Bulldogs take SANFL minor flag – again

By Rob McLean

There is something exhilarating about watching a sporting team winning against all expectations, particularly when it is your own.
Central District went into yesterday’s top of the table SANFL clash at Elizabeth Oval undermanned and many observers expected the Bulldogs to concede top spot and possibly the minor premiership to a confident Norwood outfit hell bent on building a platform to avenge last year’s painful grand final loss.
With an injury list longer than the queue of an emergency ward on a feisty Saturday night, the Bulldogs fielded one of its least experienced line-ups in the past decade.
Sitting on the sidelines were Matthew Westhoff (broken arm, season), Cameron Milne (dislocated shoulder, indefinite), Scott Dutschke (broken tibia, indefinite),
Daniel Havelberg (hamstring, two weeks), Jay Nash (ACL knee, season), Alan Obst (knee, season),
Charles Slattery (back / neck, season) and Chris Gowans (hamstring), Lee Spurr (rested) and Andrew Hayes (rested).
That lengthy list (including six KPPs) would be crippling for most but not for a club that has redefined mongrel since winning its first premiership in 2000.
For the uninitiated, Central District had been the Cinderella club of the SANFL since its induction to league ranks in 1964.
The club from Elizabeth only played in its first grand final in 1995 but has made up for lost time since, playing in every grand final this millennium and winning nine flags.
So really after such a golden run, the fact the injured ‘Dogs could conjure a 50 point win over the second placed side should be no surprise.
That’s the beauty of the modern day Bulldogs, they continue to surprise even when they shouldn’t.
If nothing else, the victory is proof that so much of the Central District success story is based around a system of responsibility for one’s own performance and doing the ‘the team thing’, no matter whether you are the first or the last picked.
An early adherent to the Leading Teams principles of Ray McLean (no relation to the author), the CDFC exists to win premierships at league level, hence the controversial decision to not play in this year’s second tier competition developed by Foxtel.
All players within the club are inculcated into the system, explaining how young Dogs such as yesterday’s best on ground Luke Barmby can step into the team and immediately become an important cog in the machine.
The key is to be honest and accountable and not take success for granted, a fact that many of Norwood’s players forgot yesterday as they struggled to perform under the weight of expectation.
As minor premiers, Central District will now ease into the finals with a week’s rest, after the completion of the minor round next Saturday, before playing a 12th consecutive second semi-final.
Centrals supporters will rejoice in the fact the club is yet to lose a second semi-final since beginning its golden dynasty but the brains trust inside the kennel will have a different view.
Many of them, including master coach Roy Laird, were involved with the club during the tough times and know that you have never won the premiership until it has been won, so nothing will be taken for granted.
The Redlegs players who disgraced their club in yesterday’s match will now also be entirely aware of that fact – meaning an anticipated future juicy finals encounter between last year’s grand finalists should not be another walk over.

*Rob McLean is the Football People columnist on football website SA Country Footy.

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