2003 SANFL Grand Final

By Robert Laidlaw

Central District won its breakthrough premiership in 2000, then in 2001 had a taste of de ja vu, and last Sunday defeated West Adelaide by 34 points in the SANFL grand final to prove three times is a charm.

The victory was the Bulldogs third league premiership, and the club’s third flag for 2003 after winning the under 19’s the previous week, and the reserves curtainraiser against Port Adelaide.

No club in the history of the SANFL has won the trifecta of under 19’s, reserves and league in the one season, earning Central District a unique place in history.

Other record-breaking facts from the weekend include the Bulldogs kicking their highest score in a grand final; Eddy Sansbury’s five goal haul – the most by a Central player in a premiership decider; and for the first time ever, a pair of brothers have won the Jack Oatey Medal.

James Gowans won the club’s inaugural Jack Oatey Medal in 2000, and on Sunday brother Chris made it a twin victory, with his best on ground performance.

Elizabeth Oval was rocking on Sunday night as supporters came out in force to celebrate with the players, proving Central District is the top community club in the SANFL, with fans from Elizabeth, Gawler and the Barossa revelling in the success.

Coach Roy Laird was aware his side couldn’t begin poorly against West, like the second semi-final, and said: “We just wanted to have a good start. I was always confident we were physically capable, and strong finishers.”

And a good start Central had, with Daniel Schell posting the game’s first goal three minutes in. Five minutes later Heath Hopwood made a courageous smother which created another major, kicked by himself after the Gowans twins combined in support.

Chris Gowans then stamped himself as an early Jack Oatey Medal candidate at the 17-minute mark when he brilliantly smothered another defender’s kick, and calmly passed to Eddy Sansbury for the Bulldogs third goal.

The script had been written by the coaching staff and followed to a tee by the players, as Central led 3-1 to 0-3. Finally West kicked its first major 18 minutes into the game, but before 60 seconds had expired, Nathan Steinberner had answered for the Dogs.

Early into time on the Bloods booted a pair of goals, but James Gowans steadied the ship when he ran in to an unprotected goal for the Bulldogs to lead 5-1 to 3-3 at quarter time, and their use of the wind to come.

With its good start, Central had West on the back foot playing catch up footy, and the second term set up the Bulldogs win, kicking 5-3 to 2-2 to lead by 29 points at the long break.

Goals seemed to come from the most unlikely sources, with Richard Cochrane’s left foot snap to start the ball rolling three minutes into the second stanza the goal of the game.

Chris Gowans slotted his first from a set shot at the 12-minute mark, and three minutes later kicked around his body from a tight angle to have supporters salivating.

Then there was Cochrane’s running shot near the boundary, and Brent Guerra’s almost casual goal, after James Gowans handpassed to the unattended player, and a monster punt from outside 50.

West has had a tremendous season, and weren’t going to lie down. Twice this season the Bulldogs have held solid leads against the Bloods at half time, only to see them whittled down through solid third quarters.

And on Sunday West grabbed the initiative with four of the first five goals of the second half. Leading by only 13 points deep into time on, Central exploded, with Eddy Sansbury kicking two majors in 90 seconds, and James Gowans’ goal blowing the margin out to 31 points at lemons.

Players from both sides had given their all, and cramp was having an affect, so when Marco Bello bombed the ball forward early in the last quarter, and Matthew Slade sprinted past his opponent to soccer a goal, the premiership looked safe.

A pair of Bloods points made little difference, until two majors within a minute 10 in may have been the spark West needed, until a quick reply from Sansbury quelled the uprising.

Only one further goal was scored in the game, when at the 22 minute mark Daniel Healy balked around an opponent, handballed to Matty Slade, who slotted the goal which put the icing on the cake.

Roy Laird said: “When Brian Haraida went down early in the first term, Quinton Graham went to centre half back and did an outstanding job. Hay, Hoppy and Guerra conceded size, but held firm down back, and was helped by the midfield pressure.

“Late in first quarter we started getting a result with small forwards, Cochrane and Sansbury, with their run, and we were good front and square.

“I feel like I want to keep heaping praise on the players, they have negotiated each hurdle, and never chucked it in. The club’s aim is to keep getting there [grand finals] and win more than we lose.

“A few people wrote us off at the start of the season after the loss of a few senior players, which makes this victory even more special.”

Central District had seven players taste premiership success with the Bulldogs for the first time: Luke Cowan and Daniel Schell, forming a solid one-two punch up front; Richie Cochrane and Eddy Sansbury, opportunist forwards; and backmen Paul Thomas, Adam Switala and Yves Sibenaler.

There were many major contributors to the victory, but Paul Scoullar and Damien Arnold combining in ruck to combat Ben Marsh was important, as was Simon Arnott’s work around the stoppages after half time.

Scores: Central District 17.9 (111) d West Adelaide 11-11 (77)
Best: C. Gowans, Sansbury, Hopwood, Arnott, J. Gowans, Guerra, Slade, Scoullar, Thomas, Hay, Bello.
Goals: Sansbury 5, J. Gowans 2, Cochrane 2, C. Gowans 2, Slade 2, Schell, Hopwood, Steinberner, Guerra.

Central District’s 2003 premiership side:
Forwards – Slade, Schell, Healy,
Half forwards – Sansbury, Cowan, C. Gowans,
Centre – Arnott, J. Gowans, Switala,
Half back – Guerra, Haraida, Thomas,
Backs – Hay, Sibenaler, Graham,
Rucks – Scoullar, Hopwood, Bello,
Interchange – Steinberner, Cochrane, Arnold,

Coach: Roy Laird
Jack Oatey Medallist: Chris Gowans

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