Family plays on
Wednesday, 13th July, 2011
Playing alongside greats of the Double Blues in their stellar era during the 1970s, Geoff Leonard was an accomplished on-baller who played 154 SANFL games.
He started his football as a junior with the North Broken Hill Bulldogs and played alongside Peter Meuret in the Broken Hill colts representative side at under 16s level.
Between his College football commitments, where he was a first XVIII footballer with Rostrevor, Leonard would return to the Silver City and play senior football for the Bulldogs.
A major influence in his junior football was a Broken Hill stalwart Johnny Hart.
“I actually barracked for the Double Blues as a lad,” Leonard recalled.
“It was with my cousin Johnny Lynch that I went down from the Hill to try my luck.
“At Rostrevor I had Daryl Hicks (Sturt’s 213-game champion wingman) as my year 10 teacher and I lived with him and his wife Trish for six months.
“My first league game was in 1973 against West Torrens at Thebarton,” he added.
“I was selected as a rover, changing with Mick Nunan.
“It is fair to say I didn’t get much time on the ball that day.”
Leonard missed out on premiership glory in 1974 and 1976 - the first being the inaugural Grand Final at Football Park - where the Double Blues won despite not kicking a goal for a half of football.
The 1976 triumph, which captain Paul Bagshaw described as one of Sturt’s greatest hours, was also missed by Leonard because of a fractured cheekbone.
“After I missed out on the 1976 flag Jack Oatey actually gave me his premiership medallion,” Leonard remembered.
Leonard was involved in the 1978 loss to the Redlegs and also played in the 1983 season decider, under Jack Halbert, where Sturt were bridesmaids to West Adelaide.
Leonard played State under-21 football in 1975 in a game at Football Park against Queensland, being part of a centre line that included South’s David Young and Redleg Phil Gallagher.
In this star-studded team were players who would become the cream of SA talent including Dexter Kennedy, Keith Kulmann, Kym Hodgeman, Paul Weston, Greg Phillips, Phil Maylin, Stephen Copping and another Broken Hill boy, Andy Bennett. They were led by 10-time Port Adelaide premiership coach Jack Cahill.
Due to hamstring problems Leonard first retired in 1982, having a year off.
However, he returned the following season and would also be rewarded with life membership of the Unley Oval-based club.
“It was certainly a highlight for me to a member of the Sturt Football Club during that era,” Leonard said.
“The friendships made over the years have been important.
“The 1978 Grand Final was a big day, but in the end it was very disappointing, especially after the big build up.”
Leonard’s career finished at the end of John Halbert’s tenure at Unley in 1984, and in his 12 years he only had two coaches, Oatey and the 1961 Magarey Medallist, Halbert.
“I was a late starter during the pre-season in 1985 in Merv Keane’s first year and decided it was time to give league footy away, having a young family,” Leonard confirmed.
“There were a few Sturt boys playing with Mount Lofty in the SAFA (the now defunct South Australian Football Association competition), so I played the 1985 season with them.
“Besides some coaching of my older sons at Sacred Heart College, that was the end of my involvement in football.”
Well respected within the corridors of power at Unley, Leonard was regarded as a reserved individual and a quiet achiever.
A balanced footballer who always kept his feet, Leonard was in the “Oatey mould” being a skilful, smooth-moving player.
Before his hamstring issues Leonard, who was also a fine high school athlete in Broken Hill, was also known for his lightning pace.
While his finishing skills were strong, Leonard was also capable of winning his own football and was noted as being a team-orientated player.
An electrician by trade, Leonard joined the fire brigade in 1977 and is among a proliferation of SANFL players who serve the state in this profession from that era.
FOOTNOTE: The next generation of the Leonard family is starting to make their mark in SA football. After playing underage football with the Double Blues, Michael Leonard made his league debut with South Adelaide at Richmond Oval on May 7.
While dad was a midfield type, at 193cm and 90 kilograms, the next generation is an athletic defender.