THE SWEET TASTE OF VICTORY
How sweet the taste of victory is? Especially against the odds, as Central District won its round seven SANFL clash at Unley against Sturt by 10 points.
It was a case of sixes and sevens for the Bulldogs, as they have not beaten Sturt anywhere for six season and not at Unley in seven years.
If someone from the Central camp had broken a mirror at Unley after the Dogs’ five-point win in 2014, that curse finally lifted in emphatic style, with the 2021 boys playing arguably their best game this season.
And the best news was that not only did Central answer every challenge thrown at it by a desperate side trying to win for its retiring captain Zane Kirkwood, the Doggies led from go to whoa.
Early in the game Central dominated but just could not convert that advantage on the scoreboard, with just one brilliant goal of the game snap from returnee Nick Lange the only major from five scoring shots.
And after the Double Blues first forward foray resulted in a major, another missed opportunity by Central.
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, when Sturt started to create some forward momentum, it also suffered from the yips with three consecutive behinds, allowing Central to still lead at the first break, 1.5 to 1.3.
There had been plenty of passages of good play in most games this season for the Dogs. But a lot of missed opportunities came back to bite them as games progressed.
But there was something stirring in the air about Central’s approach to this game, and it seemed the boys might be on a mission to break through after five consecutive losses, which may have given supporters a bit more hope.
Whether it was the smaller ground or the fact the Doggies’ determination was paying dividends, in what seemed a blink of an eye, Central booted the first three goals of the second quarter to take control of the scoreboard, after a frenzied attack.
Aiden Grace started the ball rolling with the first major of the period, three minutes in, before Marcus Barreau kicked a long running goal two minutes later.
And after a couple of Sturt points, Jackson Kelly pounced on a loose ball in traffic to snap truly, to extend the lead to 19-points at the 15-minute mark.
Then it was the Double Blues turn to use the momentum generated from winning the ball out of the middle, with three goals, one just before time on and two deep into the half, to cut the advantage to just two points.
But Connor McLean, who was playing one of his best games at this level – as he worked hard to provide a target up forward and was marshalling the troops around him – booted a long goal outside 50m as the siren sounded to end the first half, for the Dogs to be 5.7 to 4.5 up.
In a tough quarter of football Central set up its victory with a three goal third term, while holding the Double Blues to just two points, to go into lemons with a 28-point lead.
The Dogs have been vulnerable in several games this season when leading at half time but being held goalless in the second half. But not this time!
After a pair of behinds, Central managed to break the shackles through a steadying Kyle Presbury set shot from 45m, to kick the first major of the quarter, then five minutes later, Chris Olsson cleverly soccered one through to fill the Doggies faithful with hope.
Both teams managed a pair of points each, until late in the term Grace kicked his second of the match to see Central 8.11 to 4.7 up at three-quarter time, with the home side needing to double its score in the final term to win the game.
A revved up Double Blues came out after the final change of ends with determination, and soon had the first goal of the period, to give themselves a chance.
But first McLean had the answer with a major, then a piece of Travis Schiller magic brought the house down.
The determined rover won a ball in traffic but still had to contend with a pair of opposition players, which he deftly managed to overcome with a bit of twisting and turning. Then, after breaking a tackle, handballed to Kelly, who was in the clear and rewarded the effort with a goal.
Wow, 34-points up and travelling like winners, there was no stopping the Bulldogs. But was there still time for Sturt to reward their champion Kirkwood with a bit of its own magic?
Two goals in just over a minute saw the Double Blues cut the lead to 22-points, with faint hopes of a revival. Cooper Dahms seem to have nixed those plans with an easy set shot goal 15 minutes in, to restore the three-quarter time lead of 28 points.
But the Double Blues would not give up without trying to honour their retiring captain, and booted three quick goals over the next seven minutes to close to within 10 points.
Fortunately for the Dogs, Olsson managed a goal at the 26-minute mark to steady the ship, although the relentless home side kept coming and kicked a major to again create a slight opportunity. But Central managed to settle and hold the charge at bay over a tense final few minute.
It was a great game to watch, as two desperate teams fought tooth and nail for victory.
Around the ball the Schiller brothers, Jarrod and Travis, Harry Grant and Presbury were all major contributors, with any of them a good choice for best on ground.
Jarrod Schiller probably stood out slightly more with his endeavour and ability to put his body on the line at crucial stages, which gave him the nod slightly ahead of his team-mates.
While there were many fine efforts all around the ground, Fraser Fort was a rock in defense, taking numerous telling marks, and McLean was a beacon, proving a handful for the Sturt defenders.
And two players making their debut, gave solid contributions – the athletic Leek Alleer and Billy Iles.
This Saturday Central District travel to Noarlunga to play South Adelaide.
Goals: Grace, J. Kelly, McLean, Olsson 2, Lange, Barreau, Presbury, Dahms 1.
Best: J. Schiller, Grant, Presbury, T. Schiller, Fort, McLean.
By Robert Laidlaw