Wynyard/Geelong/St Kilda, Wingman/Back Pocket, 1974-88
> 200 games, 51 goals for Geelong, 1974-86
> 20 games, 1 goal for St Kilda, 1987-88
> 16 games for Wynyard, 1973
> Tasmanian State of Origin representative, 1979 (Perth)
> Two representative matches for NWFU, 1973
> Wynyard ‘All-Star Team’ (wing)
Affectionately nicknamed ‘Scratcher’ thanks to his family’s history in potato farming, Robert Neal began his senior football career with Wynyard at the age of 17 in 1973. Right from the off the teenager’s talent was blindingly obvious, and after just one season with Wynyard Neal was signed by VFL side Geelong ahead of the 1974 season. Over the next 15 years Neal would establish himself as one of the finest wingmen in the VFL, often tangling with some of the greatest names in the history of the game, such as Melbourne champion Robert Flower and duel Brownlow medallist Keith Greig of North Melbourne. Despite his name not being as well known as those aforementioned legends, Neal’s pace and elusiveness made him a formidable opponent, while his unmissable mop of red hair and amiable character made him a firm favourite amongst the Geelong faithful.
The late 1970s to early 1980s was not a successful period for Geelong, and in 13 seasons with the Cats Neal appeared in just seven finals matches, with only two of those – the 1976 elimination final and 1981 qualifying final – resulting in wins. Neal was nevertheless an outstanding player in his own right, proving a consistent if not prolific vote-getter on Brownlow night, his best finish in the award being equal seventh in 1976 with 23 votes. Late in his time at the Cats advancing age and the emergence of young stars such as Gary Ablett led to Neal shifting to a back pocket, where he continued to play a vital role in a young and developing side under Tom Hafey, using the fine defensive skills he had learned during his days as a wingman to great effect. 1986 was to be Neal’s final season at Kardinia Park, as mounting salary cap pressure forced the Cats to trade Neal to St Kilda. Now aged 30, Neal spent two final seasons at VFL level with the Saints where he played mostly in his familiar position on a wing, finally retiring at the end of the 1988 season after 220 VFL games. Undoubtedly a fine player, his career was unfortunately blighted by injuries; Neal only managed 20 games or more a year in five of his 15 seasons at the highest level.
While he never achieved the ultimate success of a premiership as a player, Neal did have the honour of representing his state at a time when such an opportunity was commonplace. He was a Tasmanian Schoolboys representative during the early 1970s, while during his time at VFL level he appeared in the map guernsey at the 1979 State of Origin carnival in Perth. Post-playing career, Neal moved to Queensland where had had an active role in coaching a variety of state and club underage teams.