Sturt aiming for 80 minutes of “switched on” footy

REGARDLESS of the grand final result on Sunday, Sturt has achieved its best South Australian National Football League (SANFL) Women’s season by a long way. The Double Blues want to complete the fairytale and go from a maximum of three wins to a flag, but also know the challenge that confronts them – a red-hot North Adelaide outfit. For first-year coach Michael O’Connor, the task is simple, play “switched on” football for 80 minutes.

“I think grand final week’s the best week to be involved in footy obviously, so there’s certainly a big element of just embracing it and just enjoying the week,” O’Connor said. “You get through and let them enjoy the win from the prelim final, the first for the club in terms of a finals win. “It’s really important you let them enjoy that part of it because they’ve put in six months of work this season, but it’s three, four, five years in the system for most of them, so to be able to enjoy that then get back to work, get back on the track and get the bodies right for this week.”

Sturt earned its place in the decider by defeating Glenelg by 17 points in last weekend’s preliminary final. In dumping the reigning premier from the title race, it earned a second crack at a North Adelaide side that completely outplayed the Double Blues in the semi-final a fortnight ago.

“North were really efficient in scoring from their forward opportunities,” O’Connor said. “We probably needed to tighten up on our defence a little bit. “Any time you leak 11 goals even though some of them were a little bit later in the game when it was done and dusted already, you really need to look at how well you contain their ball movement a little bit better. “On the flip side we need to make sure we can put some scoreboard pressure on ourselves.”

Alisha Gepp
Alisha Gepp celebrating on the final siren after Sturt defeated North Adelaide back in Round 3. Picture credit: Rookie Me Central

Sturt did just that on the weekend, kicking six goals against the Bays to grab the victory and stamp their ticket into the league’s biggest day. When asked if there were nerves surrounding a potential straight sets exit, or if the group was able to put it to the back of their minds, O’Connor said the team was keeping it as per usual.

“I think earning the right for the double chance was really important for the young group,” O’Connor said. “It was a disappointing first final appearance for the club, but we reviewed it as we did every game this year and then we moved on pretty quick knowing that we’d earnt the right for the double chance.

“I mean yes somewhere in the back of everyone’s head there’s always a chance that the straight sets is on the table, but anytime you come up against Glenelg or North for that matter, both are quality teams and have both tasted premiership success in the previous few years and known for their real strength and they’ve got key players across each line, so we knew we were going to be up for a big fight, and if we weren’t switched on for 80 minutes, then both Glenelg and North certainly have got the personnel to take the game away from you if you’re not up to scratch.”

Impressively, the Double Blues earned the victory against Sturt with two of their three leading goalkickers in Abbey Rigter and Amy Brooks-Birve not registering a touch. O’Connor said it showed that whilst their club which had three major goalkickers all year (more than 10 goals in the season) with the pair and Alysha Healy being the standouts, they were “no reliant” on the trio.

“Any time you give your forwards repeat looks inside 50, we’re pretty comfortable someone will pop up and kick a goal for us, without having to go through one avenue,” he said. “For us it’s pleasing that there’s upside, obviously from them they’d like to trouble the statistician a bit more, but I mean for us it just means using some outside runners as well and some other people to pop up and score for us is really pleasing from the team aspect.”

Heading into the big game, the Double Blues were dealt a cruel blow with inside midfielder and reigning best and fairest winner Isobel Kuiper ruled out with a knee injury. Suffering the same injury in the final round of the season, Kuiper also missed the first final against North. The 21-year-old returned against Glenelg, but landed awkwardly late in the last quarter which “flared it back up”. Though a disappointing blow for both Kuiper and the team, O’Connor said it meant another player had the opportunity to stand up in her absence.

“I’m sure all the girls will get around her and she will be around the girls come Sunday of course,” he said. “It just paves the way for someone to come in and play that role. “We’ve been a pretty even spread across the board for the year, so I guess the take away from this point of view is it’s a great opportunity for someone to come in and play that role and we’re more than comfortable with the squad we have and those players who can come in and play their role and help the side do what we’re hoping to achieve.”

Sturt will be without impressive inside midfielder Isobel Kuiper for the grand final, after flaring up a knee injury in the preliminary final. Picture credit: Rookie Me Central.

As it stands, between 10-20mm of rain is forecasted to hit Adelaide on Sunday, with the Double Blues preparing for some wet weather football. Though sometimes weather predictions might be off, O’Connor said it was a matter of when rather than if, it would come down.

“It’s more of a question of when that comes in would be my guess,” he said. “If it’s before the game starts or if it’s at some point during the game. The importance of getting a good start, not necessarily to counter for the weather but just so the girls get into the game, it’s a little bit different in terms of bigger crowd the national anthem before the game. “All the stuff that happens in a grand final, slight change in the way that the girls get ready for it.

“It’s just about getting into the game as quickly as we can and getting a touch of the footy in your hands. Ideally getting some scoreboard pressure early, but the rain comes, it comes. “I think if it comes and as much as they’re predicting it will simplify the game a fair bit if I’m honest. “It will turn into a bit of a territory battle and sort of straight lines as the ball will keep skidding on like a bar of soap. “That will probably keep a fair bit more congestion that both sides will hope for ideally. “

Now just three sleeps away, the Double Blues are set to make history one way or another, with the side already ticking off its first finals campaign and first grand final. As the underdog in the decider, anything can happen, and O’Connor said the build-up was about enjoying the moment and keeping everyone as “relaxed as possible”.

“Everyone’s different, I think there’s some of them that would have started thinking about grand final day from the final siren last week, and there will probably be a few that don’t think about it until they walk into Norwood Oval on Sunday,” O’Connor said. “It’s a little bit of each to their own, but as a group there’s a lot of excitement around the place which is rightfully so as well. It’s just about getting them through, getting through the training sessions this week and trying to keep them as calm as possible. “Everyone knows there’s things on the end of grand final day, but the reality is that we’ll need to come out and play 80 minutes to experience the good side of a grand final.”

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