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Where are they now? Peter Caven

Katrina Gill  April 9, 2014 9:58 AM

Magic Moments: Peter Caven Relive Peter Caven's magnificent 1998 Grand Final performance when he blanketed arguably the greatest player to ever play the game, Wayne 'King' Carey.
Peter Caven of the Crows celebrates with the Premiership Cup in the showers after winning the 1998 AFL Grand Final between the Adelaide Crows and North Melbourne at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Peter Caven of the Crows celebrates with the Premiership Cup in the showers after winning the 1998 AFL Grand Final between the Adelaide Crows and North Melbourne at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.


Wayne Carey was clearly the best player in the competition. I’d played on him twice during the year and he’d probably got six Brownlow votes across the two games.

A two-time premiership player, Peter Caven is remembered fondly by the Crows faithful.

In the latest ‘Where are they now?’ we catch up with one of the heroes of the 1998 Grand Final.

A journeyman of the AFL, Caven started his AFL career at Fitzroy in 1993. He was initially tried as a forward and kicked 17 goals in 39 games for the club …
I was zoned to Fitzroy and went through the junior development program there – Under-17s and Under-19s. I was lucky enough to be put on the senior list in 1993. The reserves coach of Fitzroy at the time was Robert Shaw, and I came through that pathway. I played a bit in the forward line initially, but it didn’t take them long to send me back to defence.

Caven was the victim of an infamous hit from then-St Kilda forward Tony Lockett. Lockett collected the young defender with an elbow to the face, fracturing his nose …
It’s been mentioned a couple of times. Some friends of ours have kids who ‘Googled’ me and saw it on YouTube, so they were asking me about it recently. Apparently, it’s 20 years next month since that incident. I can remember parts of it. We lost the game and Tony kicked 11 goals. The injury was a compound fracture of my nose. It didn’t worry me, I looked like Brad Pitt before that and I still look pretty similar! I was out for 12 weeks with that injury and Tony got suspended for eight weeks. In my second game back we played St Kilda at Waverley. I was kicking out from full-back and Tony was blowing me kisses.

There was a bit of controversy around it and not just because of the hit. I got called before the AFL Commission to explain my actions on the following Monday night. I appeared on the Andrew Denton Show and smashed this effigy of Tony Lockett and his head went flying. It was all a bit of fun, but I got a letter from the AFL saying ‘please explain’. It was one of those things that happened and 20 years later people still talk about it. Some people remember it more than other things I did in my career.

Caven joined Sydney at the end of 1993. Ironically, the pair ended up being teammates at Sydney in 1995 when Lockett switched from the Saints …
Tony had a great record against Sydney. We couldn’t beat him at the time, so the Swans ended up buying him and getting him up there. We shook hands and did a media opportunity when he arrived, but he was a different sort of player. He liked to keep to himself. He trained how he played. No one wanted to do one-on-ones with him because he’d kill you! He was an outstanding player, but he lived out of town and never really socialised with the guys too much.

Caven’s career at Sydney was short-lived. After only 18 games in two seasons, he was told he was no longer a required player …
The move to Sydney probably wasn’t great football-wise, but it was a great life experience. I was out of contract with Fitzroy at the end of 1993 and we were haggling over, what looks like now, a miniscule amount of money. Footy was only part-time those days and I was chasing money really, but I didn’t realise that when I went to Sydney it would cost me three times as much to live! It was very different. I’d grown up in Melbourne with a strong footy culture and thought Sydney would be the same, but the Swans were buying spaces to advertise in the newspaper when I was there. It was a cultural awakening for me.

I probably needed a reality check. I got a bit ahead of myself as a player at Fitzroy. I was strutting around thinking I was pretty good, but going to Sydney really brought me back down to earth. It was my fourth game when I ran into the steam train (Lockett) and had my face splattered. I never really captured much form in the year or two after that. After 18 games, (Sydney football manager) Rob Snowden called me into his office and said, ‘We don’t think you’re good enough to play AFL football for Sydney anymore’. I was devastated. I’d only played 37 games all up and it was all I really knew.

