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A HUGE crowd of about 6200 packed into Wangaratta’s W.J. Findlay Oval yesterday to watch Wangaratta Rovers and Yarrawonga in one of the most-anticipated games in Ovens and Murray history.
And by half-time most of them were flat.
The “will they, won’t they” saga surrounding the Barry Hall v Brendan Fevola showdown had created unprecedented hype, but the football was not living up to the pre-match drama.
Wangaratta sisters Paula and Maria Griffiths were two of many first-time O and M spectators at the ground.
“I’m used to going to AFL games, and the skill level in local footy isn’t of that standard so I find it a bit boring,” Paula said before the game.
And by 3.30pm she was probably suitably unimpressed. And bored.
Only four goals were kicked in the first half. The star attraction, Hall, had dropped three sitters and although Fevola had snagged two goals, the most entertaining thing he did was cannon into a goal post.
But this extraordinary O and M season has never failed to entertain, and yesterday that didn’t change.
After half-time the goals stared flowing and the intensity lifted. And the crowd rose with it, willing “Bazza” and “Fev” into every contest.
There was even the obligatory dose of controversy that accompanies these big ticket matches when Rovers star Karl Norman was yellow-carded at a crucial moment in the last quarter.
The locals were both incensed and thrilled.
“This is storybook stuff,” Rovers volunteer Peter Bishop said as the game reached its climax.
“Look at this, it’s goal-for-goal now, it’s good footy — you couldn’t ask for more.”
Seeing W.J. Findlay Oval surrounded by a sea of people was all new to Rovers supporters, but Yarrawonga supporters are getting used to it.
So are the players. The Pigeons, albeit helped by Norman’s sending-off, showed a touch more poise in the important moments to shrug off the Hawks for a 19-point win.
But the town of Wangaratta was smiling.
With a full balcony at $100 a head and more than 6000 people through the gate at $10 a ticket for adults, the Hawks’ are expected to make a handsome sum before counting canteen profits.
Cafes were full in the morning and pubs were brimming last night. And the footy won a few new hearts.
Before the game, the White family from Moyhu didn’t know what to expect.
“We don’t normally come to the footy,” Tania White said.
By the end of the day they were converted.
When asked if it was worth it, Mrs White’s husband, Ritchie, was emphatic: “Bloody oath”.
“How could you not enjoy this?”