his opponent and was comprehensively collared.

Hamilton and Curnow then combined well for North but the latter's seemingly goal bound kick was marked almost on the goal line by Daviess, the Torrens 'goal keeper' and future captain.  Moments later the red and whites again managed to maneuver the ball to well within scoring range, but the umpire picked out a free kick to the Torrens skipper, Patten, and the danger was quelled.

Midway through the quarter the sun came out for the first time in the game, and almost as if in celebration North registered a behind to level the scores.  The hitherto moribund crowd was now beginning to make a considerable amount of noise as North pressed repeatedly forward in a bid to snatch the game.  Torrens, however, defended with grim efficiency, kicking the ball out of bounds at every opportunity, and repeatedly hurling bodies en masse at the ball in order to force scrimmages, and hold up play.  For all their pressure and territorial superiority the red and whites failed to eke out a single, clear-cut scoring opportunity, and with a couple of minutes left to play it was Torrens who almost clinched the game.  A long, probing kick from Marsh seemed to be skidding and rolling ominously goalwards until Hamilton, who for much of the afternoon had been playing football on a different plane to virtually every other player on the field, made an electrifying dash across the face of goal, scooped up the soggy ball as thought it was dry, and sank his boot into a hefty punt kick that transferred the focus of play to the veritable buffalo wallow that masqueraded as the centre of the ground.  A frantic, all-in melee ensued which was still in full swing when the bell sounded to end the match.  FINAL SCORE: West Torrens 2.3 (15); North Adelaide 2.3 (15)

BEST - West Torrens: Johnson, Wade, Karney, Patten, Campbell, Marsh   North Adelaide: Hamilton, Curnow, Dayman, Leahy, Fooks, Frost

GOALS - West Torrens:  Marvell, Manning   North Adelaide: Fooks, Fullarton

The two captains, Leahy (North, left) and Patten (Torrens) pictured shaking hands prior to the 1920 semi final between the two sides, which was won by the former by 15 points.

​Epic Win for North - SAFL Final and Final Replay, Saturday 6th and Saturday 13th September: North Adelaide versus West Torrens at the Adelaide Oval