Club News

AFL Hall of Fame 2023 Inductee, Michael Aish

The Aish name is royalty at The Parade in South Australia, home of the Norwood Football Club.

Patriarch Peter captained the club in the 1960s, then taught the game to his sons Andrew and Michael, who were both premiership players in the 1980s.

Late in life, Peter had the pleasure of seeing grandsons Jesse and James (nowadays with Fremantle) also wear the red and blue colours as well as league players, with James setting the mark as the youngest SANFL premiership player in history.

When Michael – an official Club Legend and the first of just three Redlegs in the club’s 145-year history to reach 300 games during his stellar career – received the news in March from Commission chair Richard Goyder that he would be inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame, his first thought was of his late father, who passed away just over two years ago.

“I was called by Richard and I was emotional straight away,” Aish says.

“It’s an incredible honour to be deemed as worthy to be in the Hall of Fame, and I thought immediately of my dad, who was my hero.”

Aish’s CV at Norwood is glittering as a great of the 1980s in the golden age of the SANFL – four best and fairests among 300-plus games, two premierships, a Magarey Medal, regular state player, multiple All Australian and Croweater captain in an era when State of Origin footy, particularly on a Tuesday night at Football Park, was seriously HUGE.

Father Peter stressed the development of skills, by working over and over again, and how you played the game was equally important.

“Dad was hot on skills and how to play. Myself and Andrew would kick a ball all day long and he’d teach us about body position, competing, and what to do to win the ball.

“Right from the word go, he’d strap a pillow to his back and we’d take hangers. He’d stand us apart and kick the ball to us and we would learn how to compete.

“He wanted our socks up and our jumpers tucked in, and you played hard but fair, and you shook the hands of the opposition. Dad hated unnecessary roughness or dirty play and the ball was the only thing that mattered.”

Coached by legendary cricket writer (and diehard Norwood fan) Mike Coward as a schoolboy at Pulteney Grammar, Aish was always the standout and a key member of the first 18 from Year 10, starring against players two and three years older than him.

Schoolboy footy and learning the game, and testing his limits, remains a great memory and Pulteney still holds a special place in his heart alongside Norwood, largely because of the memories too of his parents watching him play.

Able to find the ball at will, deliver it with hand or foot and evade traffic throughout his career, he had one season when he polled maximum votes in every game he played to win the competition best and fairest.

He lived for his Saturdays.

“Andrew was the academic and my plan was just to play footy,” he laughs.

“Mum and Dad spent a lot on my education, and I had a great time at Pulteney as an outstanding school, but I was thinking about footy all the time and how much I loved playing.

Aish the teenager stood behind the goals at the Southern end of Football Park in September 1978 when Norwood claimed an unlikely premiership in its centenary year. Reed-thin at barely 67kg with a shock of curly hair, he still finds it extraordinary to think he was training with those premiership players six weeks later and playing with them early the following year.

Moving like a reed in water between big, hardened bodies, once he made the senior team, he never saw the reserves again.

Aish says at the time he barely acknowledged his own incredible trajectory into league footy in SA – rookie of the year in 1979, dominant finals’ performer in 1980 and then Magarey Medallist and dual premiership player by his early 20s.

“As a youngster, you don’t think too much about it, I was just playing. You go and get the ball and don’t think about anything else.”

Possessed of incredible skills on both sides, and the innate ability to read the play, he was worryingly courageous despite his size and his focus on just trying to be a league player meant he barely noticed the turmoil within the club at the time of his entry into senior ranks.

Norwood lost a host of senior players after Aish’s debut year of 1979, both with retirements and end-of-season departures caused by unhappiness with some senior players around the appointment of a new coach – Neil Balme.

Aish, a Tiger fan, was fearful of what may be asked of him by his new coach but found the mentor who was wanting to give youth a chance and who would guide him to be his very best.

“When Neil was appointed, I was a big Richmond fan and I knew how he played. To be honest, he played like a big thug and I was wondering how this going to work with him as the new coach, because dad always told me to be fair and play the ball.

“Some older players were whispering in the changerooms about if this was a good move, but I was a young guy and didn’t take any notice, because I’d only been there five minutes and I didn’t have the right to have an opinion on the coach.

“The club backed Neil as the new coach and made a few changes to move out those guys who complained a bit.

“It turned out that Neil trusted his players to play to their strengths. He gave me chances to shine and we just did the work and away we went.”

Away they went indeed.

In the first five years under Balme, Norwood finished second, third, first, third and first with Aish claiming three best and fairests in that period and being central in the 1982 and 1984 flags.

