Victorious coach reflects on state glory

South East pulled off something magical on the weekend by winning the 2022 Think! Road Safety SA Country Football Championships in a grand final that went down to the final seconds.

It was the region’s fourth state football crown, but first without the assistance of the River Murray Football League.

Despite not having the same talent pool to pick from in previous years, South East still managed to rise above the odds to claim an inspirational win.

Taking on the full-time role for the first time was Robe’s Jack Kelly and his first hit was so successful he was given the Bill Murdoch Medal as coach of the championships.

But Kelly said it was the 24-player squad who got the job done with their ability to connect in such a short period of time proving critical to the win.

“There was a lot of emotion and we were a really committed group,” he said.

“We could potentially have had a few more stars and big names, but we probably gelled together better than any other zone.

“I have been away with zone teams with a lot more talent than what had on the weekend, but everyone gelled and all the players brought into it.

“It was all fantastic and we were stocked to get the win.”

With not everything going to script, it was a prize South East had to work hard for.

The side did not make life easy for itself after losing its opening clash to Eastern by seven points.

The result meant South East had to win big against Northern and it did just that, kicking the highest score of the minor rounds.

Kelly said it was a sign his team could bounce back from adversity and take every chance when presented.

“We were definitely disappointed to lose the first game,” he said.

“There was a strong breeze going down one end and ironically Eastern beat us by seven points.

“But when the penny dropped the boys just played some really good footy in the second game.

“To kick 10 goals against Northern was great to help us sneak into that second spot with a good percentage, but we had a little bit of luck along the way.”

The grand final itself against Central at Bennett Oval on Sunday was an instant see-sawing classic.

With a huge breeze blowing towards one end, both sides did all their goal-kicking exclusively at one set of goals.

South East enjoyed the advantage first up and was able to earn a 13-point lead ahead of the all important final term.

But with Northern enjoying the assistance of mother nature, it was always going to charge home at full steam and the red, white and black’s defence had to be ultra-resistant.

Although the rivals managed to close to within one point during a thrilling finish, South East held on and Kelly thought his team moved the ball more effectively in the key moments.

“It was a cracking game of footy and we started really well with the wind,” he said.

“We opened up a lead again in the third quarter, but knew they were coming.

“They scored a goal with what we thought was about 20 seconds to go, so there was a lot of emotion around, but we were able to get the footy on our forward flank when the siren went.

“It is always hard in the wind assisted games, but I thought we probably played a bit smarter going long, down the line, so it was a tactical game of footy.

“Our backline was under the pump the whole time, but they were top notch.”

Kelly said the win was one of his favourite football memories with many contributors on and off the field getting the job done.

“Its all about the people you meet and we would not have won the championship without the commitment of the players,” he said.

“Matt Willson was named player of the carnival and thoroughly deserved it being outstanding.

“Mark Marriott from Hatherleigh was unbelievable giving us first use all day and Jacob Eats and Tom Whittlesea also did a great job, but it was a team effort.

“Scott Duncan, Peter Mitchell, Ben McGregor and Nick Davies were the brains trust as well putting in a lot of work behind the scenes.

“Hopefully we can rally another strong squad to play some good footy again in it next year.”

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