By STEVE BARRETT
Recently there has been a growing trend of SANFL teams soaring from gloom to glory in 12 short months.
Several clubs – plenty of late – have proved a winter of despair doesn’t automatically mean a long rebuilding grind will follow.
The big climb can happen quickly.
A seventh-placed finish in 1999, the first time the Bulldogs had missed the major round since ’92 as decline set in following consecutive grand finals in 1995-96, was the line-in-the-sand moment for skipper Daniel Hulm.
Inspired by reading Dynasty by Fos Williams and Michelangelo Rucci and wanting to “better” Port Adelaide’s multi-generational dominance, Hulm wrote an impassioned five-page letter to club members, setting out a plan for Magpie-like success and urging fans to join the ride.
And what a ride it was.
Central unashamedly used Port’s template to create a dynasty, starting with that monkey-off-the-back victory in 2000.
The Dogs won again in 2001 – and barely stopped winning for the next incredible decade.
Torrens was the competition’s last-ranked side when the SANFL halted for World War II.
Club officials sagely focused on strengthening the team’s junior ranks, spearheaded by future Eagle immortal and nine-time best-and-fairest winner Bob Hank, during the war to ensure the blue-and-golds were ready to strike when normality resumed.
Torrens’ youthful charges bounced back strongly in 1945, edging past North (by six points) in the first semi-final and Norwood (four points) in the preliminary final.
Minor premier Port, Torrens’ wartime competition ally, would be the blue-and-gold’s grand final opponent – and the hot favourite.
The Magpies majestically carved a 37-point headstart before Torrens spun the tables spectacularly in the second stanza, the underdog’s younger legs transforming a 32-point quarter-time deficit into a four-point half-time lead and, ultimately, a famous victory.
“Maybe playing a grand final in two or three years’ time” was Martin Mattner’s seemingly over-ambitious objective when he first assumed Sturt’s coaching controls.
The Double Blues were coming off an eighth-placed finish in 2015 and only recently had fixed their off-field health after the club’s debt spiralled past $2 million in 2013 following back-to-back wooden spoons.
From out of nowhere, Sturt, led by the incomparable Zane Kirkwood and a gilt-edged defence, exceeded Mattner’s predictions, downing the Eagles in the 2016 grand final before sneaking past Port by one point in the nail-biting 2017 decider.
When favourite son Mark Mickan returned to Westies in 2014, he was taking over an injury-plagued outfit, resetting after nearing the summit two years earlier.
Mickan turned the joint around rapidly, albeit only for one season.
In 12 meteoric months, the Bloods catapulted from ninth to first to break a 32-year drought, claiming the 2015 flag in attacking, eye-catching style.
Shannon Green, Aaron Fielke, Jono Beech, Kaine Stevens and Jason Porplyzia routinely hammered the scoreboard and captain Chris Schmidt led the league in possessions, racking up 44 disposals in West’s commanding grand final triumph over the Eagles to claim the Jack Oatey Medal.
In its first 13 league seasons from 1921-33, Glenelg racked up five wooden spoons, six second-bottom finishes and a sorry 44-159 win-loss record.
The same sad old story looked like being rehashed in 1934 when the Bays were winless after five rounds.
But with the likes of gun full-forward Jack Owens, Magarey Medal-winning ruckman George “Blue” Johnston, centreman Len Sallis, centre half-back Mel Brock and dual Magarey Medallist Bruce McGregor as coach, Glenelg finally got on a roll, qualifying for its first major round.
Thrashed by Port in the second semi-final by 65 points before wearing Sturt down in the prelim, the Tigers earned another crack at the Magpies in the decider … and produced a boilover for the ages, saluting by nine points, the club’s sole premiership in its first 52 years.
The SANFL’s ultimate Jekyll-and-Hyde outfit lately, the Roosters concocted an unforeseen 10th-to-first leap in 2018.
It wasn’t easy though.
After finishing the minor round in fifth position, the reigning wooden spooner advanced through a series of knockout finals, including the unforgettable prelim against the Eagles when North overcame a 47-point third-term deficit and the fallout from the “19th man” saga.
The Roosters hurdled all those obstacles to claim their first flag in 28 seasons after proving too good for red-hot favourite Norwood in the following week’s finale… by 19 points!
North slumped to ninth in 2019 before coming within a whisker of a second miracle in three years, succumbing to the Eagles in last October’s decider
At the end of 1963, the Panthers’ ugly post-World War II rap sheet read: 19 seasons, 12 wooden spoons, five second-last finishes, 12 senior coaches churned through and zero finals.
Twelve months later, South was on top of the world, with legendary player-coach Neil Kerley masterminding the SANFL’s most famous rags-to-riches premiership miracle.
Kerley introduced discipline, fitness and belief to the long-time strugglers, flagless since 1935 when Magpie great Vic Johnson headed south and conjured a similar bottom-to-top turnaround.
Kerley blamed himself for going too defensive when South lost to Port by one point in the 1964 prelim after frittering away a 32-point three-quarter-time lead.
Painful lesson learnt, the Panthers strangled Fos Williams’ powerhouse Magpies in the grand final a fortnight later, restricting them to 0.10 in the first half and triumphing handsomely by 27 points – still South’s most recent pennant.
“1964 was special … bottom to top and beating Port, that was the ultimate,” Kerley said.
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