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Les Cunningham was recruited from Peterborough on the recommendation of Norm Drew in 1950, playing initially with the seconds before making his league debut in Round 12 of that year when North hosted Port Adelaide. In his early games Les played as a defender but in mid-1951 coach Ken Farmer moved him onto the ball where he played as a ruck rover for the rest of that season. He became a key goal kicker, as evidenced by his efforts in the Preliminary Final win against Glenelg where he scored two goals and then in the narrow Grand Final loss to Port Adelaide when he was North’s leading goalscorer with 3 goals. Les was awarded the “Best Attention to Training Award” at the completion of the 1951 season.
Les’ career continued to blossom in 1952. In a reversal of what had happened in 1951, midway through the season Ken Farmer returned Les to defence. In the Grand Final Les was chosen to play in the back pocket and was part of the team which defeated Norwood in the Grand Final by a massive 108 points - a record Grand Final winning margin. For his efforts throughout the season Les was awarded the Arthur Roberts Memorial Trophy for the most improved junior.
The Grand Final was the last league game Les played for the club. In 1953 he met with an unfortunate motorbike accident and suffered a broken leg, causing him to miss the entire season. It was expected that he would make a full recovery but it was not to be. He missed the 1954 season as well but returned the next year as captain-coach of the Second eighteens team, taking them to the Grand Final and winning the trophy for Best Club Man. He was again captain-coach in 1956 and enjoyed another successful season but was unable to continue in that role because of school duties. He coached the Senior Colts (Under 19s) in 1957 and took them into the finals as well.
After football Les became a leading citizen of Mount Gambier where he worked as a Woods and Forest mill manager. He was prominent in local government where he served as a councillor for two years in the late 1980s before being appointed as alderman for eight years. He was president of the city’s Meals on Wheels branch, a member of the Rotary Club of Mount Gambier and Mount Gambier Golf Club and was a former justice of the peace.
Les passed away in 2014 at the age of 83. The North Adelaide Football Club salutes a very talented premiership player, successful coach and fine club man.