MIRBOO North courageously captured its fifth Mid Gippsland premiership since 2006, when it defeated Yinnar by two points in a grand final cliffhanger at Morwell Recreation Reserve on Saturday.
From start to finish, the ferocity of this low scoring, bone-crunching encounter, where nothing more than 14 points separated the teams, was ceaseless.
Had the final siren sounded a millisecond or two later, Yinnar would have won its 14th senior premiership since 1939.
Instead, the Magpies had to settle for second best, when Max Renwick pounced on a loose ball and sent it sailing through the big white sticks, just after veteran field umpire Steven Buhagiar, blew his whistle and signalled full time.
For a fleeting moment, several Yinnar players near the goal square and many spectators who didn’t hear the siren thought Yinnar had taken the lead.
Mirboo North’s classy half back flanker, Jacob Blair, was easily best afield, winning the Bill McConville Medal as well as the field umpire’s award, after baffling the Magpies with his trademark twists and turns out of trouble and expert hand and foot deliveries to teammates.
A couple of Blair’s miraculous escapes from grasping Magpie claws defied belief and made Harry Houdini look like a man locked in solitary confinement.
The mighty Tigers’ nail-biting victory was a triumph for second-year playing coach Clancy Bennett, who previously captained Mirboo North to flags in 2006 and 2007, after participating in four junior club premierships.
Following demoralising successive losses to Yallourn Yallourn-North and Newborough in mid-July, Mirboo North was seventh on the ladder and two games plus percentage out of the five.
Bennett articulately and constructively challenged his players to improve their performance and affirmed their best was equal to any side in the competition.
After the round 15 defeat, the Tigers boldly invoked a commitment to grab the premiership by winning their three remaining home and away fixtures, plus four finals – which they duly did.
Showers and patchy rain during the week and into game day softened the Morwell oval’s pristine surface and a south westerly breeze pushed most of the play towards the outer side boundary line.
Kicking north, Mirboo North kept Yinnar goalless in the opening term, but only managed one major itself when Brayden Wilson broke free and rammed a long shot home on the run.
The Tigers had plenty of the early play inside their forward half and were unlucky four shots narrowly missed the wide opening.
Darryl Mayman was active across the midfield for the Tigers, Dom Pinneri fired up in close, Hudson Kerr created options, Joe Brooks had Jamie Winters’ measure in the ruck and Jake Nash powered his way through the packs.
Both defences were rebounding well, with Blair, Julian Blackford, Daniel Taylor, Ben Richards and Bennett solid for the Tigers, whilst playing coach Jaime Aitken, Jesse Sleswick and Matt Llewellyn were dominant in Yinnar’s back 50.
Four consecutive second quarter goals from Yinnar, after Jack Robertson marked and converted for Mirboo North, put the Magpies 14 points clear and threatening to take full control.
Signs of trouble and areas of concern began to appear for the Tigers, as Yinnar’s game plan implementations struck pay dirt.
This season’s MGFL best and fairest winner, Michael Geary slipped into top gear, Luke Linton gathered numerous quality possessions and Jarrod Henderson frequently provided constructive drive through the midfield.
There were fears amongst some Mirboo North supporters that Yinnar’s skill, endurance and running power had forced the Tigers into using a geometrically misaligned formula of improvised resistance.
Then, a timely team-lifting snap across his body from the left forward pocket by Bennett, reduced Mirboo North’s deficit to a manageable seven points, shortly before the main break.
Suddenly, the Tigers had quelled Yinnar’s authority and they knew they were back in business.
Mirboo North made its winning move during the third quarter, when Tim Traill booted two crucial unanswered goals, the second of which came after Brooks held a brave contested intercept mark and drilled the ball directly into the big full forward’s chest.
Leading by five points at the last change, Bennett told the Tigers his heart said the flag was theirs, if they remained focused, kept working hard and made it happen.
Amazingly, the only goal in the tense last quarter came when Yinnar’s Damian Yates marked in the corridor after a minute’s play and kicked truly from 45 metres.
The Magpies were up by a point and the wind was helping them, but Blair, Blackford, Peter Taylor, Richards, Bennett and Luke Palmer refused to yield in the back half.
Brooks continued jumping high at the near endless stoppages and skipper Damien Turner set up some Mirboo North corridor advances with accurate passes.
Nash and Josh Taylor scored two behinds each and at the 15 minute mark, Mirboo North was three points clear.
Yinnar’s Brandon Mahoney missed by a whisker with a high snap from the left forward pocket and after only a minute of time-on, the 2017 premiership belonged to Mirboo North.
Final score: Mirboo North 5.12.42 d Yinnar 5.10.40.
MN goals: T Traill 2, B Wilson, C Bennett, J Robertson.
MN best: J Blair, C Bennett, D Mayman, J Blackford, J Brooks, J Nash.
YYN goals: M Geary 2, D Yates, L Visser, L Maynard.
YYN best: M Geary, J Sleswick, L Linton, D Hicks, J Henderson, D Yates.
Mirboo North Best & Fairest Results
Seniors football: J Nash 175 (polled in 17 of 18 games), D Turner 83.
Reserves football: J Grande 80, B Stoertebecker 68.
A Grade netball: J Le Page 52 (also won League B&F), A Nash 51.
B Grade netball: K Densley 65 (also won League B&F).
C Grade netball: T Bell 47, G Castello 37.
D Grade netball: D Eaves 53, M Giardina 47.