SANFL semi finals: Grand Final? Who cares?

Yeah, I know Rulebook has already written this up, but I’m still gushing. My team is in the grand final in a couple of weeks and I don’t care if we lose. Last week, despite getting thrashed in the midfield, we gamely held on to win a game we had limited rights to win. This week we ran over the top of a team that is stronger, faster and much better paid. I have rarely, if ever, been so proud of my footy team and I’m trying to put this strange experience into words.

Now, I’m not in denial about whose is the fairy tale, underdog story in this finals series – it’s not ours. Earlier, in the elimination semi-final, South Adelaide beat a dispirited Sturt by 68 points. The Panthers are the Footscray of the SANFL, but without the success. Their one and only premiership came in 1964 – 50 years ago! They last won a final in 2006 and this weekend will be their first preliminary final since 1991. Having accounted for two very good teams in the Eagles and Sturt already, who is to say they won’t beat the Magpies this weekend. Anyone whose team is not still going will be supporting the Panthers (especially the case given Port and Norwood are the other options) and quite a few (myself included) will consider going down to Adelaide Oval this weekend to cheer them on.

Anyhow, back to the game at hand (or afoot if you’re Sherlock Holmes). In my memory this was the first time I had been to a game starting at 5.40pm. We set ourselves up at the northern end this week so the lads could have a run on the mounds of dead grass and dirt, after a season of packed AFL houses. The sun setting over the western stands on a warm early-Spring evening provided the perfect backdrop for this beautiful eggshell of a stadium.

The Redlegs had made one change to a side that held Sturt off the week before, bringing in little Joshy Donohue. Port, meanwhile, boasted 15 AFL listed players to complement captain Steven Summerton and ‘top-up’ players the quality of Nathan Krakouer. Surprisingly, they had decided to play two of their listed Power emergencies – a risk that seemed unnecessary given they had the double chance in the SANFL and an elimination final in the AFL. I was glad, nonetheless, that Kane Mitchell was the emergency they held back – his run has always troubled Norwood’s structures.

Norwood started uncharacteristically nervously in the first quarter, a few shanked kicks stalling any forward movement. Nonetheless, as expected, Sam Baulderstone gave first use. The mosquito fleet of Webber, Murphy, Wilson, Bartlett and Persinos harassed the Magpie mids into turnovers and the legs turned a 13 point quarter time lead into 27 points at half time. The feeling was good at half time, although the warning signs had been there late in the second quarter as Port found a bit more space. Newton’s late goal somewhat covered the subtle shift in momentum.

After the break the shift was not so subtle. Port had the first nine scores of the third quarter to turn that deficit into a 12 point lead in just 17 minutes of football. Port had stopped making mistakes, were breaking Redleg tackles and running harder. They were sharking Baulderstone’s taps and it was hard to see a way back from there. 15 full-time professionals were fitter, stronger, cleaner and now more desperate. Thoughts of a week off and a grand final were now becoming thoughts of a preliminary against South.

The Magpie surge also brought forth something thought near extinct in the SANFL – the mouthy Magpie supporter. As they took control of the match, previously quiet men around us started expelling bile onto the nearest Norwood players:

Go back to Victoria, McGuinness. You’re useless – even Footscray didn’t want you!

We accept your ‘only South Australians on the field’ challenge, sir, and look forward to our 16 players up against your 7.

Look at you, Newton, you Melbourne reject. With those orange boots on – you’re a pansy!

Sadly, Heritier Lumumba did not descend from the skies to pluck the homophobe out of the stadium. I thought better of reporting the bloke to security and I’m glad I didn’t because he got to see what happened next.

Thankfully, these gutsy boys at Norwood were having none of my defeatist nonsense. Following the umps handing Port an 18 point lead early in the last (yeah it was there, but they didn’t pay the same 50 metre two minutes later in the other direction when exactly the same thing happened), Norwood moved the ball forward and kept it there. Despite blowing three gettable shots on goal, the Redlegs erected a barrier across half forward with Brady Dawe playing an admirable Gandalf (you shall not pass!) marking every Port rebound 50. The legs were first and hardest at it and forced the Magpies into repeated turnovers in their escape attempts.

When Simon Phillips kicked an amazing goal from deep in the Eddie Betts pocket the momentum had irrevocably shifted. Bartlett hit Phillips’ chest in the goal square to bring Norwood within three and then Panos put them in front with a classy kick from 45 out near the boundary. When Josh Donohue split the pack at pace and ran into goal, the legs were out by 10, 20 minutes in. Supporters (read me) were going wild and Mr ‘pansy’ was looking none too happy.

Four minutes later Peter Persinos kicked the most important point of his career to put Norwood up by 13 points (I like to think that he deliberately missed that set shot from almost directly in front to keep the ball down that end of the ground) and, barring miracles, the game was over. A few minutes later the siren confirmed this fact. Those brave sods had the last 11 scores of the game and taken us to our third straight grand final. We will be on the brewery chimney again, just the position remains to be decided.

I said at the start of this article that I don’t mind if we lose the Grand Final. Of course that’s only partially true (or, perhaps, completely untrue if we play Port Adelaide) but let me explain. In the last two weeks I have seen a bunch of blokes win tough, absorbing football matches not because they were superior or had the better cattle on the park. They won because they were 21 mates (see the picture of the banner in Rulebook’s write-up – nailed it, cheer squad), whose whole has exceeded the sum of their parts. They give everything because playing for each other and, hopefully, playing for the club actually means something tangible to them right now. That is something I have been waiting all my life for and something the AFL would struggle to provide. So from that perspective I know the boys will give everything they have on 21 September and regardless of the outcome I will be proud of them for having done so. Saying we haven’t won anything yet entirely misses the point.

About Dave Brown

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


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Brilliant Browny and spot on being honest with the stupidity of not having a national reserve competition I never thought I would be so emotional and proud following the legs ever again I am rapt to say I was wrong

  2. South have won more than one premiership

  3. You are quite right, Mark, my apologies. They won a ton before 1900 but have only won once since the second world war. Massive oversight on my part – apologies to all Panthers.

  4. As a legs supporter it is great to see the improvement over the season. Brad Gotch has done a greAt job with South and one wonders if their improvement coincides with Sponsorship of Coast Fm. It would make for a great gf.

  5. Luke Reynolds says

    Great stuff Dave. Hope the Redlegs win the big one for you.

  6. No worries Dave. I have a great mate who has stuck with South through thick and a lot of thin – and I was thinking of his reaction ;-)

  7. I’m on the Panthers bandwagon!

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