SANFL Women’s – The women to bring it home at last for the South Adelaide Panthers?

The South Adelaide Panthers are one of the oldest and proudest SANFL clubs in Adelaide, and this season introduced its inaugural women’s team to the SANFLW, which is in its second year as a formal competition in SA.

 

Its coach is the very excellent Krissie Steen – former film and television actor, current professional builder, and given her success this year, likely AFLW senior coach in the near future having already worked in the AFL Men’s coaching assistant ranks with GWS and the Western Bulldogs – her talents are vast. She has guided her young team in their first year to a near perfect season (one narrow loss).

 

After their comfortable win over Norwood on Sunday, South have secured their place as minor premiers and booked their spot in the Grand Final, to play against the winner of the upcoming Preliminary Final between Norwood and North Adelaide. (Norwood just pipped a greatly improved West Adelaide on percentage into the prelim).

 

The Grand Final will take place on Anzac Day at Peter Motley Oval at Unley. Victorian Almanackers will remember Peter Motley fondly from his Carlton 1980s days, where he arrived with a brash bunch of young SA players including Stephen Kernahan and Craig Bradley, following a great early career with Sturt where he achieved All Australian status. He suffered very severe injuries in a car crash in 1987, but with extraordinary courage and patient support and love from his family, friends, and the footy community, he is living an excellent and active life with his wife and daughter in Adelaide.

 

The SANFL Women’s program consists of six SANFL club-aligned teams, which will be joined by the remaining three clubs next season. The SANFLW season takes place at the same time as the AFLW, but with 10 rounds instead of seven, and two finals – this alignment has been very useful for the Crows as it allows the coaches to put players back into the SANFLW to work on their games during the AFLW season, or work their way back from injury. It has been commented that the VFLW may wish to consider this model in the future, rather than playing a completely separate schedule during the winter.

 

Norwood’s SANFLW team playing on the weekend (Round 10) included the skilful and hard working Sally Riley, a Premiership defender for the Crows – and a young woman by the name of Wanganeen (Rebekah) – potential galore. It’s exciting watching the next generation of women footballers learning their craft, and who will be confidently challenging the senior players in the AFLW over the next few years. The SANFLW and the 30 odd clubs now blossoming in the suburban club system (SAWFL) provides a strong platform to do just that. Several Crows players, including Chelsea Randall, are actively assisting in the lower grades as invaluable mentors and teachers – and male past-players, including Magarey Medal winner Garry McIntosh, are coaching women’s teams at SAWFL club level. (I reckon his tackling drills would be fun – or perhaps a serious exercise in self preservation!)

 

South played well drilled and powerful footy for the initial seven rounds of this, their first season (watch out for Hannah Munyard, Cat Williams, Kristi Harvey and several others in future AFLW colours), winning all but one game by big margins – and were bolstered further in the last three rounds by a couple of reasonable blow-ins in the form of Courtney Gum (GWS star and AFLW MVP), and Anne Hatchard (Crows Premiership player and Rising Star nominee this year), having completed their duties at AFLW level.

 

The young Norwood defenders must have thought life was very cruel on Sunday arvo at the Parade when these two lined up in Panthers colours in the forward line – but hopefully used it as a great learning experience. They battled on womanfully, but would have been a bit sore after the game – at one point in the second quarter C Gum flattened her opponent completely on the way to goal, and then kindly went back to check if she was okay (as her physiotherapist instincts kicked in).

 

The last time South Adelaide tasted premiership success was in 1964 when the Panthers beat Port Adelaide – I was there with my blue and white bear on the pickets at Adelaide Oval. There is some footage of the game on an old black and white newsreel (YouTube link below). The scoreboard is still there in pride of place, but I note the fig tree has grown considerably since then.

 

It was a monumental day, given that South had languished at the bottom of the table for many years. (We still went to every game though, as Dad insisted it wasn’t just about winning – and he was right). And then an old trooper called Neil Kerley was appointed as coach in 1964, and with a terrific team of unknown young heroes turned the world upside down. The local streets rang with names like half forward flanker Alfie Skuse (who was quick and courageous but mum would cover her eyes when he kicked for goal as he was a little unpredictable); Lester Ross Senior who, ahead of his time, loved to kick short drop punts to leading forwards; the majestic and skillful Indigenous ruckman David Kantilla from St Marys and the Tiwi Bombers who was the first Indigenous footballer to play in the SANFL, and who coped with horrendous racism from opponents and crowds alike with calmness and courage; Dick Jackson who had nearly died a few months earlier in a car crash and somehow came back into the team with significant facial damage and major structural injuries to serve as the impassable centre half back on the day; the dour Graham Durbridge at full back who kept goal sneak Eric Freeman mostly under control (no easy task on one of the greatest sportsmen SA has produced);  classy defender and school teacher Mick Rivers who I would later meet at university where he was undertaking a women’s studies course – a great fella and thinker ahead of his time; centreman Lindsay Backman who is still one of the most elegant and fabulous players to grace a footy field … I could go on.

 

(Enjoy the torps! Or screwies as they are better known in SA).

 

 

 

Whether or not they win the Premiership in a fortnight (quietly confident), Krissie Steen and the current crop of young Panther women will take their place alongside that group – and deservedly so. They have done an equally great thing and claimed their place in history by donning the guernsey for the first ever women’s team, and playing on ecstatically despite whatever discouragement they might have received over their journey. They have jumped in, boots and all, to play their young hearts out for an old club and brought joy to many – their names will also be spoken of proudly in years to come. Go Yeos!

 

…. and to end on an extremely sad note (just made public as I finished the above) – SANFLW player Ellen Maple died in a car crash on Sunday evening, following her game with Sturt at Unley. She and her twin sister Tess played in Norwood’s premiership winning SANFLW team last year. She was just 22 years of age, and a very talented sports woman. The Sturt Club’s statement today includes:

 

“This year, Ellen was named among Sturt’s best players in seven of her eight games and was one of the competition’s leading possession-getters. This included the two highest possession games of her season in the past two weeks against Norwood and Glenelg, games that both ended in victory for Ellen and her Sturt team mates, including twin sister Tess.”

 

She is remembered as a delightful friend and team mate, and highly respected by her coaches and club.

 

The SANFLW finals series will take on a very sad tone now – but boy it puts it all (including footy) into perspective doesn’t it?

 

It is just a game. Look after yourselves, and hug your kids.

 

 

Ellen Maple. Gone too soon. Rest in Peace.    Photo: Sturt Football Club

 

Comments

  1. Dave Brown says:

    Incredibly sad news about Ellen Maple, Verity. On a brighter note, got a shock when having a kick at the Parade during half time in the men’s and turned around to see Gum warming up right behind us. Got a bit crowded during the breaks. Would be nice to see South win a premiership.

  2. Yvette Wroby says:

    Lovely, and sad, read Verity. Let us know the outcome. Great that you are keeping an eye out for future SA stars and future AFLW players. And agree, hug your loved ones.

  3. Mark Bryson says:

    Thank you for the article and reminisces.

    With sadness about Ellen Maple but on Tess Maple’s player profile that predates the accident – “You Could Not Live Without: My little twin, Ellen”

    The SANFLW season two has had the storied mature recruits in Jane Altschwager 37, Jo Hill 44, Jess Foley 34 and game time for Adelaide Rookie Becchara Palmer 29. At the same time there has been change to youth with 15 – 17 year old girls starring.

    It seems that Krissie Steen will have an influence at Carlton where four players from South Adelaide or Adelaide Uni will play in the VFLW in 2018 and join with Sophie Li.

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