A Fitzroy connection helped the former Montmorency junior find a third AFL home, at Adelaide …
Luckily enough, a couple of weeks later I got a call from James Fantasia, who was the recruiting manager at Adelaide at the time. He said, ‘Do you want to come and play footy for us? Robert Shaw speaks highly of you’. Robert Shaw knew what kind of player and person I was and thought I hadn’t got the best out of my football ability. The Crows organised a trade on the back of the Darren Jarman trade. It was the same year Kym Koster and Troy Bond came to the Club. Sean Wellman went over to Essendon and Paul Rouvray went to Sydney. Graham Cornes and ‘KG’ (Ken Cunningham) were doing their radio show back then. They rang me when I was still in Sydney, talking me up as ‘the new boom recruit for the Crows’. I was no boom recruit, but it was already a different culture, with people talking about and loving footy.

Caven’s endured a frustrating start his Crows career. A double hernia operation ruined his pre-season, but he recovered to play 20 games in 1996, including a dominant performance against the team that let him go …
My first game was against Sydney under lights at Footy Park. I had a point to prove. I played on a half-forward flank and kicked four goals that day. I was pretty excited and we beat them by 15 goals. I was looking for Sydney people around the ground to give a bit of a wave to.

Before the season, I was questioning where I could play with all the talent in the side. You had Mark Ricciuto, Nigel Smart, Andrew McLeod, Tony Modra and Darren Jarman, and Tony McGuiness and Chris McDermott were still on the list, so it was competitive for spots. I was lucky enough to win a spot and hold onto it. Unfortunately, things turned sour towards the end of the year. We didn’t make finals and Robert Shaw was replaced at the end of the year.

Enter Malcolm Blight and the beginning of a golden era for the Adelaide Football Club …
Malcolm was a great teacher. We were just looking for some new life and he made footy fun again. Malcolm came in and cut some heads off, which created a bit of controversy, but it gave opportunities for some other players to stand up and take leadership roles. We saw a whole new crop of young guys, who became 200-300-game players, like Nigel Smart, Ben Hart and Mark Ricciuto, take on real responsibility for the club. They were sick of being easy beats or people in the paper bagging them, saying they couldn’t win interstate or couldn’t do this or that.

Malcolm sat us all down in a room, the players and officials, when he first got to the club. He said, ‘This is how we’re going to play footy. I’ve got this experience. Have faith in me’. He taught us really basic stuff even things like tackling and punching. He wanted to play exciting footy and we were ready to do it. In those two years, we had outstanding success as a club. It took a while for us to grow and understand we could achieve success. We ended up being a really tight unit on and off the field and that included the players, wives and kids. You could see the bond. I’ve never been involved in a sporting club before that had that kind of bond. Malcolm was the real instigator of that.

Despite being a regular in the team in ‘96’, Caven found himself on the outer again in the lead up to the 1997 season …
I had a meeting with Blighty before the beginning of the 1997 season. He said, ‘Peter, I don’t see you in my top 22 players’. I thought, ‘Well only 22 players get a game, so that’s going to be a struggle!’ I had to go back and work hard. I played the pre-season games out at Sturt. Going back to a local club environment was really good for me, just to refresh myself with what football was all about.

Caven missed out on selection in the opening three rounds of the season, but was recalled in Round Four and played a total of 22 games including the Grand Final against St Kilda …
We were the underdogs in the 1997 Grand Final, which was good. Malcolm had done his science. He came up to me after the Preliminary Final win over the Bulldogs, which was one of the best games I’ve ever been involved in, and said, ‘You’ll play in the back pocket on Barry Hall’. David Pittman was going to take the bigger-bodied Stewart Loewe. Barry was only 18-years-old at the time. He kicked three goals in five minutes on me in the second quarter. I was looking around thinking I’d be dragged, but Blighty stuck with me and Barry didn’t kick any more.

I was just happy to be involved in the game. The year before, the Swans had lost the Grand Final. I went to the game and went down to the rooms afterwards. I saw grown men crying. It was then the penny dropped for me that you played footy to play on this day and I knew I wanted to be there on Grand Final day. I was lucky enough to be there the very next year.

The game itself was a bit of a blur. Malcolm would just say, ‘Have faith in this. This is what’s going to happen’. He didn’t mention winning until three-quarter time. He just kept saying, ‘Stick to the process’. He said, ‘When that final siren goes, there’s going to be an amazing feeling that you guys are going to share. It might only be for 30 seconds, but when the siren goes it’ll be the most euphoric feeling you’ll experience in sport’. We wanted to get that feeling. I was lucky enough to have that feeling twice in sport. I had the same sort of feeling when my wife had our three kids as well.

For me, it was pleasing to achieve a lifelong dream. I’d had my knockers over the years. I was realistic about my ability as a player … but now no one could tell me I wasn’t good enough.

