I love the pulsating, rollicking sound of a footy club belting out its theme song ; delirious fans screaming in unison as they celebrate the unlikeliest of triumphs.
My girls reckon I should have left behind my child-like obsession with the game thirty years ago, but I tell them they should have been in the Rovers rooms tonight. It was dripping with emotion and excitement.
In case you haven’t heard by now, the Hawks won by 5 points, which, on the face of it, is nothing to get carried away with.
But when you’ve been slaughtered in the first half and go in 49 points down against an emerging Myrtleford, this is an extraordinary victory.
It’s the biggest-ever comeback in the club’s history. They were 44 points in arrears in the 1993 second semi-final against Wodonga and got up by 22 . They trailed by 40 points against Albury at three-quarter time in 1998 and snuck in by 2.
But this was a side that had dropped it’s opening three games, and the O & M public – and particularly the media – were reserving their judgement about their standing in the pecking-order
By half-time their minds were made up – the Rovers were gone -and it was becoming increasingly obvious that they were warming for favouritism for the wooden-spoon, to which most experts had consigned them during the pre-season.
After the opening nine minutes Myrtleford had scored 5.1 to nil. The Hawks had barely touched the ball. Fired by dynamic skipper Brad Murray, creative West Aussie small man Willie Thorn and goal-kicker Brodie Ricardi, they looked irresistible, as they cut a swathe through a lethargic defence.
And it appeared that if the brakes weren’t applied after half-time, things could get decidedly ugly.
What brought about the turn-around.?
Plainly, coach Paul Maher spelt out a few home truths. “I wanted to remind the players of a few things, so we went into the coach’s room. I didn’t want to berate them in public”, he said later.
But, it was a credit to the self-belief of the team that they were able to come out and reverse the trend of the game almost immediately. Not just the stars, but the complete unit.
Players who had been furtively glancing sideways to dish off hurried, ineffective handballs now became the epitome of positivity and showed faith in their ability to find a team-mate further afield.
‘Chopper’ McCullough, who had been one of the absentees in the first half, produced 50 minutes of magic – including seven goals from the top-shelf- to help revitalise the forward line……. Shane Gaston again took control of the big-man duels………Tyson Hartwig, switched onto the damaging Jarrod Hayze, was a colossus and time and again cleared the ball from defence.
Sean O’Keeffe, had got his hands on the ball pretty regularly, early on, but made a lot more of his kicks count……..Lochie Dornauf ranged around the ground and was always dangerous…..James Smith and Ryan Cobain, both tall and agile and conspicuous with their long left-foot kicking, were key players in the revival.
But it’s worth giving a bit of a ‘wrap’ to the youngsters, who probably learnt more in the second half of the contest than they had during their brief footy careers.
Tyler Lowe (1 game), Brydon Robbins (2), Stuart Booth (4), Charlie Davies (12), Dylan Stone (10), Brad Collihole (6), and Nick Henderson (9) all made telling contributions and possibly got an indication that they are capable of cutting the mustard in O & M football.
Robbins, in particular, announced his arrival on the stage with his willingness to take the game on. Several strong marks and a timely goal gave indication that the former ‘Bushies’ squad member could become a crowd- favourite. Young Lowe also ran the ball out of defence impressively.
The Rovers still trailed by 21 points at three-quarter time, but seasoned observors noted that the Saints might be running on empty.
Murray, ran himself ragged picking up possessions; Nathan Cossignani and the classy Thorn did their utmost to will their team-mates over the line. But with five minutes to play, the Hawks hit the front for the first time, via a Brad Collihole snap, to the roar of the home fans.
But wait. There was one final act to be played out. The siren blew with the ball in Myrtleford’s possession from a mark. They were 5 points down.
Hell, he couldn’t kick this, could he ? It’s more than 60 metres out. But then I recalled Gary Ablett lining up and nailing a goal after the siren from the same spot, 32 years ago.
Fortunately, history was not to be replicated and the shot fell short.
It was an important win for the club, as it convinced the players that their attitude must be spot-on; the youngsters realised that they should back themselves, and the supporters acknowledged they have a group that are worth investing in.
Yes, everything in the world is rosy. I’m reflecting on a famous Rovers victory and basking in the glory of the Western Bulldogs 4-1 record, as I nod off with the sound still ringing in my ears….”Oh, we’re Wangaratta Rovers………”