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Where are they now? Tony Hall

Tony Hall of the Crows lines up to kick during the 1994 round 14 AFL match between the St Kilda Saints and the Adelaide Crows.
Tony Hall of the Crows lines up to kick during the 1994 round 14 AFL match between the St Kilda Saints and the Adelaide Crows.
At the time, it was a pretty severe injury. I basically had one ligament left holding my knee together.
Tony Hall

In this instalment of ‘Where are they Now?’ we catch up with South Australian football sensation of the 1980s and 1990s, Tony Hall.

A skilful and strong-marking half-forward, Hall played in premierships with Glenelg and also Hawthorn before finishing his career at the Crows. ‘Hally’ reflects on his glory days, the horrific knee injury that nearly cut short his playing days and that State of Origin goal …  

A talented junior footballer, Hall rose through the ranks at SANFL club Glenelg. He broke into the senior team in the early 1980s and was part of a golden era at the club, playing alongside the likes of Stephen Kernahan, Tony McGuinness and Chris McDermott. Playing as a, 183cm, 88kg, centre half-forward, Hall was a key element in Glenelg’s 1986 premiership. He kicked six goals in the Grand Final, winning the Jack Oatey Medal as best on ground. It capped off a remarkable season for the 21-year-old, who also topped the club’s goalkicking …

“We went back-to-back at Glenelg in 1985-86. The special thing about that era was that most of us had gone through the junior ranks at the Bays together. We’d played in Under-13s, Under-14s, Under-15s … and ended up winning two senior premierships.

“Some of us had also played against one another in school teams. Tony McGuinness and I have known each other since we were four-years-old as our mums were friends. We played against each other in primary school when I played for Ascot Park and he played for Warradale. We played together at Glengowrie High and then went through and played our junior footy together at Glenelg.

“When we were older, Tony went over to Footscray and I went to Hawthorn, so we became opponents once more. Then he came back to the Crows and a few years later I came back to the Crows, so we were together again. Now, we’re business partners – we’ve been on a long journey!”

In 1986, before the introduction of the draft, Hall was approached by (then) VFL club Hawthorn. He signed a ‘Form Four’ with the Hawks, but decided to remain in Adelaide for another year before heading to Victoria ahead of the 1988 season. The skilful forward with vice-like hands had an immediate impact in the revered Hawthorn side. He played all 24 games, including the Grand Final win over Melbourne. Hall was also named in the All Australian team and finished fourth in the Brownlow Medal …

“I think I was just lucky. It was such a great side to come into and it’s easier playing in a good team than a bad team, especially as a forward. It was such a good group of players; Johnny Platten, Jason Dunstall, Dermott Brereton, Michael Tuck and Gary Ayres. They were all great players in their own right. The team was so good that you end up playing at that standard. I was probably lucky just to sneak in the final 18 among those guys.

“I was 22 or 23-years-old and probably at my best. I was the fittest I’d ever been and playing the best footy of my career. It all just happened at the right time. I did play every game, but I was always very nervous waiting for my name to be called. In those days, they announced the teams on the radio. We all used to listen on a Thursday night after training to find out whether we were playing or not. It sounds bizarre now. In the early-90s they started ringing you first!”

As well as starring at SANFL and VFL level, Hall was a key figure in State of Origin. He played 20 games for South Australia, providing plenty of highlights but also a lowlight when he infamously injured his knee in the 1989 clash with Victoria at the MCG. Ironically, Hall’s knee buckled when he was tackled by Hawthorn teammate Andy Collins, who was representing the ‘Big V’ …

“Andy was shattered. He was in the hospital with me that night and was really upset about it. He was a good mate, and I still see Andy every now and again these days. It was really tough. The ground was terrible and muddy. You don’t get grounds like that anymore, it was horrendous.

“I was slow to start with, so that didn’t help and Andy was the best tackler in the League at the time. He’d get 10 tackles a game, no problem. It was unfortunate, but those things happen and you move on.”

The risk of injury is one of the arguments against the return of representative football at AFL level. But the unfortunate incident in ‘89’ didn’t dent Hall’s passion for State of Origin …

“Not at all. I don’t know whether the risk of injury is the main reason State of Origin doesn’t exist now. I just don’t think it works as well now with the national competition, particularly in South Australia. Back in those days, State of Origin had massive support from people in SA because they didn’t have a local team to follow every week. Now, they have two AFL teams in the Crows and Port. The landscape is a lot different. I know it works in Rugby League, but I don’t know whether it would in the AFL. Maybe, every two or three years you could play a game.

“I used to love State of Origin. When you played State of Origin, regardless of which team you played for, you were suddenly playing at the highest level with and against the best players. It was always such an intense game. If you never played in a Grand Final, State of Origin was the closest thing to it. I think it was great for players because it prepared them for the intensity if they were lucky enough to get to a Grand Final. There were 90,000 people at the MCG the day I did my knee. It was a huge game although we got smashed.”

Hall ruptured three knee ligaments in the incident and some doubted whether he would make it back. But with the help of a prominent South Australian surgeon, he didn’t just return to football at the highest level, he played in another premiership with Hawthorn in 19991 …

“I took 16 months to come back from my knee injury. I did the Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL) and Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) in my knee as well as the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), which made it a bit harder to play within the 12 months. At the time, it was a pretty severe injury. I basically had one ligament left holding my knee together.

