The growth of Limestone Coast women’s football was there for all to see when the Murray South East zone side came within touching distance of taking home the 2021 SA Country Football Championships.
Having only secured one win across the first two years of the competition, the team bursting with Limestone Coast Women’s Football League talent doubled its victory tally on the opening day to reach the grand final.
In the decider Northern Zone used its height to great effect, but Murray South East fought hard and finished less than a kick away from being crowned the best in the state.
Michael Hunt coached the team alongside Darren Ousey and Fiona Young and said the young side could hold its head high having represented the region on the state stage with pride.
“I was very pleased with how they played and (their) intensity,” Hunt said.
“The opposition said they were a very hard team to defend because they shared the ball really well.
“Their dedication to training was a credit to the girls and they were really keen to push the Limestone Coast region forward.
“They did not let us down and exceeded expectations which was something to be very proud of.” The side was forced to get out of bed early and open proceedings submerged in fog against Central Zone at Victor Harbour.
Once the fog lifted the ground was very wet which made it almost impossible for the players to pick the ball up quickly and scoring was difficult as a result.
But the tricky conditions were no issue for Murray South East which dominated both halves of football.
Ella Little kicked off her dazzling campaign by scoring the only goal of the game, while Melanie Bateman rebounded numerous attacks from the half-back line.
“The girls created some good opportunities and I was really pleased with how they started considering they are not playing much at the moment,” he said.
“In the previous carnival we were shocked by the intensity, but they went in hard in the first 10 minutes and we opened Central up as the game went.” The only downside to the opening day was an unfortunate injury to key midfielder Tess Andrews, who broke her hand early in the second game against Southern Districts.
With Andrews playing an instrumental role in the centre clearances, Hunt suddenly had a big hole to fill in the must-win game.
Another concern was the opposition Southern Districts, which was the team to beat having won the previous SA Country Championships in 2019.
But Hunt said the team rose to occasion with the backline of Bateman, Scarlett Jarrad, Kaylene Nuske, Tara Jeffree and Emma Macdonald standing tall in the tense final minutes as Southern charged home.
“We had heard a bit of talk about Southern, so the first thing we wanted to do was be good in the first 10 minutes and be competitive,” he said.
“Southern was a big side, but our two rucks Alexandria Ey and Annabel Mould were awesome timing their jumps, while Piper Killick, Zoe Hawker and Chelsea Frost ran really hard all weekend and worked well rotating on the wing.
“We got two early goals in the first eight minutes to put the scoreboard pressure on.
“Another shot bounced on the line and went the wrong way, while another we were certain was a goal, but was called touched.
“Southern had a few opportunities and attacked hard in the second half, but in short games there is a lot of pressure on the goal kicker and they missed a few shots they would normally get and eventually time ran out for them.” Murray South East kept the defending champions at bay by three points to set up a date with Northern Zone in the final at Victor Harbour.
In “beautiful” conditions for football, Hunt’s team enjoyed a dream start scoring the first goal straight away before Northern answered back to snatch the lead just before quarter time.
Neave Delaney kicked two majors, while Little and Angela Broad also hit the scoreboard and by halftime Murray South East closed the margin to a solitary point.
A strong breeze made scoring difficult in the second half, but the likes of Mould and Little continued to push and keep the game alive until the final siren.
Hunt said it was a grand performance from his team, but luck was not on their side as the final shot at victory was so close, yet so far.
“It was all new territory for the girls and there was a lot of nervous energy, but you never go into a game not expecting to win,” he said.
“We hit the scoreboard straightaway, but Northern got a couple of goals just before quarter time which probably ended up costing us.
“We had a long range shot right before the siren which just curled around the post, so if it was a metre to the right we would have been premiers.” Little, Bateman, Mould and Delaney were all named in the women’s team of the championship, while the former received an even bigger honour.
For a dominant performance a centre-half forward, Little was named as the women’s player of the championship alongside Central’s Dakota Williams.
Hunt said the Millicent product sets a great example on and off the field.
“I cannot speak highly enough of her in life in general,” he said.
“She works very hard and is a clever footballer, who knows the game inside and out.
“She took a lot of marks and brought her team mates in the game as a very young vice-captain so she has a big future in football.”