24/05/2024

South Adelaide's Joel Cross. (Image: sanfl.com.au)

South Adelaide's Joel Cross loves his club and loves playing in the SANFL, the two-time Magarey Medallist making his 200th appearance this weekend.

South Adelaide stalwart Joel Cross loves his club and loves the SANFL, so much so that this weekend he’ll make his 200th appearance both for the club and the competition. 

He’s won two Magarey Medals and four club best and fairests, but still hasn’t tracked down that elusive premiership.

So therefore Cross certainly doesn’t see the milestone as a retirement sentence, with so much more still to be accomplished. 

And whilst that might still be yet to come, there’s a lot throughout his career-to-date that the 33-year-old is very proud of. 

“Look, it’s been a really long journey,” he said. 

“When I started, the club probably wasn’t in a particularly strong position in terms of the culture and direction. 

“So for us to transition over 11 years to have a really strong playing group and [be] a club that people want to play for, that’s probably been the greatest achievement in the time that I’ve been here.”

Coming across to South Australia from Victoria, Cross recalls his initial reaction to his new club and how it appeared SANFL footy wouldn’t be all smooth-sailing. 

“I came across with a mate and we’d been at [VFL side] Box Hill whilst Alastair Clarkson was at Hawthorn and we were quite modern in the way we played footy and the way we trained, everything was pretty professional,” he said.  

“We came here and were quite shocked about how far behind South Adelaide were. 

“The coaching direction, the playing group just wasn’t anywhere near where we expected it to be.” 

But thanks to some hard work from himself, his teammates and the coaching staff, the Panthers were brought back to a position where the team was competitive and footy was enjoyable again. 

“We got Brad Gotch in and he gave us a real direction in the way we wanted to go, the way we wanted to play football and I guess the culture changed as well,” Cross said. 

And when you ask the veteran what his happiest on field moment at South Adelaide has been, he’ll assure you that it would “definitely” be on centre stage at Adelaide Oval.

“Whether it’s after we beat Glenelg in the semi final last year or after we beat Sturt in the semi final in 2014, to get ourselves into preliminary finals.

“Or round one last year after COVID and we’d all had a really bad six-eight months, we’d just lost a close friend of ours Alex Auricchio who played at the club and then we beat the Eagles.”

Not only has Cross suffered the torment of losing a close friend, but in 2018 his father Mark passed away. It’s a loss he says he’s only recently processed.

“When we lost dad in 2018 that was a really, really difficult time for me and I struggled with it badly, and have probably only come to terms with it in the last 12 months,” he said.

“But he was an enormous influence for me and he was huge.”

Still on the hunt for a flag

Cross has been the competition’s stand-out player twice, winning Magarey Medals in 2012 and 2015.

However, he says those two years weren’t necessarily the most enjoyable of his career, and for a very good reason.

“I probably enjoyed other years more because we were more successful,” he said.

“In 2014 we were preliminary finalists and I won it the year after, so there was a lot of frustration associated with 2015 from a team perspective, yet I won the individual accolade.”

But Cross has an unbridled love for the state-league competition, evident from his longevity as a top-class performer who’s chosen to keep playing SANFL footy instead of moving back home or to the country. 

“It’s just about pushing yourself as hard as you can for as long as you can,” he said.  

“There’s a lot of great players I’ve seen transition out of the SANFL and play in the country, but I love the challenge and pushing myself to be as good as possible and training three to four times a week to improve.

“So there’s a level of personal pride in the competition which I love, and that’s why I’ve got a lot of respect for the people who have reached 200 games before me.”

Cross is determined to make 2021 the year the South Adelaide break their long standing premiership-drought, insisting that the 57-year gap since the last success doesn’t add any extra weight.

“We have an enormous amount of expectation around where we think we’re at as a club and what we want to achieve,” he said.  

“I don’t think that anyone puts more expectation on us than ourselves.”

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And with South Adelaide currently sitting second on the SANFL premiership ladder, 2021 could be that year. 

“We’re content to an extent at 7-2, but we’re certainly not happy and think that we’re at that point where we can sort of start letting off the accelerator,” Cross said. 

“We’re looking to press harder in fact, make sure we can find new ways to win games and improve ourselves constantly.

“But we certainly understand and aren’t naive about the fact that 7-2 is a really good start to the year.”

As he alluded to previously, this year doesn’t necessarily need to be the last for Cross. 

“If ‘Boof’ [senior coach Jarrad Wright] says I have more left in me and he wants me to keep playing, then I am more than happy to keep going,” he said. 

“If he doesn’t and it’s time to retire then that’s fine also.”

He confesses that when the sun does eventually set on his league career, reaching this milestone will be one of the things he looks back on most fondly. 

“It’ll be a really nice showing of my commitment and my long-term ability to keep going for a long time and have a level of loyalty to South Adelaide,” he said. 

“As much as there are other accolades, this one is probably the best because it is a showing of my commitment rather than any ability other than that.”

SANFL ROUND TEN

Saturday June 12

Woodville-West Torrens vs Port Adelaide, Maughan Thiem Kia Oval @ 2.35pm

Sunday June 13

Sturt vs Adelaide, Peter Motely Oval @ 2.35pm

Monday June 14

Glenelg vs North Adelaide, ACH Group Stadium @ 2.10pm

South Adelaide vs Norwood, Flinders University Stadium @ 2.10pm

Bye: Central District, West Adelaide.

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