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Daniel Moriarty was born in Adelaide, South Australia, on 20th August 1895, the son of council worker and milk-roundsman Daniel Moriarty and his wife Jane (née Condon). He was educated at Christian Brothers College in Wakefield Street but, unlike many other sporting greats, he was not a schoolboy star whose athletic promise was evident at an early age.

Nevertheless, he loved Australian Rules football and pursued it vigorously, playing in the parklands and practising constantly. His early games were with a junior team called Victoria Parks which played its games in the centre of the Victoria Park Racecourse. He also played scratch matches for St. Francis Xavier or simply had a few kicks end-to-end before watching his school team play. In two games after he left school Moriarty played as a substitute for the University and Kenilworth Football Clubs. As a casual observer he was asked to play when those sides were unable to raise a full team. Owning only his boots, he appeared in long trousers and a borrowed guernsey and, when asked what position he played, replied, ‘Anywhere.’

At the age of fourteen he left school and began work in the accounts branch of the Postmaster-General’s Department in Victoria Square, remaining in this employment for 26 years. During this time he would walk to the Jubilee Oval behind the Exhibition Building to practise with the South Adelaide Football Club. He still failed to attract notice and as a shy youth was not inclined to push himself. Finally in 1915 he was selected to play for the B Grade team in the last four matches of the season. He managed to kick a few goals and South won the premiership. It was the only time Moriarty ever played in a premiership team.

With the Football Association in recession during the First World War, he had to wait until 1919 for his first League game at the age of 24. He did play a few games for South Adelaide in the Patriotic League during the war years and established a reputation as a centre half-back. He played his first real League game against North Adelaide at Adelaide Oval on 3rd May 1919. Indeed, he captained the side in the absence of Steve McKee.

Despite his modest beginnings at school, he established himself quickly as a formidable, no-nonsense defender who played regularly in the backlines of the South Adelaide team. He had an ideal physique for a footballer (5 feet 10 inches tall and weighing 12 stone) and developed his body through frequent exercise and visits to the gymnasium. He was a magnificent mark, had a penetrating drop-kick and was able to anticipate moves on the field with uncanny accuracy. He said later, ‘I used to read the play from the other end of the ground and would often take chest marks unopposed between centre and centre half-back while my opponents waited for the ball to come to them.’

In his first year of League football, 1919, he won the Magarey Medal for best and fairest player and repeated that achievement in the two following years. He played in the state team in 1919 and was a regular selection until his retirement in 1925. He was pursued by the Victorian football teams Richmond and Carlton, who offered him three pounds a week to play for them, but he never sought to play for any team other than his beloved South Adelaide. He made several finals appearances from 1921 to 1923, won the first Knuckey Cup at the club in 1923 and captained South Adelaide in 1925.

Dan Moriarty had a lifetime interest in horse racing. He wrote a weekly column for the Southern Cross and was later employed as a racing journalist with the News. On 5th November 1924 he married Cass Thornton and they had two children.

Named in football historian Bernard Whimpress’ Hall of Fame, Moriarty has been acclaimed as South Australia’s greatest centre half-back and ‘probably the greatest player between the two World Wars’. He died on 12th November 1982 and was buried at Centennial Park Cemetery.

By Prof John Daly

This entry was first published in S.A.’s Greats: The men and women of the North Terrace plaquesedited by John Healey (Historical Society of South Australia Inc., 2001).

​Uploaded 29 September 2014

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Image: A group of men play Australian Rules Football on an unidentified oval
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