A BRILLIANT final quarter comeback led to scenes of pure jubilation from the Orange Tigers and utter devastation from the Bathurst Bushrangers Rebels at full-time in Saturday’s Central West AFL grand final.
The Rebels had looked headed for victory as they led by 27 points at the final break, but the Tigers rallied in the final term to clinch a 12-10-82 to 10-19-79 victory at George Park 2.
It was Andrew Henry who kicked the match winner with 2:34 left on the clock, but his entire team celebrated the moment.
“The message was to dig in,” Tigers captain Luke Thorley said of the three-quarter-time address.
“We had to come back out and believe in ourselves and we did. We got those few early goals. I thought I nearly ruined it by giving a 50 [metre penalty] away, but we dug deep in those last few minutes to win the game.
“They were up in the first quarter, the second and the third, but to stick around was fantastic.
“It’s something to be proud of, to beat Bathurst out here, it’s huge. We are arch rivals, to beat them in the ground final, the biggest day of the year, on their home ground, it's something you can't really put into words.”
Rebels co-coach Steve Grundy struggled to put his thoughts into words, but the bitter disappointment was etched on his face. The tears came as he tried to console his players.
“It probably hurts more that we got so close, yeah,” he said.
“I think I said earlier in the week, that’s the one big thing I took from last week, the grand final isn’t over right until the final siren and Orange proved that today.
“We were so good for large portions of the game, we just fell away in that last quarter, but that’s footy.
“But I am still super proud of what we have achieved this year, it was a fantastic season. It's an amazing club with amazing people.”
It took just 15 seconds for the Tigers to take their first mark inside 50 – and not surprisingly it was Tim Barry who took the grab.
He duly booted the opening major and his first of four for the decider.
With the breeze blowing across the ground and unpredictable gusts constantly whipping up, it challenged the players. It showed as the Rebels’ first four scoring shots of the contest were behinds.
Charlie Flude finally gave the Rebels the lead, drifting into in front of goal to take a good grab then playing on quickly.
Matt Archer added another before a thumping Bill Watterson kick pushed the hosts further ahead, Rebels leading 3-7-25 to 1-0-6 at the first break.
Early in the second it was the Rebels who built their inside 50 count, Paul Long, Andrew James and Archer all winning good contested possession.
But it took a 50 metre penalty to Patrick Edsall for the Rebels to find their fourth major in the 35th minute.
Barry then found a reply and after winning the following centre clearance, Lucas Kelly added another to haul Tigers back in reach at 33-18. It was a passage of play which gave a hint of what was to come.
When Alex Sparks capitalised on a penalty to boot the Rebels’ fifth major 11 out from half-time the margin stood at 20.
But while Rebels continued to press, but man of the match Dan Sadler shone in defence for the Tigers.
Four out from the long break the Tigers rallied and two quick majors made it a seven-point game at 5-10-40 to 5-3-33.
A 50 metre penalty to Phil Hoang five into the second half had the Tigers within two of the lead, and with Mick Rothnie starting to stamp himself on the contest, the visitors looked threatening.
But the Rebels lifted – upping their tackling pressure - and were rewarded. Kaleb Crowhurst booted two for the quarter, while Archer and Sparks hit the target as well.
It made it 9-18-72 to 7-3-45 with a term to play and as the Rebels fired themselves up in their huddle, it looked unlikely the Tigers could wrestle the lead off them.
But Tigers, with the assistance of a 50 metre penalty, kicked the first goal of the final term via Chris Rothnie.
He came close again with 18 left as he hit the post, but when Mick Rothnie found the mark with a kick that shaped back in the breeze, the Tigers were within 10 of the lead.
Sparks eased the pressure on the hosts when he scored off the back of a 50 metre penalty with 13 to go, but Kelly then Chris Pethybridge responded with majors for the Tigers.
Henry then gave the visitors the lead and when Sparks’ shot with a minute left went through for a behind, it was game over.