IT WAS with a mixture of dogged determination, good fortune and great relief that second-placed Mirboo North escaped from Shark Park with a one-point win over host club, Tarwin.
Tarwin led narrowly at every change in a nip and tuck affair, where neither side was able to maximize its fleeting moments of momentum.
The vanquished Sharks’ hopes of making this year’s Mid Gippsland finals have now been extinguished.
For the second week running, the mighty Tigers won a thriller by the barest margin against a former Alberton League club.
All afternoon, it seemed whenever Tarwin or Mirboo North players gathered the ball cleanly, there was always something there to remind them that a lurking Tiger or circling shark was ready to pounce.
Tarwin opened feverishly, with quick goals from Matthew Williams and Jake Cochrane, after which Shannon Kennedy steadied the ship for the visitors, following a tidy pass from Shane Peters.
Tackling pressure from both sides was intense and the field umpires had no hesitation pinging anyone caught in a trap or stripped of the ball.
Two further goals from each side gave Tarwin a two-point advantage at the first break.
In the second term, Mirboo North edged 12 points clear after a clever running goal from Fraser Austin, before Luke Bartlett booted the Tigers’ fifth major off the deck.
Mirboo North’s defence was holding up well with steadying intercept marking and clearance work from Julian Blackford, Callum Gillian, Lloyd Powell, Tristan Salerno and skipper Damien Turner.
However, successive replies from Cochrane, then a grubber in the goal square on the siren by Williams, gave Tarwin its seventh major and a six-point half-time lead.
Tarwin runners Matthew Zagni and Ben Ellen continued to create havoc for Mirboo North’s defenders as they streamed downfield looking for Cochrane, who finished with five goals for the Sharks.
At three-quarter time, Tarwin was a point in front after two third-term goals from the Sharks and three majors by Mirboo North.
The Tigers moved star ruckman Joe Brooks into defence to mind the dangerous high-marking beanstalk Julian Patterson, whose strong overhead grabs hadn’t been rewarded on the scoreboard.
Harley Foat then took all before him in the ruck, with several decisive hit-outs at the stoppages directed towards Mirboo North’s onballers.
A long Mirboo North goal by Joel Lambourn was soon answered when Williams marked a pass from Kaj Patterson and slammed through his fourth major to level the scores at 66 points apiece.
Lambourn featured again with a mark and goal that kicked Mirboo North six points clear — but it was to be the Tigers’ last foray forward.
What followed was more drama than Big John Cannon or Blue Boy, ever experienced at The High Chaparral, in southern Arizona territory.
Unlike Blue Boy, the Sharks couldn’t shoot straight, as — one after the other — five attempts to goal went either side of the big white sticks.
Mirboo North’s victory was its third under three points this season, whereas Tarwin has lost three matches by a goal or less.
Such are the vagaries of football in tight finishes.
Tarwin’s well-deserved 27 point win over Mirboo North sees it replace Morwell East in fifth position on the ladder.
The secret to Tarwin’s success was governed by its players sticking to the core requirements of the game plan.
Although Mirboo North was five points in front at quarter-time, it trailed at the main break by 26 points, after Tarwin piled on 5.2 during the second term.
As a result of its defeat, Mirboo North has dropped from seventh to eighth place and must win its remaining games against Toora and Morwell East to have any chance of featuring in this year’s finals.
Luke Palmer, with four goals and plenty of quality around-the-ground possessions was Mirboo North’s best performer, along with Zac Porter, Ben Stoertebecker and newcomer, Oakley Kerr.
Mirboo North’s plight was accentuated by its inability to consistently win the contested ball.
The Tigers were unable to contain burly spearhead, Dale Marsden, who finished with three goals and had a hand in a couple of others.
Other dominant Sharks were Tom Williamson, Corey Buxton and Billy Hasell.