2023 Queensland Football Hall of Fame – Dean Howard

North Adelaide coach Andrew Jarman would look out across the ground just before the first bounce hoping to see one thing. Dean Howard rolling his shoulders. If he was, he knew his ‘wrecking bull’ midfielder was on and that the rebuilding Roosters would be alright.

It’s the ultimate complement from one of football’s great characters for one of Queensland football’s unheralded stars. A Broadbeach junior who forged a wonderful career with West Adelaide and North Adelaide in the SANFL after a fleeting AFL stop with the Adelaide Crows.

Born and bred on the Gold Coast after his family moved from Geelong in the mid-1960s, Howard played through the ranks at the Cats and played at was a senior player in the Gold Coast League at 16 under Gavan McGuane. After two years with Broadbeach (1992-93) he had three years under Geoff Jennings at Mt. Gravatt (1994-96) and one year under Jason Cotter back at Broadbeach (1997) when they stepped up to the QAFL and then he was gone.

Recruited by SANFL club West Adelaide, he did enough in his first season in Adelaide to earn a chance at the Adelaide Crows when drafted at 22 with pick #30 in the 1998 Rookie Draft. On Friday night 4 June 1999, he became Adelaide Crows player #104. One after Tyson Stenglein and one before Ken McGregor.

The Crows, who had won the 1997-98 AFL flags under Malcolm Blight, had made a 4-5 start to the 1999 campaign when Howard was chosen to play against Essendon at Football Park and the following week in Round 11 against Fremantle at Subiaco.

He remembers fondly his first selection, when at the end of the last training session on Thursday night Blight would stand on the mark and challenge would-be senior inclusions to kick for goal. He did it with Howard, and when he banged it through he got the little nod – well done, you’re in.

His debut against the Bombers alongside Crows legends Mark Riccuito, Andrew McLeod, Tyson Edwards, Simon Goodwin, Kane Johnson, and Nigel Smart in front of a packed house at West Lakes in front of 39,389 was “incredible, even though I didn’t have a lot of impact”, he said. They lost by eight goals.

In Round 11 he saw the other side of the AFL as a visitor to Subiaco Oval against Fremantle. That finished in a loss by 39 points as the Crows finished 13th in their last season under Blight, but Howard had claimed a place in club history. He was the first of only three players to wear the #47 Crows jumper in the club’s first 32 years, ahead of Matthew Wright and Jake Kelly.

Thereafter, he became a dominant figure in the SANFL, playing 135 games with West Adelaide (1998-2005), 44 games with North Adelaide (2006-07), and representing South Australia three times.

A highlight was SA’s 10-goal win over Western Australia at Fremantle Oval in 2003 under a young Alastair Clarkson, when he starred as they came from well back at halftime. He also played twice against Victoria at Adelaide Oval in 2001-02 for a win and a loss.

He played in a grand final loss with West Adelaide under Shaun Rehn in 2003, but after ‘Westies’ finished with the ‘spoon’ in 2005 he was happy to move to North Adelaide.

Jarman, player, coach, media identity and all-round South Australian football legend, had taken over as North coach in 2004 charged with the responsibility of rebuilding the club. They’d not played finals since 1997, finishing 8th-9th-8th-8th-7th-9th in the nine-team competition with 21 wins in six years.

The ever-colourful Jarman took them to fourth in 2004-05 with 12 wins apiece but needed more. He needed uncompromising toughness around the ball. So, he recruited a long-time opposition player from West Adelaide.

“He (Howard) was an absolute beauty for us. Tell him I love him and say thanks for all he did for our club,” Jarman said. “I wanted him specifically because he was such a hard nut and such a strong personality. There were few better going around at the time. He was a much-respected player at our club. The boys just loved him.”

The Howard ‘tell’ was obvious, according to Jarman. “He (Howard) was like a boxer going into a big fight, eyes bulging ready to go. If he was rolling his shoulders before the bounce, you knew you were right. He was on. Like a tiger prowling around the centre bounce.”

“When he was rolling the shoulders, it meant dangerous times ahead for the opposition midfielders. You couldn’t tell him anything. You just let him to do his thing. Win the footy.”

In 2007, at 31, Howard finished joint runner-up to North teammate James Allan in the coveted Magarey Medal, but it didn’t quite end with the fairytale finish when North lost the 2007 grand final to Central Districts in front of 30,493 people at Football Park. But Howard was done.

He returned to the Gold Coast to play one more season at Broadbeach under David Round before he retired at 32 in 2008. A total of ‘maybe 250’ senior games in total and an imposing influence in most. Unless he didn’t roll the shoulders. “If he didn’t do that you may as well have put him out in the paddock,” joked Jarman of his old mate.

Howard says he was ‘proud’ of what he’d achieved after leaving home by himself to follow his football dream in a city where he knew nobody. “I had a great run. I had limitations but I’m comfortable that I was always hard at it, one of the hardest players in the competition, and I always gave everything I had. When I crossed the line, I went to work. I loved Adelaide – it’s a great football state,” he reflected.

But there’s no place like home. Since 2008 it’s been all about Penelope, his wife of 23 years, sons Hamilton (19), Hugo (14) and Hunter (12), and his plumbing business on the Gold Coast. Hamilton is an apprentice with his father, and the younger pair attend Palm Beach-Currumbin High and play football with the Broadbeach juniors. The ‘old man’ is content to be ‘just a fan’ whenever he gets a chance.

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