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  • Writer's pictureJohn Townsend

Premature to elevate Ben Cousins to Australian Football Hall of Fame; Gerovich must be next.

The recent suggestion that Ben Cousins should be elevated into the Australian Football Hall of Fame is as misguided as it is poorly timed.

Cousins was a champion footballer, an inspirational running machine who gave every drop of himself on the field until he was physically and emotionally spent. Fans and media loved him, team-mates were lifted by him, opponents admired him. He sits at the highest echelon of West Coast’s greatest players.

Some astute observers have him at No.1 ahead of Peter Matera and Chris Judd; others in the top three or top five.

No one was able to match Cousins at what he did best when he was at the peak of his powers in the early years of this century.

And his team followed his lead to become the best in the country.

Yet it would be unfeasible for Cousins to be inducted this year, or in the next few, while the memories of his rampant, chaotic and devastating personal life are still so strong.

It is excellent news that Cousins appears to have overcome the drug addiction that sent his life into turmoil and caused extraordinary heartache for those closest to him.

He is playing a limited role in football, taking small but steady steps into the media and appears to have accepted some family responsibilities.

Like a young footballer emerging onto the scene, he has shown early promise in his new life.

But just as footballers are not judged on early promise alone, Cousins cannot be recognised with the game’s highest honour until he has proved himself over an extended period.

Making his potential elevation even more untenable is the fate of Barry Cable, an official hall of fame legend whose honours were stripped from him last year after a District Court judge found he had sexually abused a teenage girl in the 1960s.

This was a civil trial at which Cable denied the allegations - but did not offer a defence - and was determined on the balance of probabilities. He has never been charged over the matter.

Compare that to Cousins’ recent history which included six separate jail stints, including a seven-month term in 2020 for stalking the mother of his children in such a menacing manner that she was forced to secretly move house.

Cable might not be worthy of the hall of fame under its good character requirement but, by that standard, neither is Cousins.

At the deepest nadir of his fall, Cousins’ family started every day fearing the phone ringing because it might bring news of his death – either from a drug overdose, physical confrontation or car crash.

It is telling that while people may be calling for Cousins to go into the hall of fame, West Coast have never nominated him for induction.

The Eagles do not have to do so but given their position, and the likelihood that they are as well-informed as anyone on Cousins’ recovery and state of mind, they act as an effective barometer on his standing.

Cousins should not be inducted this year but it is easy to identify which West Australian player is at the top of the list of quality candidates to be elevated into a body charged with recognising the best footballers from across the nation – not just those from Victoria nor the AFL era.

John Gerovich was the latest legend to be included in WA’s hall of fame and given that he is the only one of that cohort of 18 – not counting Cable – who is not in the national body, it is imperative that his omission is rectified at the earliest opportunity.

A spectacular high-flier whose outstanding stature was recognised with a prominent Fremantle Oval statue of the game’s most famous mark, Gerovich was a player of rare brilliance and considerable substance.

He was named All-Australian at 18, still the youngest player to receive the honour, and was forever referred to by former POST columnist and fellow full-forward Austin Robertson as “football’s human astronaut” who would “turn a patch of turf into a trampoline”.

Gerovich is the most prominent of more than a dozen WA footballers who have powerful cases to be recognised for their feats.

Even if you discount those candidates from before World War II – imposing figures like inaugural Sandover medallist Tom Outridge, seven-time premiership ruckman George Owens who was named in a comprehensive 1946 statewide survey as WA’s greatest-ever player, pioneers Bill Bateman and Tom Wilson, or stars turned premiership coaches turned politicians Ross Hutchinson and Jerry Dolan – there are a host of suitable contenders.

How about Les McClements, the mercurial Claremont star who Dolan and WA legend George Moloney said was a greater ruckman than Graham Farmer – after Polly had won the first of his Sandovers?

Armed with movie star looks and an extraordinary vertical leap, McClements won the Tassie Medal as best player at the 1947 national carnival as well as multiple fairest and best medals.

Ray Schofield started as a full-forward at West Perth but became Australia’s greatest full-back who beat the best Victorian spearheads in many of his 23 state appearances.

One of football’s most controversial figures, it is often overlooked that Mal Brown was a superb player and far-sighted coach.

He won a Sandover Medal and premiership at East Perth, coached South Fremantle to another flag and invented – inadvertently - the modern interchange system.

The 1972 season produced by East Perth full-back Ken McAullay was one of the greatest in football history.

He won a Tassie Medal and added two Simpsons, including one in the grand final win, during a year in which he helped WA to Sheffield Shield titles as an opening batsman.

It is staggering that Gary Buckenara, a four-time Hawthorn premiership player and regular star in State of Origin matches, has been overlooked during the three decades that the hall of fame has been operating.

Steve Malaxos captained Australia, WA, West Coast, Claremont and East Fremantle, won best player awards at three clubs – including becoming the first WA-based AFL player to do so – and flags at two.

Started his two-decade career as a brilliant goal-kicker, became a midfield ball magnet and ended as a shrewd defender.

The careers of this pair of Keiths overlapped and they could do so again in the hall of fame.

Keith Harper was an outstanding wingman who captained Perth to their drought-breaking 1955 flag amid a career as a state regular and one of WA’s most known footballers.

Ruckman Keith Slater was versatile enough to play Test cricket but will be best remembered for overcoming Polly Farmer in the 1961 grand final to help start Swan Districts’ hat-trick of flags.

Add tough Mal Atwell, part of the murderers’ row backline at East Perth in the 1950s before who led Perth to three flags, and another brilliant Royal in Derek Chadwick whose career encompassed nine grand final seasons, and there are numerous suitable names for consideration.

IMAGE: South Western Times / The West Australian

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