SANFL Grand Final – Woodville West Torrens v West Adelaide: Rubbers’ Grand Day Out

SANFL Grand Finals are pretty good. In your AFL Grand Final 100,000 people, some of whom follow one of the teams involved, pay a small fortune for the privilege to say they were at the Grand Final. As they soak in the atmosphere they manage to passively subtract from it at the same time. If you want to go to a footy game with the best part of 100,000 people, there are quite a few opportunities in the AFL calendar.

By contrast, your average crowd at the SANFL these days is a few thousand. It’s a long way from the twenty odd thousands that packed various suburban grounds in the mid-1970s. Nonetheless the SANFL Grand Final presents the opportunity to be part of a crowd that is dramatically larger than normal. It is an opportunity for people to pull out that old scarf, wander down to one of the best stadiums in the history of human existence and cheer on the team they might only follow passively across the season.

Pre-game

Today, we have almost 26,000 people at Adelaide Oval as two of the lesser supported teams get their opportunity for a premiership. The West Adelaide Bloods, the sentimental favourites, aiming for their first flag since 1983 against the Woodville West Torrens Eagles, the dominant team of the competition in 2015.

As groups of children, branded with some junk food company’s logo, do footy related things on the ground, You Am I emerge on a stage at the northern end. They work their way more than competently through a short, sharp set of oldies (by my count two songs from Sound As Ever, two from Hi Fi Way, one from Hourly Daily and one from #4 Record).

Playing a footy stadium is a tough job – the unmiked thud of the bass drum runs interference with the rest of the performance. Those of us of the appropriate age are briefly transported back to various gigs at Thebby Theatre and Big Day Outs (or is that Big Days Out?) at Wayville Showgrounds.

First half

The game ball arrives via helicopter. Blighty (the man, not the statue) tosses the coin to the advantage of what is kind of his former club and we are underway. 24 degrees with just a whisper of a breeze is perfect for footy fans, not so much for players who will be feeling it later.

Delightfully, the teams start off one-on-one and West take the early advantage of an apparent ruck superiority with goals to Green and Fielke. Michael Wundke picks up the next two for the Eagles before West get them back for a 13 point quarter time lead.

There are competing stories today but it’s not yet clear which will be the headline. West Adelaide are winning the footy and trying to handball to release runners. They refuse to kick and hope, preferring to accept the risk of over-using the ball. They could blow this game open if their field kicking was as good as the Eagles. By contrast, the Eagles are relying on their structures to win the ball on turnover and try to get to Wundke or Ainger one-on-one.

Wundke has the potential to turn back the clock – not his own specifically but ours collectively – to a time when big, burly, full forwards could win the game off their own boot. After West threaten to get away, out to a four goal lead early in the second quarter, the Eagles drag them back again. Freedom versus process, again and again.

Wundke’s story continues – he takes a run up the wing and spends the next five minutes paying for it. He then misses a set shot after copping a high knock – he is the heavyweight fighter, slumped in the corner one moment and up connecting with punches the next. Just before half-time he gets another contested mark and puts it through. He looks crook but, perhaps, the key story today will be his. West Adelaide by eight points at half-time.

Second half

Early in the third Wundke again goals and it is back to two points. Both teams drop a man back intermittently as the game ebbs and flows. West’s ruck advantage starts to tell as they win the clearances and do just enough to stop the Eagles getting the ball into space. The game is breaking down and some players are already starting to cramp.

After a long period of scrubby play, Kaine Stevens kicks a goal late in the quarter and West Adelaide take a 15 point lead into the final break. West Adelaide look the fresher of the two teams, but we have been fooled that way many times before.

A glance around the stands and it’s worried West Adelaide faces that grab the eye. Men of a certain age watching the game through the eyes of a younger man. Men on the cusp of middle age through the eyes of a boy, including the big one next to me. Mentally preparing themselves for the worst because that is what they have come to expect. 32 years will do that to you.

The Eagles get on top early in the last quarter – the first five minutes spent almost exclusively in their forward half. The Bloods hold them and hold them, ably led by Porplyzia loose in defence and Schmidt loose at the clearances. Something’s got to give and eventually it is the Eagles as West switch the ball quickly down the ground for Beech to kick a tough goal from deep in a pocket.

The Eagles are now winning the ruck but every time they kick it forward, Porplyzia is there to greet it. It is mystifying that, three goals down with 10 minutes to go in a Grand Final, the Eagles make no attempt to make him accountable. Wundke cannot win the game for them under such circumstances.

Meanwhile, down the other end, West miss three opportunities to finish the contest as they break through the Eagles’ lines. That is until Shannon Green runs onto a loose ball and kicks the sealer from 45 out. West Adelaide have come from ninth in 2014 to win the premiership by playing an attacking, attractive brand of football. Today’s story belongs to long suffering Bloods fans and Mark Mickan.

The contemplation

Rubbers Mickan, the man who missed West Adelaide’s 1983 premiership through injury; who was sacked by Glenelg as coach because they didn’t believe his brand of footy could take them to a premiership, finally gets a medal around his neck. The satisfaction he feels must be immense and to do it at his home club, all the better. One of a long line of Bloods players from the Riverland, including Ricciuto, Modra, Tyson Edwards and Grantley Fielke.

West Adelaide may not be the biggest or most successful of SANFL clubs but today they are the best. To many present, SANFL footy is about much more than this year’s premiership. It is about our past and the way that links to the present.

