VFL v SANFL: the Topknot Pigeons and the Richie Cunninghams

There’s quite a bit to like about interstate football, particularly when Victoria is playing South Australia. For starters you have the cultural imbalance – where one side is the socio-cultural underdog, any game will have increased importance for them (see State of Origin, Chappell-Hadlee Trophy). Today we have, once again, SA desperate to prove the superiority of its state league (let’s pretend for the moment that the AFL is a national league) as a result of its underlying feeling of inferiority towards the dominant Victorian football culture.

It gives you an idea of the comparative nature of the two leagues. Today the SANFL squad (with 15 players from SA) is bigger and uglier than the VFL squad (with 16 players from Victoria) but are much more clean cut. The VFL is much hairier and feature an assortment of AFL style ponytails. Toby Pinwill looks more like a Dothraki horseman than a midfielder. Let’s call the teams, then,  the Topknot Pigeons (VFL) and the Richie Cunninghams (SANFL).

Another great thing about interstate football is that the squads having limited time together means no complex and game restricting zones, presses or floods. Football ends up being much more about winning possession, winning the individual contests and hard running. Not too many would complain about that, except Ross Lyon maybe. Today’s game is no exception as even on the small patch of turf known as the North Port Oval there is a sufficient amount of open play and both teams almost scored 100 points – a feat that is going the way of the chopped up telephone book in the modern game.

Finally, in the case of today’s game, you get to see the best players outside the AFL (based on ability, not potential) show their stuff. It is a particularly good reward for the minority of blokes who have never been part of the AFL system and show up each week to play at the highest level possible. So good are the lineups, you would think both sides would fancy their chances against GWS (note: this was written before the Hawthorn game).

The game itself was a cracker, being all about swings of momentum – from that perspective very much a modern game. There were seven lead changes and eight runs of consecutive goals across the day. The Topknots are dominant in early play as ruckman Meese and native South Australian Nick Lower give them first use of the ball. Their undersized forwards are unable to take advantage, however, as the Richies’ key backs Miles and Beard nullify their opponents and sling shot the ball through the middle. Cockie pulls a late one back from a Lower clearance but the Richies lead by five points at quarter time.

Alarmingly, Topknot coach Carroll tells his charges at quarter time not to worry about the scoreboard, handing the Richies a clear advantage – I’m pretty sure coach Godden believes the score is important in a game of football. SA get on a run early in the second as big Wundke monsters Ayden Kennedy. The Topknots snatch the momentum and lead back through Lower and a classy Cain as they defensively shut down the corridor for the Richies. As the time keeper’s finger hovers over the button Ian Callinan kicks two top goals, both against the boundary off different legs in different pockets and the Richies go into half time with a four point lead.

Cain gives the lead back to the Topknots early in the third before Wundke is responsible for the next four goals (two from his own boot) for the Richies, pushing the lead out to 20 until Scipione soccers a volley from 20 metres out, as the game was clearly getting a bit dull. Valenti gets one from the next clearance and SA leads by seven at the last change.

Amusingly, Godden (given he is on TV) drops the F-bomb at least three times in his address and tells his blokes if in doubt to bomb it long – almost as if Grenville Dietrich is standing at full forward. The Topknots continue their third quarter momentum and kick the next three, getting out to an 11 point lead. However, Meese is noticeably tiring in ruck, up against two Richie ruckmen and the space opens up on the ground to the SANFL’s liking. Callinan kicks another on his non-preferred (I’m not convinced he has one) and the Richies kick the next five to run out 22 point winners.

I’m somewhat shocked when Zane Kirkwood and Adam Marcon are named as the winners of the Fos Williams and Frank Johnson medals respectively. I thought Michael Wundke and Nick Lower were clearly the two most influential players on the ground. I can only really attribute an inherent bias towards midfielders and the desire not to award the Johnson to a South Australian respectively as the reasons behind the two decisions (either that or my own inability to read a game of footy… ahem, moving on).

So what did we learn about the two state leagues today? SA was better balanced – either the VFL lacks key position players or they were just not selected. SA ran out the game much better, pointing towards a greater level of general fitness. The SANFL has now won the last three games against the VFL and can reasonably claim to be the strongest state league.

A final great thing about state footy is that it gives you the opportunity to like players for being good when, on a weekly basis, you normally dislike them for the same reason. As a regular SANFL attendee it was nice taking a brief moment to enjoy Wundke, Boyd, Summerton, Jarrad and Callinan in the same way as their club fans must do every week.

About Dave Brown

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


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Great stuff , Browny love your analogy of the two sides go the , Ritchies and
    disappointing we couldn’t get , Nick Lower back to the parade and you were totally correct re the best players for each side !

  2. Dr Goatboat says

    One harks back to the Claxton shield and chapelli as well to reflect on how SA enjoyed beating all comers….well occasionally…..

  3. Thanks Dave. I was at Footy Park the night Sticks kicked ten. A football highlight. It is a changed world now, but thankfully state footy still has a place! Good job.

  4. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Goatboat – Claxton Shield, now there’s a thread…

    Nuts Martin, Gerry Roberts, Don Rice, Dave Mundy, I could go on forever

    Mickey – I was there too, as Ian Day said, it was a ball-tearer, although not as enjoyable as the years Grenville played, or even Rudi Mandemaker

  5. Dave Brown says

    Thanks peoples.

    Yep, Rulebook, Nick Lower is precisely what we are missing this year. Him and Baldy would be a great combination.

    I have a particular place in my heart for the SOO games in 92 and 93, Mickey. After Carey caned ’em at Footy Park in ’92 they changed the rules so he couldn’t play for SA but we still beat them at the MCG in 1993. Two cracking matches.

    Rudi Mandemaker, Swish – absolutely!

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