Port Adelaide just announced a devastating news…….

Brett Ebert and the gun-loving sons of Port Adelaide
Just as a queue of “sons of guns” is gathering in Port Adelaide, father-son rules are being reviewed at AFL House. The first AFL father-son selection made by the team considers his journey to Alberton and his rightful position there.
Technically speaking, BRETT EBERT was not supposed to enter the Port Adelaide Football Club unhindered and sit next to the locker where his father Russell, uncles Jeff and Craig, and himself began their SANFL league careers.

“I grew up at West Lakes – Eagles (Woodville-West Torrens) zone,” remembers Ebert, who proceeded to Oval Avenue, Woodville, with his friends to the under-13 division before accepting a free pass to Alberton.

“However, I was unable to secure a match with their under-17 team,” continues Ebert, the late bloomer who in 2002 won the Magarey Medal as the most brilliant and fair player in the SANFL. “I would have been under their banner after just one game.

“I was at Port Adelaide with Neville Thiele coaching me in the under-19s, and shortly after that, Stephen Williams (the SANFL senior coach for Port Adelaide at the time) had a conversation with me about switching teams. I was feeling pretty content. I’m happy I took the action.”

After a century of generational family ties at Alberton, there was the second step in the father-son journey to the AFL ranks at Port Adelaide in the 2002 national draft. Quinn, Obst, and Williams were the most notable family dynasties at Port Adelaide and in a State league without father-son rule. This was the club’s first father-son pick in the national league.

“And somebody did tell me that I wasn’t supposed to be able to play father-son in the AFL,” remarks Ebert.

It is necessary to consider and explain this unbelievable idea, especially in light of the AFL football department’s recent review of the hotly contested and idealized notion of a son (or daughter) following in his father’s footsteps by playing elite football.

The VFL-AFL father-son rule – first written in 1949, amended 10 times since and currently under review – in 2002 was different for clubs in different states, but for Port Adelaide demanded:

FATHER of nominated son had to have played at least 100 AFL or 200 SANFL league games (for premiership points) in the 20 years before AFL admission in 1997 at any of Port Adelaide, Central District, North Adelaide, West Adelaide and West Torrens and/or Woodville.

Russell Ebert played a club record 392 games for Port Adelaide from 1968-1978 and 1980-1985 – and in 1979 moved to the VFL to play 25 games for North Melbourne. That “side trip” to the VFL meant Russell’s counter of SANFL games from that premiership-winning season in 1977 to his retirement in 1985 fell short of the critical 200-game criteria.

Someone at AFL House clearly miscounted or accepted if Brett Ebert was not a father-son pick, no-one was.

In 2002, the price for a father-son selection was a third-round pick. Ebert “cost” Port Adelaide call No.42 in the national draft that delivered Steven Salopek at No.6, Stephen Gilham at No.16 and Wade Champion at No.57 to Alberton.

(There were two other father-son calls – Jobe Watson to Essendon at No.40 and Cameron Cloke at No.43 to Collingwood).

Today, and since 2007, the father-son rule has demanded AFL clubs be subjected to rival bids – as Port Adelaide faced in 2019 with Jackson Mead (son of Darren). A father-son nominee can be called at any stage of the national draft – and the nominated club must respond with a next available draft pick or a combination of picks to match the bid, albeit with a 20 per cent discount on the draft value index applied on each pick.

This system is not as simple as it was in the Ebert selection in 2002 – and it is destined to become more complicated from perhaps as soon as this year’s national draft in November.

What becomes of the father-son rule from this year’s AFL recruiting system remains uncertain at a time when Port Adelaide has several potential selections including Louis Montgomery (son of Brett), Rome Burgoyne (son of Peter), Oliver Francou (son of Josh) and Ky Burgoyne (son of Shaun, grandson of Greg Phillips).

Brett Ebert’s path to his family platform at Alberton coincided with the denial to his cousin Brad in taking a simple passage to Port Adelaide where his father Craig had played 112 league games – and his maternal family lines included his great grandfather Ken Obst and grandfather Trevor Obst, the 1967 Magarey Medallist.

