Stephen Connelly, Footballer – Central District, Norwood, South Australia
By Peter Argent
A state footballer with the SANFL when at its zenith in the 1980s, Stephen “Mono” Connelly also played for South Australia against Victoria and Western Australia.
Stephen made his league debut for Central District in 1983 as a 20-year-old, and passed away after a gym session on Thursday, November 21, aged 50.
In a five-year SANFL career, Connelly played 92 senior games – 69 for the Bulldogs and 21 for Norwood, along with his pair of games in the SANFL state tri-colours.
The Bulldogs recruited Connelly from Gawler Central Football Club in 1980, after a successful stint with his junior club, where he was a member of three junior premierships.
He also played in back-to-back under 19 SANFL successes, where he played alongside Derek Kickett, John Platten, Richard Cousins and William Hurn in the early 1980s.
“Steve played his junior football with Gawler Central Football Club,” his coach at the Tigers Dean Tobitt said.
“After playing two season of under 15s and two years of under 17s, he ventured down to Central District.
“He always had the drive to succeed, as his skills were very good, had a great work ethic and played in an under 17 side that did not lose a game in his era.
“Stephen also played cricket at Gawler Central; a very good player with bat and ball. He gave up cricket to concentrate on his football.”
He also has a unique place in AFL draft history. Connelly was one of six players from the SANFL, along with Colin McDonald, Matt Campbell, Neil Hein, Ben Harris and Mark Mickan pre-selected by the Brisbane Bears, before the inaugural draft in 1986.
Two years later he returned to country football in the BL&GFA, playing in the 1988 premiership victory by the Willaston Donnybrooks over Tanunda, alongside older brother Paul.
“He was best on ground on grand final day that year,” his coach at the Donnybrooks Peter “Wacka” McLean said.
“Stephen was the first of the type of endurance midfielders you see in football today. He would make it to every contest, run all day and had a great left foot.
“Among other strengths was his football smarts, and he was also a player who would kick a couple of goals for you.”
After the success at Willaston, work took Connolly to Alice Springs, where he won the Central Australian Football League best and fairest, the Minahan Medal in 1989, playing two seasons with Wests - the second as playing coach.
There was also a pair of northern summers with the Wanderers in the Northern Territory Football League in Darwin, where he was selected for the NT representative side that played against Melbourne.
He returned to the Donnybrooks in the mid-90s and led them to a grand final in 1994, but they lost to a Mark Pitman-inspired Freeling.
A superbly fit athlete throughout his life, Connolly also ran marathons. He had been given a role as assistant coach of the Tea Tree Gully Football Club in 2014.