2023 Queensland Football Hall of Fame – Southport Team 97,98,99,00

Southport was a long-time powerhouse club of Gold Coast football before stepping up to the QAFL in 1983. The Magpies turned Sharks became a QAFL powerhouse before climbing to the NEAFL in 2011 and the VFL in 2021. They have a record the envy of clubs at all levels Australia-wide. But even by their own standards the Southport team of 1997-98-99-2000 was special.

They won four consecutive premierships, had an aggregate record of 69 wins and 10 losses, and were 9-0 in finals. They won 39 times by more than 50 points, including 13 times by 100-plus, and boasted an aggregate percentage of 193.2%. They won 76.6% of 316 quarters of football and topped 100 points 46 times while conceding 100 points just four times.

David Bain, a 176cm rover from Albany in Western Australia who played 98 games in the AFL with the Brisbane and Fitzroy, captained Southport through the golden era and was one of four players to play in all four premierships. The others were brilliant key forward Sean Coughlan, originally from Wodonga, and brothers Nick and Chris Mansbridge, ever-dependable utility players from Bendigo who made Southport home.

Fifty-one players combined for the four flags in a team that was known as Jason Cotter’s team. A six-time premiership player with the club, a dual Grogan Medalist and one of the State’s all-time greats, Cotter coached the 1998-99-2000 flags. He took over from fellow QAFL Hall of Famer Danny Brennan, a 300-game player at Sandgate, whose 1997 premiership team which included sons Jeff, the Grogan Medalist in the same year, and Ricky.

Southport won the 1997 flag by an astonishing 94 points over Mt.Gravatt at Mayne after going 18-2 through the home-and-away season and beating Mt.Gravatt by 17 points in the second semi-final. It was 26-13 (169) to 11-9 (75) after Southport led 8-2 (50) to 1-2 (8) at quarter-time. Craig Wilson kicked six goals, and Scott Bamford, Brent Green and Fabian Webb four.

It took three finals in 1998, all played at Coorparoo, after a 12-4 home-and-away campaign. They beat Mt.Gravatt by 53 in the qualifying final, Morningside by 11 points in the second semi-final, and Morningside by 11 points again in the grand final – 12-15 (87) to 11-10 (76). Down by a point at half-time, Southport kicked 6-5 (41) to 2-3 (15) in the third quarter to take an unassailable lead.

If it’s possible to crown a ‘best of the best’ sides of the golden era it was 1999. They were unbeaten, going 18-0 with a percentage of 254.5% and an average winning margin of 68 points. With key recruits in Troy Crossley from Broadbeach and Geoff Pemberton from Cairns, they beat the Northern Eagles by 38 points in the second semi-final at the Gabba and two weeks later beat them again by 43 points in the grand final at Coorparoo. Up by 15 points at halftime the Sharks kicked 4-4 (30) to 0-1 (1) in the third quarter to clinch it. Tim Deacon kicked six goals.

In 2000, when Nick Riewoldt, an all-time AFL champion in the making debuted in Round 1, they started 0-2. But they finished the home-and-away campaign at 15-3 and beat the Northern Eagles in two nailing-biting finals at Coorparoo. The second semi-final was a slog. They led by six points at quarter-time, two points at halftime and nine points at three-quarter time and scraped home 9-10 (64) to 9-7 (61). The grand final was a different story. Southport trailed 1-3 (9) to 5-5 (35) at halftime. Coach Cotter swung Riewoldt from a wing into the ruck and Clint Watts from half back onto the ball. They kicked 4-1 (25) to 1-4 (10) in the third term and 5-4 (34) to 2-2 (14) in the last to win 10-8 (68) to 8-11 (59).

Why were the Sharks of 1997-98-99-2000 so good? “They just battled so deep, and they kept finding a way to win,” he says. “It was a mix of some very good local juniors and some outstanding interstate recruits who bought into the Southport way. They always had had good key backs and good key forwards, and a plethora of good midfielders.”

Acknowledging the excellent contribution of Brennan, coach in 1996-97, Cotter also credits the role of Mark Browning, former South Melbourne/Sydney Swans champion who coached Southport in 1994-95, in building what was a very special group.

Bain, also inducted into the Queensland Football Hall of Fame in 2023, was an outstanding captain. The only person in the game’s history to win the WAFL’s Sandover Medal (1988), the VFL’s Gardiner Medal (1994) and the QAFL Grogan Meal in 1995-99, he was part of the Southport ‘glue’ through the ‘quadrella’ with coach Cotter, President Dr. Allen Mackenzie, football manager Gary Watts, and Assistant Coaches David Ashkar, himself a 1989-90 Southport premiership player originally from Sandringham, and ex-Essendon player Keith Gent.

Shaun Ballans, a midfield star from Lara in Victoria, won the Southport best and fairest in the 1998-99 premiership years before Mark Bradley, a powerhouse centre half back who had been a supplementary list player at Collingwood, was a 1999-2000 flag winner who won in the best and fairest in the 2000 premiership and again in 2001 before later playing at South Adelaide in the SANFL.

Ballans also won the Joe Grant Medal as best afield in the 1999 QAFL grand final after Scott Bamford, a 59-game AFL player with Fitzroy, Brisbane Lions and Geelong from 1996-99, won the Joe Grant Medal in 1997.Clint Watts, a born-and-bred Gold Coaster and a Queensland Football Hall of Famer, did likewise in 1998, and Steve McLuckie, a 20-gamer with the Bears in 1992-93, won the Joe Grant Medal in 2000 after returning ‘home’ following a stint with West Adelaide in the SANFL.

