AFL great Tony Modra. Photo: PAUL MENSCH
By MITCH RODD
IF it wasn’t for a pesky contract, the great Tony Modra could have been setting the football field alight exclusively for the Sunraysia Football and Netball League (SFNL) in the 1990s.
The Riverland native was a human highlight reel across a 10-year AFL career with Adelaide and Fremantle, booting 588 goals in 165 games, with a mark of the year contender thrown in every second game.
It could have all been different, however, when a 22-year-old Modra almost signed with Red Cliffs in 1991, with a view to playing alongside the great Trevor Larkins.
The now 50-year-old was in Mildura on Wednesday night, helping with Werrimull’s Auskick program training at Aero Ovals.
Modra was secured to visit Sunraysia through Mildura Toyota as part of a regional promotion tour for Toyota and the 2019 Good for Footy raffle.
“I think this is the first time I’ve been back here since I played a game for Red Cliffs,” Modra told Mildura Weekly.
Rewind back to 1988. Modra played with West Adelaide’s Under 19 side in the SANFL, but after struggling to adapt to life in Adelaide, he returned to the Riverland to play with Loxton and Renmark, winning a premiership with the latter in 1990.
Modra played a practice game for the Tigers in 1991, kicking a ridiculous 13 goals.
When Modra went to sign for the Tigers, however, he was still under contract at West Adelaide, and if the full forward went on to play AFL, they would not receive a fee. They would also get nothing by him moving to an interstate club.
Therefore they denied him a transfer.
“I played at Renmark in a premiership with my brothers and wanted to play over in Red Cliffs,” Modra said.
“I was pretty keen to play alongside Trevor Larkins. But obviously I was still under contract at West Adelaide so I didn’t have much choice and ended up heading back over there.
“I was pretty keen to stay up here but Doug Thomas brought me back to West Adelaide, which was fortunate for me as I managed to get on the Crows list from there.”
Lawyers from the Tigers faced a tribunal in Adelaide, however it was ruled that Modra was a contracted West Adelaide player.
While the Tigers had to lick their wounds, Modra returned to the Bloods and eventually earned selection as a zone player for the newly formed Adelaide Crows AFL side. The, rest, as they say, is history.
“I did have a lot of people encouraging me to have another crack so I guess fortunately I did in the end,” he said.
Modra made his name as one of the great full forwards of the 1990s, alongside greats such as Tony Lockett, Gary Ablett Snr and Jason Dunstall.
His aerial abilities earned him cult hero status and some of his grabs are still regular features in any AFL highlights packages.
Now back in SA, Modra does corporate work for the Crows, including hosting the Triple M bunker at the Adelaide Oval for Crows home games.
He also takes Crows fans on trips to watch interstate games, as he will against Carlton at the MCG tomorrow.
While not privy to team selection, Modra admitted there has been some external pressure on Don Pyke and the Adelaide coaches to make some changes to the squad after some “disappointing recent results”.
“There’s a bit of talk in Adelaide about who’s going to be dropped…maybe it might take that to get us up this week,” he said.
“Carlton at the MCG this weekend is definitely no certainty either. It will be interesting to see how that happens.”
When asked how he would perform in today’s AFL landscape, Modra gave an answer he has vocalised many times before.
“Back in the day we probably had a bit more space to move in the forward line, and people say in the forward line now you wouldn’t be able to because there are so many people cramming the area. I always say there are a few more heads to sit on!” he laughed.