To those moist-eyed men and women celebrating around us it is as much about 1983 as now and all the spaces in between. Those spaces occupied by family and friends, those present and those no longer with us. West Adelaide fans celebrate with Ian Borchard and Chris Schmidt (both captains, both Jack Oatey Medallists), with Aaron and Grantley Fielke, with Geoff Morris and Jason Porplyzia – Neil Kerley and Mark Mickan.

How the SANFL will remain relevant and vital in current times remains an open question. However, while we are still upright, to those of us who remember a time before Ross Oakley paid a visit, this competition and its Grand Final will have an undeniable appeal. After the 1990 Grand Final, Graham Cornes walked into the Port Adelaide dressing rooms and said thanks to them the good times were now over – he was only half right.

About Dave Brown

Upholding the honour of the colony. "Play up Norwoods!"

Comments

  1. Peter Fuller says:

    Dave,
    Beautiful writing, thank you. You took us to one of the best stadiums in the history of human existence with a gripping account of the match.
    At my advanced age, men watching the game through the eyes of a younger man resonates powerfully.

  2. Dave,

    I’ve been doing too many “I remember…” posts and discussions of late, but one of my favourite memories as a kid in the 80s was the week after the VFL Grand Final was played, channel 7 here in Melbourne would show the SANFL Grand Final the following week. The first one I saw was Glenelg and North Adelaide in 1985. And loved it! We never got any SANFL or WAFL coverage except for the final scores in Monday’s papers here, but I was always keen to see how the Tiges were doing – as I am today. I’d love to get down to Brighton for a game one weekend!

    What a team the Bays had in 85/86! Peter Carey, Sticks Kernahan, Tony McGuiness, Seebohm, Gibbs, Marshall, Hodgeman, Tony Hall… And in the 90s (I think? It may have been late 80s) one of the best names in footy history after Athas Hrysoulakis: Nick Chigwidden.

  3. Great read Dave. Really enjoyed that. Would love to learn more about the history of the SANFL (and WAFL). Wish the AFL would include some great old grand finals from these leagues in their documentary series.

  4. mickey randall says:

    Dave- great piece.

    I enjoyed my first SANFL grand final this century. And first at Adelaide Oval since the Jumbo Prince got Sturt home against Port in ’76. Excellent to see the Bloods get up as I’m a footy socialist at heart.

    I was front and slightly left of stage for You Am I, and although our seven year old was underwhelmed, thought I had my money’s worth by the close of their third song. And yes to Thebby (saw them there in about 1996 when they were supported by Powderfinger!) and the Big Days Out.

    I like many others wonder how Chris Schmidt didn’t play more AFL footy.

    Stone Cold- Nick Chigwidden now President of the Bays.

  5. Thanks for reading & the kind words, folks.

    Thanks Peter. As a Norwood man it’s not something I’ve experienced before. The closest was Jerry D’Antocchia accepting his medal after the 97 GF with a weary “about time”.

    The Bay is a good place to watch footy SCSB – it is the only SANFL ground with al fresco seating. Glenelg were good back then – we lived down that way and a family friend used to take me to some games with his son trying to convert me to the Tiger way. Thank goodness he failed. Nick Chigwidden was late 80s and all of the 90s – probably close to the last of his kind, choosing to stay in the SANFL.

    Great grand finals, DJ – 2014, 1997, 1984, 1978 and 1975 immediately spring to mind.

    I was at that gig, Mickey. Didn’t think much of Powderfinger from memory. Schmidt – I don’t reckon he got a fair go at the Crows. That said, the Eagles barely went near him on Sunday.

  6. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Bravo Dave. You know me, those were the days and all that, but it seems like the SANFL is still (barely) clinging on. Well done you for keeping the flame alive, because once it is doused, nothing will fill the void.

    I’m amazed that clubs like Westies have survived. What keeps them alive, is it the dreaded pokies?

    Damien, a lot of the SANFL and WAFL stuff is available online in various forms. Have a look, it is tremendous fun (as is old-time VFA). There are plenty of us that can fill you in if needed. Maybe start with the 80s State matches.

  7. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Below is the President’s Message from the 1990 Grand Final budget – the last of the pre-Crows era:

    “The 1990 season will be remembered as being one of the most difficult and controversial in the history of the League.

    The question of entering a team in the AFL competition is one which has been discussed over the many years by all sections of the community.

    The decision by the Port Adelaide Football Club to apply to enter a team in that competition made it imperative for the League to counter that decision and forward a proposal to the AFL for a composite South Australian team to be accepted.

    The latter months of the football season have been most disappointing in that the attention of football supporters has been diverted by the events which have taken place and this has had an adverse effect on our competition.

    Now that these matters are behind us, I sincerely hope that we can look forward to an exciting grand final.

    Our game is now at the crossroads and it will require the total support of the football public and community as a whole in 1991

    I earnestly hope that the League can look forward to that support which has been so generously given in the past”

  8. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Thanks Dave although I am sure we both enjoyed the last 3 years grand finals a lot more( deliberately drove past the chimney sat arvo) spot on re your summary.Personally I can’t work out how Porps isn’t still on a afl list elite reader of the play decision maker and disposal beats any lack of pace in my book.
    Wundke did threaten to win the game off his own boot but Keogh did lift begrudgingly I say well done bloods

  9. Lee Harradine says:

    Dave, that’s beautiful writing.

    As one of those older men, but sitting on the bench willing the Bloods to win, I can only say how much I appreciated reading a game summary that captured the essence of the game we love in a competition we love.

    Thank you.

  10. Thanks Swish – yes, it is the dreaded pokies. Interesting President’s message.

    Sadly when I went past the chimney a couple of weekends ago, Malcolm, it was already under wraps. Porps doesn’t have to make many tackles in the SANFL.

    Thanks, Lee, appreciated.

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