Rod Mackay, a product of the North Melbourne Under 19s under Denis Pagan, was a goal-kicking colossus during the golden era. After being sacked by the club in mid-1997 and playing at Broadbeach under Cotter, he returned with Cotter and won the Ray Hughson Medal as the QAFL leading goal-kicker in 1998-99-2000. He kicked 246 goals in the three years – 92-74-80 – after Brent Green, a 12-game AFL player with Brisbane and Sydney from 1995-98, topped the Southport goal-kicking in the 1997 flag with 59.

There were countless stars in the team.  Chris Smith, later to play a key long-term role in charge of the Sydney Swans Academy best knowing for plucking Isaac Heeney from the clutches of rugby league as a 12-year-old, was a key at centre half back in 1997 when runner-up in the best and fairest. Ian Dargie, a 1986-88 WAFL premiership player with Subiaco and the 1991 Sandover Medalist who had played 11 AFL games with St.Kilda and West Coast 1989-91, was a key member of the 1997-98 flags. Tim Deacon, son of 33-game South Melbourne player Cliff Deacon, was a key player in 1999-2000.

Scott Lawton, later to coach Southport in 2001-02-03, was a cornerstone in the first and last flags of the golden era, split by a stint with his junior club at Palm Beach-Currumbin, and Shaun Stephens, originally from Wonthaggi in Victoria and later to serve with distinction on the Southport Board of Directors, was a pillar of the 1998-99-2000 flags.

Dean Bowtell, later to enjoy a long and distinguished stint as Southport CEO, was a star in the first three flags of the golden era in a career that included time on the Bears list and with SANFL club West Adelaide.

Richard Moloney, a VFL premiership player at Sandringham, played in the 1997-98 flags before captaining Subiaco to a WAFL flag in 2004, while Julian Shanks, from VFL club Williamstown, was a key recruit in 1998. Campbell Black was a Southport junior who spent time on the Bears list and starred in the 1999-2000 flags, and Adam McKenzie, another Southport junior, was a triple premiership player like Ballans, Bowtell, Mackay and Stephens.

Eleven players who shared in 1997-98-99-2000 premiership extravaganza were chosen in 2008 in the Best Southport Team of the First 25 years – Bain (captain), Couglan, Craig Mansbridge, Ballans, Bowtell, Stephens, Watts, Bradley, Lawton, McLuckie and Brennan.

That didn’t include Riewoldt, arguably the best player ever to come out of Southport. Later to become Queensland’s first #1 draft pick and a 336-game champion at St.Kilda, Riewoldt moved from his junior club at Broadbeach in 1999 amid protests from the Cats, and after focusing primarily on Queensland Under-18 duties, played in a Reserves flag before a key role in the 2000 senior flag.

Astonishingly, Southport were unbeaten against six opposition sides during the golden era – Broadbeach and Labrador (9-0), Mayne (7-0), Maroochydore (4-0), West Brisbane (3-0) and Redland (2-0). They went 10-1 against Morningside, 11-2 against Mt.Gravatt, 6-1 against the Lions Reserves and had most trouble with the Northern Eagles (8-6).

They enjoyed an extraordinary 29-3 record at their Fankhauser Reserve home, losing twice to the Eagles and once to Morningside, and were unbeaten at nine different venues – Merrimac (6-0), Gabba (5-0), Labrador (4-0), Chelmer (2-0), Kedron (2-0), Fisherman’s Road at Maroochydore (2-0), Windsor Park at Mayne (1-0), Victoria Point (1-0) and Toowoomba (1-0). They went 6-1 at Coorparoo’s Giffin Park, 4-1 at Morningside’s Esplen Oval, 3-2 at Mt.Gravatt’s Dittmer Park and 3-3 at Zillmere’s O’Callaghan Park.

Members of the 1997-98-99-2000 Southport premiership sides were:-

4 Flags – David Bain, Sean Couglan, Craig Mansbridge, Nick Mansbridge.

3 Flags – Shaun Ballans, Dean Bowtell (97-98-99), Rod Mackay, Adam McKenzie, Shaun Stephens, Clint Watts (1998-99-00).

2 Flags – Ian Dargie, Richard Maloney, Craig Wilson (97-98), Brent Green (97-99), Scott Lawton (97-00), Nathan Balshaw (98-99), Campbell Black, Mark Bradley, Troy Crossley, Tim Deacon, Steve McLuckie, Geoff Pemberton (99-00).

1 Flag – Scott Bamford, Jeff Brennan, Ricky Brennan, Rod Brewster, Gavin Chesser, Lincoln Hughes, David Johnston, Brad McMahon, Fabian Webb, Marc Woolnough (97), Adam Cooke, Gary Hayes-Dewer, Justin Hodgkinson, Rob Panozzo, Julian Shanks, Chris Smith, Mark Smith, Shane Young (98), Mark Adamson, Damon Lawrence, Brendon Martin, Danny Wise (99), Gary Mann, Ryan Martin, Travis McKenzie, Jayson Pate, Nick Riewoldt, Stewart Lee, Matt Young (00).

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