Kerley remembered as a true leader

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Football icon Neil Kerley defined the golden era of the game in South Australia, his state funeral has been told.

Kerley's career as a champion Australian Rules player, coach, selector and administrator was remembered at a large gathering at Adelaide Oval on Monday.

Inaugural Adelaide Crows coach Graham Cornes said if there was one word to define Kerley, it was leadership.

"He was born to lead," he said.

"If there was a golden era in South Australian football, it began in the early '60s and it stretched through to the late '80s.

It was a football era that defined a generation, Cornes said, and Neil Kerley's influence extended right through that period.

"Now, we can debate it, but Kerls was the most powerful, charismatic figure of that era," he said.

"They called him the King, King Kerley and there's only one king."

Kerley played 276 games in the SANFL for West Adelaide, South Adelaide and Glenelg, and represented his state 32 times.

He also coached five SANFL clubs to four premierships.

He never played in the VFL, saying he "liked South Australia", but when the Adelaide Crows entered the AFL in 1991 Kerley was appointed the inaugural football manager.

Cornes said people often asked him what was so impressive about Kerley.

"Well it's really hard to explain because he had this magnetic, physical presence," he said.

"When he spoke his words were captivating. It wasn't so much what he said, but the way he said it."

Former Collingwood president Eddie McGuire said Kerley, who was affectionately known as Knuckles, was a great friend to so many figures of Victorian football.

"Neil was an enigma. For as much as he hated Victorian football, he loved it," he said.

"For as much as he despised those wearing the big V, they were amongst his greatest friends.

"Because Neil loved football and football people and today the secret is out forever. We Victorians loved Knuckles."

Adelaide Crows premiership player Mark Ricciuto told how Kerley had been instrumental in signing him as a junior playing in country Waikerie.

"Kerls coached the way he lived life. He wanted his players to play with desire and have passion," he told the gathering.

"He wanted you to believe in yourself. Not in a cocky or boastful way, but just internally he wanted you to think 'I can do it'.

"He wanted you to dream and set goals, be realistic but ambitious and work your backside off to reach them.

"Hard work was a non-negotiable to Knuckles."

At the start of the service, Kerley's daughter Gail offered an emotional farewell to her father, remembering the times spent at the family's Murray River property.

"So for now dad, cast your rod, pull yourself a red, turn on the footy and relax, you deserve it," she said.

Kerley died from an undisclosed medical episode ahead of a car crash east of Adelaide last month.

He was 88.

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