The McDonald’s SA Under-18 team has displayed tremendous resilience in winning its first AFL National Championship since 2014 after defeating Victoria Metro by 55 points at Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.
For the third match in succession, the Croweaters responded to a serious challenge from their rivals to remain undefeated, this time a five-goal chain during the premiership quarter.
After listening to a stirring pre-match speech from McDonald’s SA Under-18 coach Tony Bamford, the visitors blew their opposition away with a stunning first half, kicking nine goals to two with livewire Izak Rankine contributing three majors.
But the comfortable 43-point margin at half-time was quickly whittled down to just 11 points in the 12th minute of the third term with the crowd getting right behind the hosts.
Just as it sparked the SA side into action against Victoria Country and the Allies, the surge had exactly the same effect as those wearing the cherished red guernsey rolled up their sleeves to add another trophy to the cabinet.
It was Mihail Lochowiak’s set shot from 45m which started to steady the ship for SA 15 minutes into the pivotal quarter, only to be followed just two minutes later by SA skipper Luke Valente.
Valente – who was fittingly named SA’s MVP as player of the carnival – stepped up to take the 30m set shot from directly in front after the Vics breached the anti-density rule.
The strongly-built on-baller, who finished with 18 disposals and five tackles in the title-decider, was then followed up by fellow Redleg James Siviour, with the giant ruckman giving SA a 32-point break nearing the final change.
With star forward Jack Lukosius thrown into defence and Hugo Munn into the ruck to help shore things up, the Croweaters continued to rally in the final term.
Rankine added to his three first-half majors with another pair in succession, the first a classy snap shot after gathering the ball in traffic from 30m out.
But the goal which typified the SA’s fighting spirit came during the 19th minute of the fourth term, signalling the start of the championship party.
Nippy Norwood small forward Kade Chandler chased down his opponent to cause a turnover, leading to Sturt’s Tom Lewis gathering the ball, busting a strong tackle and snapping truly on his left foot.
Chandler received just as many plaudits from his team-mates for the goal as Lewis did for kicking it, indicating the high praise reserved for selfless acts in the SA side.
It even earned a phone call from coach Bamford, who was quick to recognise Chandler’s effort from the coaches box as he also reminded the Ceduna boy that all at home would be equally appreciative.
Bamford rated his defensive line as the team’s best on the evening and throughout the carnival, with unsung heroes Jez McLennnan, Will Gould, Tyler Martin, Martin Frederick and Riley Grundy all playing vital roles.
Midfielders Jackson Hately and Jacob Kennerley found plenty of the ball to lead the disposal count, with Kennerley playing an exceptionally strong first half off his wing.
Lewis and Valente did plenty of grunt work through the middle as Rankine provided the flair and polish to finish with 17 disposals, four marks, four tackles, four clearances, five inside 50s and 5.2 on the scoreboard.
The victory is the fourth AFL National Championship won by South Australia under the current system, adding to the crowns won in 1995, 2013 and 2014.
SOUTH AUSTRALIA 4.3 9.4 12.7 17.14 (116)
VICTORIA METRO 0.1 2.3 8.4 9.7 (61)
LEADING DISPOSALS – SA: Hately 23, Kennerley 22, Valente, Rozee, Lewis 18, Rankine, Sparrow, Gould 17, Frederick 16, Sampson 15, Chapman 14.
GOALS – SA: Rankine 5, Jarvis, Chapman 2, Valente, Rozee, Lewis, Lukosius, Siviour, Munn, Chandler, Lochowiak.
CHIEF SANFL WRITER