Dogs day out – Central’s Caitlen seals maiden flag

NINETEEN seconds. That was all the time in front Central District needed to bring home its maiden premiership, defeating South Adelaide by three points in a grand final unlikely to ever be forgotten in SANFL Women’s history. Over the course of 80 minutes, fans were treated to all the hallmarks of a great thriller – foreboding, suspense, mystery, tension and controversy – and when the siren sounded, it was the Bulldogs somehow in front, 4.7 (31) to 4.4 (28).

Words could not do justice to the scenes at Prospect Oval, where the usual red and white strewn amongst the crowd had a tsunami of blue. Leading into the match, Central District coach Ben Hunt said his side’s fans were passionate and not afraid to travel. Anyone neutral at the ground could have been forgiven for thinking it was a Bulldogs home game.

In heavy numbers they travelled, flocking to support their side in its first ever grand final. For the first hour, it looked like they might go home unhappy. That was until the moment that turned the game. While midfielder Caitlen Teague would ultimately be known for the match-winner, it was a goal five minutes into the final term that set in motion the belief the Dogs could win.

They had done it before when 29 points down against North Adelaide at that very ground. It was the foreboding of what the Bulldogs were capable of. When Lucy Northcott kicked the first goal of the final term just 84 seconds into the quarter, South Adelaide lead by 10 points, and in a game where the Bulldogs had only managed the two goals to that point, it was a tough ask.

Everyone including the Panthers coaching staff knew the Dogs would fight tooth-and-nail until the final siren. They only know one way, and that is to attack. Credit has to go to the South Adelaide defence for staunchly defending inside 50 after inside 50 and somehow intercept, smother, tackle, block anything that looked likely to be an opportunity. That was until Laitiah Huynh stepped up to the task.

In 14 games this season, Huynh was yet to kick a goal. Earlier in the game, she had a chance to gather inside 50 running back but fumbled and it lead to Melissa Anderson slotting a brilliant running major. No doubt at that moment, the Bulldogs winger was experiencing the lows that a grand final can bring, but 35 minutes later, Huynh would experience the other side of those emotions.

Though the next possession will be the one remembered, key defender Charlotte Riggs at ground level tapped the ball to space, which saw Huynh pounce on the loose ball and instinctively snap around her body. As if in slow motion, the crowd and players inside Central District’s forwardline all turned in unison watching it spiral towards goal. South Adelaide tallest player Soriah Moon was on the goalline. Somehow, some way, it just got beyond her finger tips, and sent the home crowd into a frenzy.

Laitiah Huynh
Laitiah Huynh slots a crucial goal to cut the deficit to four points five minutes into the last quarter | Image credit: Rookie Me Central

For the next 15 minutes, the attack was relentless. Central District seemed so close, yet so far, needing a major that a staunch South Adelaide defence refused to concede. The underdogs had their chances, with competition leading goalkicker Katelyn Rosenzweig taking a set shot from 35m out at the 17-minute mark. Nine times out of 10, her kick would sail straight through. Unfortunately for the experienced forward, this would be that tenth time, cannoning into the post to make it a three-point deficit.

Both Chantel Reynolds and Teague would have chances on goal, but the latter hit the behind post. The suspense, mystery and tension had been ticked off all game, but particularly the last 15 minutes. Then would come the controversy. In a one-on-one at ground level, Teague and her opponent Brooke Boileau – who had easily been one of South’s best all day – were battling it out.

Teague won the race but had not yet gathered the ball. A subtle but preemptive tug of the jumper from the South midfielder caught the eye of the closest umpire. Sometimes they are paid, sometimes they are not. On this occasion, the whistle blew. A mix of emotions from both sets of fans and players made the the stadium reach fever pitch. As Teague lined up for her set shot, she heard another whistle for a 25m penalty, and wasting no time, ran in and slotted the goal with 19 seconds left on the clock.

By the time the ball had been returned to the middle, the siren sounded. Not that many heard it with the noise around Prospect Oval drowning out the buzzer, and the various emotions across the ground were evident for all to see. Central District, with 15 more inside 50s (31-16) and 26 more tackles in a whopping 126-120 tackle fest, lead for just 19 seconds in the match, and walked away with a premiership.

Central District skipper Shelby Smith was a deserving best on ground medallist, captaining the club her father Greg did, but reminding him in her acceptance speech that she had “one-upped him” again by captaining a premiership side. She was the star, the engine room, and everything that the Bulldogs embody. Laying a mindboggling 17 tackles to go with her 20 disposals, five inside 50s and seven clearances, she just never gave up and willed her side to victory.

Incredibly, five Central players had double-figure tackles with Caitlin Wendland leading all-comers with an even more incredible 21. Elaine Grigg laid 15, the same amount as her disposal count, and took no prisoners with some incredible crunching hits. The matchwinner Teague, laid 10 and had 16 disposals. Huynh (15 disposals, three marks, three clearances and that crucial goal) stepped up, while in defence, the likes of Shannon Murphy and Georgia Madigan were relentless.

Even when ruck Georgia Avery went down early in the match with injury, and Riggs and Rosenzweig had to step up to the the plate, the Dogs fought on. There was a stage in the third term where Riggs also went down awkwardly and the doubts were building for how Central was to mount a comeback. When she returned to a massive roar, she helped keep the all inside 50 for the Bulldogs’ clutch player Jasmine Evans to just keep them in it when it counted.

While history remembers the victors, one cannot ignore the vanquished in this scenario. South Adelaide played an incredible game. The Panthers were under pressure time and time again in defence, but founds a way to stay in the game, and in front. Caitlin Couch (16 disposals, three marks, 11 tackles, four clearances, three inside 50s and seven rebound 50s) would have gone close to best-on for the Panthers.

Though their stats might not have popped off the page, Jaslynne Smith, Tiffany Copley, Esther Schirmer and Samantha Pratt all bought into the tam defence. Up forward, Northcott and Jordann Hickey were an incredible force, and though the latter kicked 0.3 for the game, provided a presence in attack.

Brooke Boileau was superb for South Adelaide, pictured her spoiling Shelby Smith in a courageous marking attempt | Image credit: Rookie Me Central

Ruck Soriah Moon capitalised against Central District’s makeshift ruck division and looked the most likely to tear open the game from the middle with a massive 33 hitouts. Then there was Boileau, who like her teammates will be feeling the pain, but the top-ager was incredible both offensively and defensively to finish with 16 disposals, 11 tackles, five clearances, three inside 50s and two rebound 50s.

In a game where both teams were deserving only one could walk away with the premiership trophy. As the 2023 SANFL Women’s Grand Final thriller would have it, that would be Central District, with the “U Dogs” chant around Prospect Oval closing out a day likely to go down in folklore as one of the all-time grand finals.

SOUTH ADELAIDE 1.3 | 3.3 | 3.4 | 4.4 (28)
CENTRAL DISTRICT 0.1 | 1.1 | 2.6 | 4.7 (31)

South Adelaide: L. Northcott 2, M. Anderson, J. Hooper
Central District: C. Riggs, J. Evans, L. Huynh, C. Teague

South Adelaide:
S. Moon, C. Couch, B. Boileau, J. Smith, L. Northcott
Central District: S. Smith, C. Teague, S. Murphy, G. Madigan, J. Evans

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