“HAWKS AND TIGERS PRODUCE A CLASSIC……”

Daryn Cresswell paces around the Sydney Airport Terminal; anxiously watching the live-stream of the game and furiously texting, as his charges wage a battle royal against Albury yesterday……..

In possibly the match of the year the Wangaratta Rovers hold on to pip Albury – 14.9 ( 93 ) to 13.14 ( 92 ).

Fortunes fluctuate wildly during this fascinating encounter……Forty-five seconds into the second quarter the Hawks hold a 29-point lead, and are doing it on the bit; five minutes later the Tigers have narrowed the lead to five points.

The Rovers again produce scintillating football in the opening 15 minutes of the third term, to scoot out to a seeming match-winning lead of 33 points………But their never-say-die opponents flick the switch again to fight their way back into the game……..

The last quarter is last-man-standing stuff……The Tigers finally regain the ascendency and, you’d suggest, have the necessary composure and experience to prevail in this classic contest …….It goes right down to the wire……In a match of inches the Hawks get up by a solitary point, to defeat Albury for only the second time in ten years………..

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If all of that drama was enough to drive ‘Crezza’ to distraction, consider his stand-in replacements, Josh and Chris Naish.

Charged with the responsibility of guiding the Hawks for the day they’d scarcely have visualised such a roller-coaster ride……..But, they’ll no doubt reason, they’re better for the experience.

And, by the way, they’ll probably query, in this ‘game for the ages’, why 22 of the 27 goals were kicked to the town end, when there was scarcely a whisper of a breeze.

This game fascinated from the first bounce……The early star ( and in my book, BOG for the game ) was slightly-built on-baller, Jake McQueen, who booted two early goals and continued to be a dynamo.

At one stage Tiger Brayden O’Hara stuck close in an attempt to dull McQueen…….. That was one of the many match-ups that both sides plotted…..Todd Bryant onto the dynamic Fletcher Carroll also proved effective , but really, most of the ‘big guns’ continued to have their anticipated effect on the game……

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The Rovers had no time to rest on their laurels after everything they touched had turned to gold in the first quarter. Albury soon switched into gear, inspired by the brilliance of coach Anthony Miles, who, in one purple patch early in the second term, picked up 5 touches in six minutes ( and 11 for the quarter).

But it was the curly-haired, fleet-footed youngster Isaac McGrath ( grandson of a former Hawk ) who lit the game up with a couple of majors.

The Tigers were right back in it and went to the half-time break with a four-point lead : 7.6 to 7.2.

Many Rovers diehards on the Maroney Pavilion balcony pondered, and were apprehensive about the prospect of their side regaining the ascendency.

They were ecstatic when they booted two goals in a minute. The latter was the result of a classic piece of Dylan Stone wizardry on the scoreboard-side, when he took six bounces, relayed the pill on to Jayden Bear, who knocked it over to Alex Marklew…..Goal !

And under-rated Dylan Wilson was on the end of another distance-devouring Stone effort, and snapped truly…….It was the third Hawk goal in the opening eight minutes of the third term…….They were back in town.

Further majors to Lukass Webb, Jack Gerrish and Sam Allen ( whose clean disposal had come under notice ) extended the lead to 33 points.

Again Rovers fans breathed easily, and contemplated glory…….

But not for long……

The final stanza had no sooner begun when the pendulum swung for the umpteenth time. Big forward Jacob Conlon slammed through two ‘snags’ in a minute…….Shaun Daly was acquitting himself capably after switching into the ruck, and the usual ‘suspects’, Miles, strong-marking Lucas Conlon, Jake Gaynor, Riley Bice and skipper Jimmy Grills came under notice.

Suddenly, the Tigers trailed by just four points.

When Todd Bryant was interfered with at centre half forward, the relay kick ended up in the hands of tall Hawk Mackenzie Bristow, who nailed it from point-blank range.

Temporary breathing space for the home side…….

But it was short-lived when Jacob Conlon marked on the angle and his conversion put the Tigers back in front at the 17-minute mark.

Then Jimmy Grills snapped his fourth point for the day…..A bad miss……It was desperation-stakes for both sides, as they battled in close.

Two great intercept marks from the gallant Sam Murray, and some outstanding defensive efforts from the reliable Raven Jolliffe, brought sighs of relief to the Hawks……..

The Rovers backline, also supported by Sam Carpenter, Michael Clark, Cody Schutt and Will Nolan had continued to be unstinting in their efforts.

The closing minutes were so drama-charged that roughly 32 of the 36 players were fighting for the ball in front of the Hogan Stand, the end to which the Tigers were attacking.

It was three points the difference with a couple of minutes remaining…….

The dangerous Tiger Jacob Conlon marked right on the line, in front of the point post, played on……and booted a point…….A great escape for the Hawks……A disputed mark to Riley Bice, 25 metres in front, was disallowed…..Then, seconds later, Will Blomely snapped…..and deviated to the left point post…….

There was just a point in it when Sam Murray’s raking left foot again cleared the ball from the danger area towards Jayden Bear and Lachie Taylor-Nugent. Just as Bear toed the ball into space he raised his arms in triumph. The roar of the crowd had drowned out the shrill sound of the siren, signifying a one-point victory in a memorable encounter……

The balcony exploded in uproar…….