CARLTON'S 1987 Premiership coach Robert Walls and captain Stephen Kernahan have paid tribute to Mark Naley, who passed away in palliative care in Adelaide on Monday after a long battle with brain cancer.
Walls spoke volumes of the 65-game former rover - “someone for whom I have very fond memories as a footballer and as a person”.
“Mark came from a club which I don’t think had a lot of success to Carlton which at that time was one of the top four clubs in the competition. It was a big deal and I reckon he was pretty chuffed to be following Kernahan, Bradley and Motley,” Walls said.
“He just loved playing for the Blues.”
Walls regarded Naley as “one of those players who, when he got the footy, things happened”.
“Back in those days a lot of blokes would rack up 25 possessions and not much would happen, but if Mark got hold of the footy a dozen times magical things happened,” he said.
“He was a very creative, clever, one-touch player and as he acclimatised he loved the fact that he was sharing the midfield with blokes like Craig Bradley, Paul Meldrum and Wayne Johnston.”
Like so many at the MCG on that sweltering September Saturday back in ‘87, Walls remembered with affection Naley’s barnstorming final quarter goal after leaving in his wake the Hawthorn players Russell Greene, Robert DiPierdomenico and Ray Jencke.
“He (Naley) broke from the centre square and just charged to the goals. Those little legs were going at a million miles an hour, and that goal was one of a succession of goals that just iced the game for us,” Walls said.
“He was a class act and a super-skilled player. He was a beauty. Socially off the field he also mixed well. He embraced the club and the people in and around it ... he always had time for people.
“The fact that he went back to the club which gave him his start was pretty typical of him.”
Walls also recalled sharing Naley’s company at the 30-year reunion of Carlton’s 1987 Premiership players.
As he said: “He (Naley) wasn’t well then, but he made sure he got there - and that was appreciated by everyone because we all knew he was doing it hard in the last few years”.
“The ‘87 Premiership meant everything to him,” Walls said.
“He was always at the reunions because he was always proud of the fact that he was a Carlton Premiership player.”
Naley joined Carlton on the cusp of the ‘87 season when Richard Dennis, Steve Da Rui and Peter Satori traversed the Nullabor to Princes Park.
But Kernahan well knew of Naley’s greatness long before he first donned the No.17 in dark Navy - a throwback to their SANFL days when the former was chasing the leather for Glenelg, the latter for South Adelaide.
“I played so much state footy with him. He played in plenty of rep games with on-ballers like Chris McDermott, Tony McGuinness, Garry McIntosh and John Platten,” Kernahan said.
“He was a serious player and he was loved by all. He was a breath of fresh air. He was a good man around the club and he went back to South Adelaide too soon. But he always came back.”
Kernahan remembered having to look twice to recognise Naley at the ‘87 reunion, such was the toll the brain tumors had taken on his old teammate - “but no-one enjoyed the reunion more than him”.
“In recent times I’d send him a text to see how he was going and he’d always get back to me,” Kernahan said.
“I’m not on Facebook, but someone sent me one of his posts from a month or two ago which read: ‘Need to play my best quarter ever. He’s bouncing the ball. The last quarter’ - so we all knew it was pretty serious.
“He was a great man and I won’t forget him.”
Mark Naley was the 940th player to represent the Carlton Football Club at senior level since Jimmy Aitken led them out as inaugural captain in the opening round of 1897.
He is survived by his wife Cassie, children Hannah and Sam, step-daughter Rose and grandson Finn.