Bryce Gibbs (left) and James Tsitas were joint-Magarey Medal winners for the 2021 SANFL season.

Bryce Gibbs (left) and James Tsitas were joint-Magarey Medal winners for the 2021 SANFL season. (Image: SANFL)

In one of the more unique days in his football career, James Tsitas had four hours sleep between finishing Magarey Medal duties and running an early morning fitness class.

James Tsitas had four hours sleep between finishing Magarey Medal duties and running an early morning fitness class for his business The Fitness Cheatcode.

But it was all worth it for the 26-year-old, who last night was crowned SANFL’s fairest and most brilliant player for season 2021, alongside former Carlton and Adelaide midfielder Bryce Gibbs, both polling 21 votes.

“It was pretty full on this morning,” Tsitas said. 

“(I) had my fitness classes in the morning, then SEN gave me the call, and after that I was off delivering steel.

“This media stuff is a bit different to my normal Tuesday, but it’s enjoyable.”

On the other hand, Gibbs has hailed his fashion choice in round 19 as a crucial part in his victory, as he filed through as winner with just three votes left to be read out. 

“It was always going to go down to the wire,” he said. 

“When they played the Eagles game before ours, I thought ‘I might be a sneaky chance here’, so thankfully I was. 

“I wore the long sleeve that day against Westies and I think that might have been the difference to get me over the line.” 

Tsitas became a premiership player in his first year at Oval Avenue last year, following time spent as captain of Geelong’s VFL team.

He led by two votes after the penultimate round, and following a voteless final game from himself, two votes from Gibbs in South Adelaide’s win over West Adelaide was enough to ensure the tie.

“I didn’t think I was a chance but the more people started talking about it, it was starting to get to my head a little bit, I’m thinking, ‘s**t, maybe I am a chance here’ and then it played out that way so I’m a lucky man,” Tsitas said.

The Eagles’ James Tsitas averaged 29 possessions a game in 2021, and he has the Magarey to prove it. (Image: Woodville-West Torrens)

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Gibbs arrived at South Adelaide in 2021 after finishing his 268-game AFL career at the Adelaide Crows last year, following 231 games at Carlton.

He recognised his joy in playing at South Adelaide, and that this award would mean a lot to him. 

“It would have to be up there,” he said.

“I think more, just the last couple of years of my career didn’t play out as I thought it would and I think I’ve carried a bit of a chip on my shoulder over the last 12 months, thinking, ‘maybe I wasn’t up to it’.

“I certainly came back to the SANFL not thinking I had a point to prove, but there was extra motivation there.” 

Averaging 29 possessions a game for the year, Tsitas has signed on for another season at the Eagles, despite not being able to see most of his family since January. 

“Mum came over a few months ago, but other than that probably start of the year for most of the guys,” he said. 

“But social media keeps us in contact pretty regularly. 

“I’m looking forward to getting home, or them coming over here, it would be great to get them to the grand final but unfortunately that’s not the case.”

Gibbs played every game in 2021, and lauded the club’s program and ability to go deep into the finals, following their exit in the preliminary final last week.

“We had a taste of the finals and what it looks like,” Gibbs said. 

“I hadn’t played in a final since about 2013, so to play in the three consecutive ones – and two winning ones – was pretty special.”

Bryce Gibbs had a stellar 2021 SANFL campaign, culminating in taking home the Magarey Medal on Monday. (Image: SANFL)

Tsitas’ story of searching through the contacts on his phone, looking for Eagles’ CEO Luke Powell’s number, in a bid to escape a rut he had found himself in in 2020, is a brilliant one.

“I’d had a couple of nights on the grog on Friday and Saturday and I’m driving, I was hungover and you’re feeling bad and I was like, ‘I cannot do this for another 6-12 months, I need to play footy’,” he said. 

“So I made the move and came over here, and it was a blessing.”

The Eagles will have the opportunity to win back-to-back SANFL premierships this Sunday, when they play Glenelg in the grand final at Adelaide Oval. 

Eagles utility Jack Hayes finished equal third alongside Glenelg midfielder Matthew Snook on 20 votes, ahead of the previous two winners, Campbell Combe and Luke Partington on 17.

2021 Magarey Medal Leaderboard 

Bryce Gibbs (South Adelaide) 21

James Tsitas (Woodville-West Torrens) 21

Jack Hayes (Woodville-West Torrens) 20

Matthew Snook (Glenelg) 20

Campbell Combe (North Adelaide) 17

Luke Partington (Glenelg) 17

Abe Davis (Sturt) 16

Matthew Nunn (Norwood) 16

Tom Lewis (Sturt) 15

Richard Douglas (Norwood) 13

Keep up to date with the 2021 SANFL grand final week right here, as The Inner Sanctum has every angle covered. Tomorrow: the Tigers’ last premiership glory through the eyes of a young gun and selfless Sheedy ahead of his sides tilt at history.

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