By Tony De Bolfo
MARK Naley, whose 65-game Carlton career was punctuated by the 1987 Grand Final victory, has passed away in his home town of Adelaide at the age of 59.
Naley died in palliative care this morning (Monday), having bravely waged a personal battle to overcome a succession of aggressive brain tumours over the past three years.
Recruited to the club from South Adelaide on the cusp of the 1987 season, Naley found himself in fair company with Craig Bradley, Peter Motley and Stephen Kernahan – all of whom had joined the club from over the border in the lead-in to season ’86.
In his maiden season at Princes Park, the blisteringly-paced Naley quite literally took time to find his feet. The turning point came in the mid-year Australian Football Championships when a series of stellar performances for South Australia against Victoria and Western Australia earned him the Tassie Medal for most outstanding player.
From then on, ’Nails’ starred in the No.17 – a guernsey made famous by Brent Crosswell and the Brownlow Medallist Gordon Collis – and his place in Carlton’s starting 20 for the 1987 Grand Final was assured.
In reflecting on Grand Final day ’87, two memories of Naley endure.
The first involves him lining up in long sleeves (when Hawthorn’s Michael Tuck uncustomarily went sleeveless), on what was a sweltering 32-degree afternoon.
The second relates to him putting on the afterburners and cutting a swathe through three physically and mentally spent Hawthorn players to slam home a big running goal late in the final quarter – a glorious moment just as gloriously called by the recently-retired Channel 7 commentator Dennis Cometti.
At the premiership celebrations back at the Southern Cross that night, when the likes of David Glascott and Peter Dean sought solace in upstairs rooms to recover from their taxing physical ordeals, Naley was amid the frivolity downstairs – belting out the Judy Garland hit ‘When You Wore a Tulip’ whilst clobbering the drums on the ballroom stage.
Naley finished fourth in his club’s best and fairest in the Premiership year, behind David Rhys-Jones, Wayne Johnston and Kernahan – the club captain and eventual winner.
On his return to South Adelaide in 1991, Naley, then 30, took out the Magarey Medal for competition champion – an honour that was pre-empted by Footscray’s bold but forlorn attempt to take him at selection six in the ’91 mid-season draft.
In the end, Naley turned out for more than 50 matches for South Adelaide before hanging them up in 1993.
Back in Adelaide, and having always been told as a child that his paternal grandfather was of Afghan descent, Naley discovered that Charles Gordon Naley – his Pop – was of Indigenous descent. This, couple with the fact that Charles served with the Australian Infantry Forces at Gallipoli, filled Naley with a sense of deep personal pride.
In November 2016, Naley was behind the wheel of his car when he inexplicably lapsed into unconsciousness.
“I had a seizure, which started it,” Naley told this reporter in an interview the following month.
“At the time I was turning into a street, saw the street sign and that was it. The next thing I remember was waking up in hospital an hour and a half later.”
In the years since, Naley underwent a succession of surgeries and was subjected to the terrible side-effects of his treatment – all the while taking a glass half-full approach. Through social networking, him and his wife Cassie provided regular updates to a host of well-wishers – amongst them the former players Vin Cattogio, Warren Jones, Alex Marcou and the likes of Ian Aitken and the Norm Smith Medallist David Rhys-Jones – all of whom savoured September success with Naley more than 30 years ago.
This afternoon, Rhys-Jones recalled Naley’s name being on his radar long before fate brought them both to Blueland.
“I came across ‘Nails’ in the early days because Greg Miller had secured the signatures of him, Greg Anderson and Peter Motley on form fours binding them to the Swans,” Rhys-Jones recalled.
“The Swans then gave Miller the a..e and that was that, but I kept an eye on all three players in the following state games and I had a fair idea of how good they all were.
“I think ‘Nails’ found the move to Melbourne initially difficult and I reckon he might have played a game or two in the seconds early days, but in state games and in finals he just lifted. Once he got a feel for it he was quality. He was a gun rover. He took off from a standing start and left them all in his wake.”
Naley’s love for his old club never waned. On many occasions he’d fly in for Spirit of Carlton functions and on one return to the old Carlton ground he was famously photographed with his daughter Hanna in front of the No.17 locker.
In turn, ‘Nails’ took great solace from his Carlton well-wishers. As he said: “When you realise how long you’ve been out of it, it’s comforting to realise that people still remember”.