Brad Ebert went to West Coast as the No.13 pick in 2007 national draft at which Port Adelaide did not call before 16 (Matthew Lobbe) – and Port Adelaide could not bid (in the first year of bidding) with 16 to claim Ebert as the midfielder was not listed as a father-son nominee. After 76 AFL games in four seasons at West Coast, the homecoming trade was made in 2011 with Port Adelaide giving up picks 28 and 49 (used by West Coast to recruit Fraser McInnes) in return for Ebert and pick No.45 (Brendon Ah Chee).

“It was, I think, good for Brad to go away, to develop,” reflects Brett Ebert. “He did come back ….”

Brett Ebert is doing his own coaching at community level with the St Michael’s College first XVIII after serving an apprenticeship at the school with SANFL premiership coach Mark Mickan from 2019-2021. He also has a heavy work cycle, spread from Port Adelaide’s community programs (another father-son passage to continue the sound platform left by Russell) to injury prevention and training programs in the mining industry.

Brett Ebert today remains an advocate of the father-son rule, first used in VFL ranks in 1951 to allow Carlton to claim Harley Dunn junior from North Melbourne’s recruiting zone – and always noted for granting Ron Barassi his passage to Melbourne in 1953.

“It is a great rule; it allows a club to carry on a tradition,” says Ebert who played 166 AFL matches for Port Adelaide from his busy 16-game start in the 2004 premiership season until injuries forced his exit after 16 matches in 2012.

“The fans love it. They think it is fantastic to see a famous name at a club continue on … and now we can see that happen in AFLW too.

“I get there will be a debate on what price does a club need to pay for a father-son pick. But how can you determine what is the ‘right’ draft pick for an 18-year-old … ?

“I can only see benefits from allowing a son to follow in his father’s footsteps.”

Such a romantic passage in Australian football is not always easy, as some have learned in the shadow of their famous fathers.

Russell Ebert’s first son, Ben, notably endured the torment of on-field rivals.

“He copped more … whereas I was younger, under the radar and very different to Dad on the football field,” recalls Brett Ebert. “I played differently … smaller, left foot, forward and I was getting by with a quite easy, laidback personality.”

But there was no easy run to league selection, either in SANFL or AFL ranks where Ebert had the brotherly combination of Stephen and Mark Williams.

“Both great coaches, but different,” Ebert said.

” ‘Choco’ was hard on me … and that was good for me at the start, to make me work for that AFL selection. I appreciated that … I could not take it easy.

“Stephen made me work hard as well. Nothing was going to come easy (just because of a family storyline at Port Adelaide). But staying at Port Adelaide was a massive bonus for me.”

Ebert was not rushing from interview to interview in his draft year at 18. Whether the rest of the AFL community appreciated he was destined for Port Adelaide as a father-son is debatable.

“I didn’t speak to any other club in that draft year; perhaps they did think I always was going to Port Adelaide,” Ebert recalls. “I went to the State draft screening, but wasn’t called to the national one.”

Brett Ebert remained in SANFL ranks – claiming the 2003 Magarey Medal while his shoulder was in need of reconstructive surgery – after being drafted to Port Adelaide. And as soon as the medical clearance was gained on his rebuilt shoulder, he was immediately in the Port Adelaide AFL line-up for the round two clash with West Coast at Subiaco Oval in Perth and with a Rising Star nomination in round 10 after a three-goal return against Brisbane (the week after kicking four against Geelong).

“I felt a part of it straight away,” says Ebert of his debut season. “I was more mature (at 20 in 2004 than at 18 when filling out a draft form). The step up from SANFL to AFL was real – but not a crazy difference. It is a massive step though.

“I was glad to contribute that year.”

Ebert left the AFL ranks with the dreaded osteitis pubis curse to his groins, but no damage to his other joints.

“The groin was wrecked, but the knees and hips are good,” says Ebert. “The body has held up well.”

So did a family tradition at Alberton – a theme the AFL will preserve, even if the father-son rule is a lottery and an inbuilt compromise to the equality of the national draft.

“I can see where giving up a third-round draft pick (as the rules were for father-son selections in Ebert’s era) is seen as a bargain,” Ebert said. “But it is difficult to work out what is fair. Bidding (as in play today at the draft) is fairer, but what system of bidding you work at the draft is a challenge.”

The AFL community – and every club list manager and recruiting chief – awaits the answer to that challenging question.

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