By PETER CORNWALL
It’s the grand final that’s loomed as most likely for most of the season between the premiers from the past two seasons. And, like the AFL’s premiership decider, it’s the showdown between the best two teams of the year.
Glenelg and the Eagles were No. 1 and No. 2 on the premiership table for the last 10 rounds of the season, their second semi-final clash was a heartstopper that went right down to the final siren and they loom as an epic match-up between the best attacking side in the league and the strongest defensive line-up.
In a historic first grand final between the sides, there is huge midfield talent and plenty of X-factor. Minor premiers the Tigers, whose only loss in the home-and-away season was in the last game against a Port Adelaide side packed with AFL talent at Alberton, had six players in The Advertiser SANFL Team of the Year. And the Eagles had five representatives in the elite side.
Glenelg mentor Brett Hand was named coach of the Team of the Year and he will be looking to emulate the feat of Jade Sheedy, who coached the Eagles to their memorable flag last season in his first year in charge at senior SANFL level.
Just how epic the battle of the midfield shapes up is made clear by the on-ballers and wingmen from these sides who made the SANFL’s best side. The Eagles have James Tsitas and Riley Knight, the Tigers Luke Partington, Matthew Snook, Brett Turner and
Matt Allen. Glenelg’s triple Ken Farmer Medallist Liam McBean is full forward of the team, while the Eagles have dangerous trio Tyson Stengle, Jack Hayes and Daniel Menzel in attack in the top line-up. Between the sides, they have the four leading goalkickers for the year – McBean (56), Stengle (41), Menzel (40) and the Tigers’ Luke Reynolds (37).
Glenelg, looking to emulate the feat of Norwood in 1978 by winning a flag in its centenary year and gunning to be the first club to claim the women’s-men’s league double, will now be glad for the extra, tough hit-out in the preliminary final against South Adelaide, kicking away to win by 28 points. If the Bays had advanced straight through to the grand final with a second semi-final win – the Eagles won by four points – they would have played just five games in 10 weeks in a Covid-disrupted season.
But the Eagles surely were glad of the break. Had they had to play in the preliminary final, they would have been backing up on successive six-day breaks, their experienced line-up undoubtedly glad of the time to recover and refresh. This all adds to the anticipation of a grand match-up.
Both sides have outstanding captains who lead from the back – the Eagles’ Luke Thompson and Glenelg’s Chris Curran and Max Proud. And both have their unsung heroes. Defenders Dylan Landt and Sam Durdin have been outstanding recruits for Glenelg and they, along with hugely improved Alex Martini, were crucial in the Bays’ preliminary final win. And the Eagles’ Sam Rowland, Jesse Lonergan and Kobe Mutch keep getting the job done.
The ruck duel between the Eags’ Jarrad Redden, who always seems to be in the right place at the right time and has the quickest of hands, and Jack Hannath, behind only Port’s Sam Hayes and the Crows’ Kieran Strachan for hit-outs this season, will be crucial. So will the battle for the clearances – the Eagles had a 35-29 edge in their second semi-final win.
The Eagles, who have won 12 of their past 14 games but were beaten by Glenelg twice in the minor round, are the biggest possession-winning side in the league thanks to the likes of Tsitas, Knight, Joseph Sinor, Kai Pudney and Jimmy Toumpas. But it’s likely to come down to which side makes the most of its chances. And both sides have plenty of attacking options with the right amount of star quality.
The Eagles have strong-marking Jack Hayes, the mercurial Menzel brothers – Daniel and Troy – and dangerous Stengle who can bob up at any time, the Tigers have McBean, Reynolds, Lachlan Hosie and Marlon Motlop who can make their mark on any game.
There are always fond farewells in finals and the premiership decider will be our last chance to admire the special skills of Tigers favourite Motlop. Is there any chance he has any magic moments like his dodging, weaving checkside goal in the ’19 grand final in store for us in his final appearance?
James Tsitas (Eagles) v Matthew Snook (Glenelg)
One of the joint winners of the 2021 Magarey Medal, Eagle James Tsitas, will get his first chance to bask in the glory of his victory with a strong performance in Sunday’s SANFL Grand Final. He and his in-and-under Tigers opponent, Matthew Snook, are the top two in the competition for total handballs. They regularly burrow into the bottom of the packs to farm the ball out to their fleet-footed teammates, producing vital clearances from the centre square in pivotal moments.
Luke Thompson (Eagles) v Liam McBean (Glenelg)
Woodville-West Torrens’ longest-serving captain, Luke Thompson, is set to have his hands full in the title-decider with the job of quelling triple Ken Farmer Medallist Liam McBean. Last year’s premiership skipper is a master at timing his spoils to perfection but he may also need to work higher up the ground considering McBean pushed as high as half-back during the Preliminary Final. McBean didn’t hit the scoreboard until the final term against South Adelaide but he can impact the contest in other ways as evidenced on last Friday night and the 2019 SANFL Grand Final.
Tyson Stengle (Eagles) v Alex Martini (Glenelg)
Former Crow Stengle is the sort of player who can turn the game on its head in the space of three or four kicks. The lightning fast Eagle is incredibly elusive and certainly knows where the goals are considering he’s not surprisingly in the mix to win the Channel 7 Goal of the Year. But he won’t have it all his own way as Bays defender Alex Martini is enjoying a career-best season and was again exceptional against South in the Preliminary Final. Playing with significant confidence, Martini laid an equal game high 11 tackles against the Panthers.