Brad Ebert bowed out of the AFL following his courageous final act – one that showed the mark of the man and his legacy.
Deep into the final quarter of the preliminary final, with Port four points down, a penetrating pass is sent deep into Richmond’s forward line. Jack Riewoldt has lost his man and looks certain to rise and mark the footy and seal the game.
Instead, Ebert appears and flies back with his eyes completely on the footy, sending a grasping hand to propel the ball beyond Riewoldt’s grasp and behind across the boundary.
In the process, Ebert – already wearing a helmet due to past concussions – catches his head on Riewoldt’s elbow and then pounds into the ground, clearly losing consciousness.
For all the weight that is given to them, beginnings and endings are usually innocuous and inglorious occasions, but in Ebert’s case his first and final acts at Port encapsulate the man and his legacy.
The Ebert name is a famous one at Port Adelaide, and in his final press conference at Port Adelaide’s Alberton home, as the journey came full circle, Ebert remembered kicking a ball just next door as a child when his own father was an assistant manager with the Magpies.
Being an Ebert at Port is like being an Ablett at Geelong, thanks to Brad’s legendary uncle, three-time premiership player and four-time Magarey medallist Russell Ebert – a man whose name is still spoken about in terms of wonderment by the generation who witnessed him live.
Brad may never have had a chance to reach such heights, but he never lived in the shadow of the name, with his legacy imprinted upon the renewed culture at the club and the reinstatement of traditional Port Adelaide values.
Having initially been drafted by West Coast with pick number 13 at the 2007 national draft, by the end of the 2011 season a young Ebert had played 76 games and established himself in an Eagles team that had just finished fourth.
Juxtapose this with Matthew Primus’ first year as coach of Port Adelaide. The team had finished 16th and suffered the further ignominy of being the first team to capitulate to the newly formed Gold Coast Suns.
Given the contrasting fortunes of the two clubs, it was the mark of the man that Ebert chose to return to Port Adelaide for the 2012 season.
The road to Port was the hard road, which meant putting some faith in the club, himself, and their ability to build something together.
The fact Ebert returned to the club amid not just on-field failure but serious off-field doubts and difficulties says everything you need to know about his character.
Indeed, the circumstances of his arrival foreshadow his last act on the field – this was not a man lacking in commitment or strength of will.
This was not a player who wanted an easy ride or to jump onboard the moving train – he wanted to drag the club off its knees and back into contention again.
There was no immediate fairy tale either, although Port’s final ladder position improved slightly to 14th in 2012. They were the first team, other than the second-year Gold Coast Suns, to lose to the newly formed Greater Western Sydney. Port suffered a further on-field humiliation, which ultimately cost Primus his job.
There were, however, a few lights at the end of the tunnel and Brad Ebert was one of them. He was named recruit of the year by local media, displaying consistent form and on-field leadership, which marked him out as potentially a future captain.
Cutting his teeth in the engine room, Ebert was a key part of Port Adelaide’s rise under Ken Hinkley and their transformation from a basket case to destination club.
While his lauded uncle was highly skilled in every department, his hands stood out, whereas Brad was a gut-running midfielder who favoured penetrating kicks. Although the famous Ebert hands resurfaced with his exceptional marking ability.
A total of 140 goals across 260 games played predominantly as a midfielder speak to his ability to push forward, often at the end of gut-busting runs. He scored goals across his career.
It was his abilities and his mentality that made Ebert a versatile player capable of moving out of his midfield role to the back or up forward as he did predominantly for his final year at the club.
And despite that starting field position, his final act was to spoil a ball deep in the back line thanks to his supreme engine and team-minded mentality.
He was undoubtedly one of the fittest and most professional players at the club. He always looked like he could run a marathon.
In addition, his final act in the AFL reminded us he might be the toughest Ebert yet, which at a club like Port Adelaide is its own badge of honour.
People who have been around the AFL for a long time know what the club is about. In the documentary ‘Onward to Victory’, celebrating the club’s 150th year, Kevin Sheedy reflected on the quality that stood out most about Port Adelaide: “They were ruthless, physically ruthless. They had a very good level of skill as well but were hard, just hard.”
Ebert’s final act in the AFL represented the toughness he displayed across his career in his commitment on the field and off it. As Ebert was carried from the field following his concussion in the collision with Riewoldt, the crowd gave him a standing ovation and chanted the Ebert name – a special and unusual moment in Australian football.
It marked out the value the supporters put on the player and his style of play.
It was testament to the man who had walked his own path to write a new chapter in the story of the Ebert name at Port Adelaide. Part of that chapter is leaving the club in a far better position than when he arrived.
The most influential team players leave a part of themselves behind in the team and an imprint, which is their legacy. In Ebert’s retirement press conference, he revealed Xavier Duursma – a young man who recalls Ebert in how he recklessly dashes back with the flight of dangerous balls – had asked to wear his number seven jumper in 2021.
The Brad Ebert legacy lives on and it could not be in better hands.
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