2017 Round 18 Centrals vs Eagles
MIRACLES DO HAPPEN!
By Robert Laidlaw
Central District has made the 2017 SANFL finals after beating minor premier Woodville West Torrens in the final minor round game at Woodville by 20 points. But how?
With three games left, the Bulldogs were three games behind fifth-placed Glenelg – and the Tigers had the bottom two teams in the last two rounds.
But wins over Norwood, West and the Eagles, combined with Glenelg's fade out, and good results in South Adelaide and Adelaide games, has seen Central do a “Steven Bradbury'” and pass the falling pack to make it to September action.
And to play finals with just eight wins is a record low for the Bulldogs, eclipsing the nine victories in 1998 and nine wins and a draw in 2015.
Talking about 2015, Central had to beat South Adelaide at Noarlunga in the final minor round game to displace a side (the Panthers) that had been in the top five all season, then went on to have a solid finals campaign, with victories over Norwood and Port.
Can this season see a repeat performance, or even go a little further?
On the subject of miracles, against the Eagles in the tense final quarter with Central leading by nine points after a couple of magic Luke Habel majors, what can be said about the magnificent snap by Josh Waldhuter on the cusp of time on to seal the deal?
He gathered a loose footy after inching in front of his Eagles opponent, and with brute strength, willed the ball onto the boot while being tackled, and snapped unbelievably around his body, to see the ball sail through the big white uprights for not only the goal of the game, but the goal of the season!
It helped turn the atmosphere, which could be cut through with a knife, into one of celebration, as the reality that the Doggies had done their part in providing one of the greatest minor round Houdini acts to play finals footy.
To add further tension, the Glenelg versus West Adelaide clash still had a final quarter to play out because it was the television game, and as players and supporters listened intently, as first the Tigers drew level, then the Bloods pulled away, the reality of finals action became fact rather than fiction.
The actual game between Central and the Eagles was tense throughout, with the Bulldogs players determined to help be part of an historic moment – there was a sense that something special was going to happen before the players ran out onto the field.
And after the Eagles had wiped out a 42-point deficit against Adelaide the previous week to win the minor premiership, the knowledge that no lead would be safe was in the back of the minds of most supporters.
After a couple of points, goals to John Butcher, Sam Milne and Waldhuter through the first term, coupled with an inaccurate Eagles, saw Central lead 3-2 to 0-4 at quarter time.
It was the Bulldogs time to miss a few shots in the second term, as the Eagles kicked 3-3 to 0-3 up to the final minute of the half, to grab a two point lead, but Butcher took a good mark and converted to give his side a 4-5 to 3-7 advantage, on the siren.
Butcher's third goal of the game early in the third term gave Central some breathing space, and when Travis Schiller's 'leg-break' shot at goal bounced over a defender's head for a major 10 minutes into the third stanza, the lead was out to 16 points.
But the Eagles did all the attacking up to lemons, adding two late goals into time on, to close within two points – Central's 6-6 to the home side's 5-10 – to set up a titanic final quarter.
Three minutes into the last term the Eagles hit the front, but Habel collected a pass and ran in to boot a long goal a minute later, then, after a pair of Eagles points, it was Habel again, who booted a long set shot from 50m at the 12 minute mark.
A tense seven minutes followed, with two Doggie points, before Waldhuter's “pièce de résistance”, which was followed by Kyle Presbury's “icing on the cake” as the final siren blew.
There were many fine contributors for Central, including a tough and uncompromising defense, led by the likes of Luke Barmby – who is in red-hot form – Murray Stephenson and unheralded Ryan Llewellyn, who kept the Eagles chief forward Michael Wundke goal-less.
Darcy Fort and Jack Hannath again were solid in ruck, Travis Schiller, Chris Jansen and Nick Holman continued their fine season contributions, while Waldhuter could be the extra impact player needed going into the finals.
Central has played six elimination finals – including the past two – for just one victory, against Norwood in 2015. Now the Bulldogs have a chance to improve that record when they take on the men from the Parade at Adelaide Oval this Saturday.
* * * * *
Central District 3-2 4-5 6-6 10-9 (69)
Eagles 0-4 3-7 5-10 6-13 (49)
Best: T. Schiller, Barmby, Jansen, Holman, Stephenson, Llewellyn, D. Fort, Glenn, Habel.
Goals: Butcher 3, Waldhuter 2, Habel 2, Milne, T. Schiller, Presbury.
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