The 1982 flag was claimed with a run of power football that just saw one loss in the last three months of the year, while the 1984 flag was the first won in SANFL history by a team from fifth position.

A key arrival at the start of 1982 was Neville Roberts, a former team mate of Balme’s at Richmond, who was looking for his own success and his impact on Aish was immeasurable. They spent hours every week obsessively kicking balls at each other from close range to improve their reactions, before then battling 1-1 work for marking contests.

“Neville is still one of my best friends today and he was an unbelievable recruit for us that improved my game.

“He was the best I’ve seen in taking the ball out in front and after every Thursday night training we’d spend time smashing the ball at each other to improve our hands. We would then get someone to kick out to us from the goal square and compete for the mark and he made me so much better.”

Nicknamed ‘Rowdy’ for barely speaking a word in his early years, Aish was obsessive in trying to be the best, and to be respectful of the game. His weekly opponents of the time rank among the greatest one-time batch of talent in the state’s history in that golden SANFL age – Bradley, Platten, Kernahan, the Jarmans, Motley, McGuinness, Naley, McDermott to name but a few of the all-time greats he shared his Saturdays.

“I didn’t think I was that special, because dad kept saying, ‘work hard, work on your skills’.

“You were up against so many great players and had to do the work to share the field with them.

“I was always thinking I could do more. I knew I could read the ball and had some smarts about where to be, but you had to work on everything in your game with the guys you faced every weekend.”

Garry McIntosh – a fellow club Legend – was at his side for a decade, as was Keith Thomas – the key trio of youth entrusted by Balme to lead the club to success. As his mentors in his early years before Roberts, he had Michael Taylor and John Wynne – pivotal figures in the history of the Redlegs.

“John Wynne educated me about the game and would talk to me every week about what I could to impact the team, while Michael Taylor was a role model on how to train.

“As a young player, you laser-beam on to someone to learn, and I was so lucky to have those two guys.”

Chased hard at various times by five Victorian clubs for a move to the VFL, but mostly by Richmond, he never made the move across the border, and was content to play in Adelaide and test himself at state level several times a year, as well as joining a tour to Ireland.

“I probably have some regrets that I didn’t go to Victoria, but I was a quiet guy from Adelaide and I just couldn’t see how I would go with changing my whole life.

“I can say it now, but I couldn’t say it then, but I had massive anxiety about leaving Adelaide and I tried to cover that up. I liked living in Adelaide. I was quiet, and I had my family, and that was who I was.”

He would add a fourth club best and fairest, lift his state game tally into double figures and push on to become the first Redleg ever to 300 games, but team success would elude him across the last decade of his playing days. There were no major regrets though.

“We got to something like four prelims after 1984 and we lost them all.

“They hurt a lot when you lose them but when I look back, I’m grateful that I got to play at a club that my dad played at and captained. I got to play with my brother and we got a flag together.

“I still love watching Norwood play because I played with that club. My son played and my nephew is the youngest ever premiership player in the history of the SANFL. I get great pride from that.”

Three decades after his last game, he’s now a grandfather, still reed-thin but without the curly hair, and thankful to all in his family who helped him fulfill the dream to play the game.

“When I first found out, I told my wife (Pam), daughter (Georgia) and brother (Andrew) straight away because they’ve done so much for me.

“Then I got the boys together (Karl, Jesse and Joel) all at once to tell them a few days later. So many people help you, and I’m going to thank them all, but your family do so much for you.”

The Aish name has been represented in more than 600 SANFL senior games, and now sits in the Australian Football Hall of Fame.


Michael Aish’s CV

  • 307 games for Norwood 1979-93, 449 goals
  • 15 games for SA (Captain 1986 and 1989)
  • Magarey Medal 1981
  • 2x Premierships 1982 1984
  • 3x All Australian 1983 1984 1986 (dual state-matches per year era)
  • 4x Best and Fairest 1981 1983 1984 1992
  • Fos Williams Medal 1983
  • Captain 1987-89
  • Norwood FC Hall of Fame Legend

The Aish Family at Norwood

Peter Aish

162 games 1953-62, 9 goals

Captain 1960-62

Andrew (son of Peter).

89 games 1981-86, 62 goals.

1982 premiership

Michael (son of Peter)

307 games 1979-93, 449 goals

1982 and 1984 premierships

Norwood captain 1987-89

Jesse (son of Michael/ grandson of Peter)

38 games 2006-13, 41 goals

James (son of Andrew/ grandson of Peter)

24 games 2012-13, 13 goals

2012 and 2013 premierships (youngest SANFL premiership player in history)