The Crows returned to the Grand Final stage in September, 1998. Caven was given another big assignment – the toughest in AFL football at the time …
If I didn’t have the experience of Malcolm Blight and ‘97’, I’m not sure whether ‘98’ would’ve happened for me. Wayne Carey was clearly the best player in the competition. I’d played on him twice during the year and he’d probably got six Brownlow votes across the two games, but Malcolm called me in on the Monday after we beat the Bulldogs again. He said, ‘I’m going to play you on Wayne Carey.’ He started talking about how Carey was ‘bigger, stronger and faster’ than me and I was thinking, ‘Where is this going? But then he said, ‘So, this is the way we’re going to play’. He always taught our defenders to play from in front and play attacking footy. This time, he wanted me to play from behind, bring the ball to ground and run off and create. I went back and watched videos of previous games against Carey and I was ready to go.

Caven’s performance on ‘The King’ in the ‘98’ Grand Final is part of the Adelaide Football Club folklore. Not only did the rebounding defender hold Carey to a solitary goal, but he ran off to pick up 20 possessions and nine marks (Carey had 18 and five marks) …
The one goal Carey kicked … I just asked Nigel Smart to pick him up for 30 seconds. If you watch the replay, there was a ball-in and I said, ‘Nigel, can you just pick Wayne Carey up for a second and I’ll pick your man up. As he always did, Nigel took his eye off him and Carey kicked a goal, I couldn’t believe it. I’m still filthy about it!

Caven’s story was just one of many on Grand Final day in 1998 …
In 1998, it was all about repeatability and getting other guys to experience a premiership. Mark Ricciuto and Peter Vardy had missed out in 1997 because of injury. Unfortunately, ‘Mods’ had missed 1997 and then did his knee in 1998. Matty Liptak had won the gold jacket in 1996 and been injured the next two years. There were all these stories and we just wanted those guys to experience what we had in ‘97’. Malcolm and Neil Craig, who was the fitness coach at the time, spoke about how the good clubs and players do it again. We didn’t get ahead of ourselves, but we knew what needed to be done at that time. Once again, it was about the tight-knit group who would do anything to achieve it. There were some great individual efforts on those big days. At three-quarter time in ‘97’, Blighty tugged Darren Jarman’s guernsey and said, ‘It’s your day’ and he kicked five in the last quarter. He did it again in ‘98’. Andrew McLeod was just a kid, but he thrived on it too.

Prior to his glory days at the Crows, Caven had been a regular at the MCG on Grand Final day but in a vastly different capacity …
My cousin used to sell Footy Records at the MCG and he got me a job there when I was 13 or 14-years-old. We used to catch the train to the ‘G’ every Saturday and sell the Record. I’m in sales now and have always enjoyed being forward and confident. The significance of the MCG didn’t dawn on me until later. There I was selling footy records at the MCG for eight years. At quarter-time, we’d count the money, grab a coke and pie and watch the footy. Grand Final day was fantastic pocket money; we used to make about $100.

Caven retired at the end of 2000 after 139 AFL games including 83 for the Crows …
I couldn’t be happier when I look back on my career. The disappointing thing was that I didn’t play good footy for long enough in my early days. I was in the system for 10 or 11 years and would’ve liked to have played more games, but to take two premierships out of it and lifelong friends was amazing. I’m very content to look back and say, ‘that was my time’.

Born and raised in Melbourne, the father of three remained in Adelaide after his playing career. He’s still involved with football as coaching director at Sacred Heart Old Collegians in Division Two of the SA Amateur League and is on the Board of Adelaide’s Past Players and Officials Association …
We love Adelaide and the lifestyle. I’ve got a big family in Melbourne, five sisters and a brother and my mum is in Melbourne too, but I’ve been here that long now and have three kids: Isabella (16), Gemma (14) and Matilda (6). I work for Lance Vater (Vater Corporation) as National Sales Manager and have for 13 years. Lance is a good supporter of the Club. We manufacture fence, gate and sliding door componentry.

Footy has been my lifeblood.. I can’t play anymore, but coaching is a way of giving something back. It gives me enjoyment to see other people grow and having success and enjoyment along the way. The Past Player and Officials Association is about trying to generate more engagement. Because we’re not as old as some clubs in the competition, we’re at an embryotic stage. We want past players and officials to be able to come back to a place where they have friends or people they haven’t caught up with in a long time. We’re doing some good work particularly around the move to Adelaide Oval. We want to make sure they have a meeting place to come to games and catch up.