“I was pretty lucky I had a great surgeon, Wilson Lee in Adelaide. He knew it would be a long recovery time. He’d revolutionised knee surgery for cartilages and could actually repair the cartilages, but the only way to do that was if you stayed out of footy for 15 months. If you were trying to get back in 12 months, they had to cut the cartilage.

“He repaired mine and most of them are intact, which has been fantastic. It’s saved me a bit in terms of wear and tear down the track. I think a lot of people thought I’d have a knee replacement by now, but he doesn’t believe I’ll ever need one – touch wood.

“It was an achievement just to come back and play, actually. To come back and play in a Grand Final … it’s something I didn’t think I’d be able to do again.”

Hall’s other most memorable State of Origin moment came at Football Park in 1992 when he kicked a remarkable goal against Victoria at the Southern end of Football Park. The pocket is still referred to by locals as ‘The Tony Hall pocket’ …

“I actually saw that goal just the other day. I went to my old primary school to do the trophy presentation at their sports day. They played the goal at the start for the kids just so they would know who I was! It refreshed my mind a bit.

“It was such a great game. They’re the goals you dream of kicking and it was a bit lucky. You hope for the best and just try to thread the eye of the needle. I think, these days, players are more proactive about training for those goals. They dribble or run goals along on the ground. They are really skilful. Back in those days, we never really did that. It was good fun.”

The two-time Hawthorn premiership player’s last game for the club was ironically against the Crows in the 1993 Elimination Final. At the end of the season, Hall saw the writing on the wall at the Hawks and sought a trade back home to Adelaide. Unfortunately, injuries limited the South Australian to only 17 games in two seasons at West Lakes …

“It was getting hard to stay at Hawthorn. The Club had gone through a period of success and were looking to move a lot of senior players on. Gary Ayres, Dermott Brereton and myself were all in that boat because we were closer to the end of our careers.

“I decided it was time to come home. Graham Cornes, who was my previous coach at Glenelg, was coaching the Crows. He saw some value in bringing me back. Maybe, I wasn’t going to be the best player in terms of fitness and speed, but he thought I had a bit to offer as a more senior player. He thought I could bring something back from a successful club like Hawthorn.

“I really enjoyed coming back even though I got injured early on. I did my thumb, which put me out for about seven weeks and really destroyed me during that first year. If I hadn’t done that, I think I could’ve had a reasonable year.

“I think people knew I was only going to be a proposition for a few years, being in the latter stages of my career. Darren Jarman came back when he was a little bit younger, so gave a little bit more value. In the end, I didn’t offer the value in terms of the expectation, but that’s what happens. It’s a gamble at that stage of your career.”

The big-name recruit was embraced by Crows fans on the field, but off the field he was the unfortunate victim of the over-the-top South Australia v Victoria rivalry …

“It was after one of the first games or trial matches at Footy Park. My car was parked down the street and it still had Victorian plates on it, so it got keyed. When it got reported in the paper, I think people were surprised it was my car.

“These things happen. No one ever came forward to apologise when they realised the car actually belonged to a South Australian. I did have a few crash repair places in Adelaide offer to fix it up for me, though!”

After 97 VFL/AFL games and 144 goals, an injury-ravaged Hall retired from football at age 31. But he still found more premiership success as a member of the Adelaide Football Club Board in the premiership years of 1997 and 1998 …

“I finished playing at the end of 1995 and had a year out from footy. I was working in Adelaide at the time and an opportunity came up to be on the Board of the Club as a players’ advocate of sorts. I had a bit of a marketing background as well. It was a good time to be there. The Club was just starting to hit its straps and have some success. It was a great to be a part of those two years.”

Not long after, Hall’s work took him back to Melbourne. He’s enjoyed a successful career in health insurance and recently started a new venture with a long-time friend and former teammate …

“I studied while I played footy, so I have a business degree. After footy, I went into the corporate world. I’ve been working in health insurance and financial services for 20 years and that took me back to Melbourne. About three years ago, I left the corporate life and decided to work for myself doing some consultancy.

“In the last 18 months, I hooked up again with Tony McGuinness. We’ve got a small marketing agency called, ‘Mudcrab Marketing’. We’ve got clients in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide. It’s going quite well. I moved to Torquay about four years ago and am based there. Because we’ve got a couple of major clients in Adelaide, I spent 2-3 weeks in Adelaide every month.”

An avid surfer, Hall enjoys the lifestyle on Victoria’s surf coast. He still follows both of his former AFL clubs and watches footy regularly …

“I watch two or three games of AFL a weekend. I don’t go to games very often, maybe half-a-dozen each year. I go to a couple of Crows games and a couple of Hawthorn games. I usually go and see Hawthorn and the Crows play – I can’t lose really, can I? I follow both clubs.

“My Mum still barracks for the Crows very strongly, so hopefully I’ll take her to a couple of games at Adelaide Oval this year. I still like to be active and I’m not a great spectator of sport – I’m a much better participant!”