By ZAC MILBANK
Woodville-West Torrens brushed aside its finals demons with a momentum-building 43-point win against South Adelaide in Sunday’s Preliminary Final at Adelaide Oval.
Coming off an upset loss to North Adelaide in the Second Semi Final, the Eagles went into the cut-throat contest with a 3-11 major round win-loss record since winning the 2011 premiership.
But with new coach Jade Sheedy bringing an ultra-positive mindset and James Rowe producing his match-winning heroics with five goals, the boys from Oval Avenue stormed into their first title-decider since 2016.
”We needed to make up for our effort last week which was disappointing – we came and did that today so it was a good result,” Eagles midfielder Jordan Foote told Channel 7 after the match.
Trailing by one point at half-time, the Eagles were being seriously challenged by the plucky Panthers, who were chasing their first Grand Final berth since 1979 en route to breaking their 56-year premiership drought.
But this was when the classy Rowe put his stamp on the contest, having kicked his second goal of the game with a 30m left-foot snap 30 minutes into the second term.
Considered by some as a chance to be snapped up in this year’s AFL Draft, the joint Ken Farmer Medal pushed his claims even further by booting the first three goals of the third quarter to establish a 20-point lead by the seventh minute.
The son of former Crow and Norwood premiership rover Stephen began his devastating spell by bursting through to snap from close range ahead of converting a 25m penalty from a 15m set shot.
Rowe saved his best for last with an eye-catching spin before goaling on the run from 40m to give himself plenty of reason to launch into one of his trademark celebrations with great enthusiasm.
South’s Eamon Wilkinson took a nice overhead mark before kicking his third goal of the match to bring the margin back to 14 points two minutes later but by the time Eagles Matt Goldsworthy, Lachie McNeil, Jack Firns and Sam Lowson booted majors, the margin was at 38 points by the final change.
The Eagles well and truly gave credence to the third term being the premiership quarter by having 33 more disposals and nine more inside 50 entries as they took control of the sudden-death decider.
Alongside Rowe finishing in front of goal and collecting 22 possessions, the Eagles had a plethora of midfielders contributing to the cause as late-season recruit James Tsitas finished with a match-high 29 disposals, five tackles and eight clearances.
Jimmy Toumpas, Joseph Sinor, Jordan Foote and Matt Goldsworthy all registered at least 20 disposals, with the latter pair also hitting the scoreboard with two goals each.
Jack Hayes worked hard whether it be in attack or the centre square, Jacob Wehr’s foot skills from the back half were superb and Sam Rowland did a solid job of keeping South co-captain Joel Cross to seven kicks for the afternoon.
The only concern for the Eagles will be for ruckman Jarrad Redden, who landed awkwardly on his left shoulder 23 minutes into the fourth term, leaving him sporting a large ice pack after the final siren.
Foote (calf) and Goldsworthy (thigh) were also icing up before the final siren with the game in control but early indications are both will be fit to play against North in next Sunday’s Grand Final.
”It was just general tightness (in his calf) it’s that kind of season so we had to ice it up once we thought we had the game – I will be OK,” Foote said.
South’s surge came to an abrupt end after half-time with several of its youngsters – crucial in the First Semi Final win against Glenelg – unable to sustain their effort seven days later.
Former Eagle Matthew Broadbent had a team high 22 disposals while midfielder Ben Heaslip was the only other Panther to reach the 20-possession mark.
Malcolm Karpany threatened to produce another match-winning effort before fading late in the game while Reece Milsom was solid with 18 touches.
Speedy forward Eamon Wilkinson booted three goals for South and Sam Overall two but they ultimately didn’t receive enough opportunities as their team lost the overall inside 50m count 56 to 39.