The 2021 SANFL season has had (almost) everything so far.
With the Grand Final to be played next Sunday between Woodville-West Torrens and Glenelg, we come to the conclusion of a season which successfully navigated COVID-19, sent records tumbling, and gave rise to future champions.
So to kick off The Inner Sanctum’s coverage of grand final week in South Australia, we take a look back at the season that was in 2021.
The season began at Coopers Stadium on a Friday night, the most fitting way to welcome AFL-reserves side Port Adelaide back into the competition after their year off; a bruising 45-point loss to rival Norwood.
Landing at Oval Avenue after being let go by the Adelaide Crows, Tyson Stengle began the season in a flash for the Eagles, kicking four goals on debut in round three, a 83-point thrashing of the Adelaide Crows.
Former Eagles premiership coach Michael Godden found life in his new role as the Crows’ SANFL coach difficult – especially in the search for continuity – and halfway through the season had a 2-7 record.
North Adelaide had a young lad by the name of Lachie Wilsdon who kicked seven goals to half time of the Roosters’ round 14 match against Central District.
The Double Blues welcomed back dual premiership coach Marty Mattner for season 2021 and struggled early, losing four matches in a row for a combined total of just 27 points.
In the end, after first-22 selections Jed McEntee (mid-season draft), Ash Johnson (mid-season draft), Zane Kirkwood (retired), and Mark Evans (retired) all left the club, the boys from Unley started playing better footy, and only just missed a finals berth by one win.
Along the way they enforced an unwanted record upon West Adelaide, keeping the Bloods to a dismal 0.6, the lowest SANFL league score since Norwood finished with 0.5 against Port Adelaide in 1909.
It was one of a handful of dismal results for the boys from Richmond in 2021, as they found themselves winners of the wooden spoon for the third year in a row.
Troy and Daniel Menzel found a happy home at the Eagles, having flown into the nest from Central District rather unceremoniously over the summer; the two of them have kicked a combined 61 goals for the year.
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But the man who led all comers in front of the big sticks and took home his third Ken farmer Medal was Glenelg’s Liam McBean, who has kicked 54 goals across his 19 games.
The Tigers had an incredible minor round campaign under first-year coach Brett Hand, knocking off win after win until round 19, when they were finally stumped by Port Adelaide at Alberton.
South Adelaide has the best of the best on both ends of the spectrum.
Young guns Jason Horne-Francis, Matty Roberts and Arlo Draper form the youthful brigade pushing the Panthers forward while Joel Cross and Bryce Gibbs represent those who have been in the caper – and getting the job done – for years.
Paul Puopolo provided many a highlight for Norwood fans, including this original contender for mark of the year taken at Coopers Stadium under lights.
Central District had another season to forget, but defeating the Adelaide Crows by 33 points in their final home game for the year to bid farewell to Chief Executive Kris Grant after 44 years at the helm was a highlight.
Also saying goodbye this year are three dual Magarey Medallists.
Following his side’s loss in the second week of the finals, Mitch Grigg decided to hang up the boots, as has Cross from the Panthers, following Kirkwood’s decision to retire mid-way through the year.
The league wheeled off on a new adventure, launching the the SANFL Wheelchair League featuring teams representing Sturt, Norwood, Woodville-West Torrens and Central District; the Double Blues finished champions.
Glenelg started its 100th birthday party early, winning the 2021 SANFL Women’s competition, beating West Adelaide by 23 points on the back of an inspired Ebony Marinoff performance in the decider.
And even when it appeared that a South Australian COVID-19 pandemic lockdown may derail the competition, the league successfully managed two weeks off in late July to see the resumption of play.
All that’s left to do now is crown the Magarey Medallist tomorrow evening at Adelaide Oval to be followed by the grand final between Woodville-West Torrens and Glenelg this Sunday.
Keep up to date with the 2021 SANFL Grand Final week right here, as The Inner Sanctum has every angle covered. Tomorrow: Your club’s last SANFL premiership.
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