ALBURY and Yarrawonga’s stranglehold of the Ovens and Murray is one of country footy’s most heated debates.
It’s not good for the competition, some say, while plenty of others believe the other eight clubs simply can’t compete with the league heavyweights.
That noise will undoubtedly only get louder this time next week, when again it will be either the Pigeons or Tigers who hold the premiership cup aloft for the fifth successive season following Albury’s heart-stopping one-point win in yesterday’s preliminary final.
That’s a fact, and facts are stubborn things.
But here’s some other facts to consider.
Last year, Wangaratta Rovers led Yarrawonga by 34 points in the early stages of the final quarter of the grand final qualifier. But they stuffed it.
A year earlier, Lavington held a comfortable 21-point lead over the Pigeons in the preliminary final and looked set to end the monopoly the Ovens and Murray heavyweights had on the competition’s biggest prize. But they, too, stuffed it.
You can add yesterday’s Panthers to that list.
Almost 14 minutes into the final quarter, Lavington was 20 points clear of the Tigers and pressing towards a shock grand final berth.
The Panthers had all the momentum, having kicked eight of the game’s previous 10 goals at that point, and they had the Tigers out on their feet.
Any other day, they were as good as home.
But this wasn’t just any other day.
Andy Carey, who’d been well held by James Saker all day, kicked the second of his final quarter goals and Albury had a pulse.
It was an arm-wrestle for the following five minutes, with the next goal shaping as the biggest of the game.
And it was Charles Gaylard who found it.
When the Albury co-captain dribbled one home under the pump, the Tigers had got themselves back into the contest.
More importantly, they had the Panthers nervous.
They’d looked full of confidence and almost unflappable up to that point.
But it was the goal that seemingly broke them.
John Mitchell then kicked his fourth of the game practically seconds later, thanks to a bullet pass from Gaylard, and the Tiger wave had become overwhelming.
Bryce Carroll waltzed in another just metres out and Albury was somehow in front, with only minutes remaining.
The Tigers had turned the game on its head, in the space of a few hundred seconds.
But like Wangaratta Rovers last year, the Panthers were to get another chance of claiming their lead back when it counted most.
Adam Flagg swooped on a loose ball, about 25 metres out, and was charging towards goal.
He was standing on almost the same spot Barry Hall was when he missed after the siren in last year’s second semi-final at Norm Minns Oval.
Flagg got the same result.
It was a devastating miss that will be etched in the memory of the 2329 people who were there.
He should have kicked it.
Tom Hargreave then hit the post with what would have been a miracle goal after the Tigers coughed the footy up shortly after the kick-in.
The Panthers had used up all their chances.
The siren blew moments later, with the ball at half-forward for the Panthers, but it was Albury that was in front.
By a point, of all margins.
Albury co-coach Daniel Maher was the first to admit he had his doubts.
When Joel Hartley sent the Panthers 20 points clear, Maher had every right to.
“You’ve always got your doubts, certainly,” he said.
“But the momentum shifted.
“Lavi had control of the footy and more scoring shots but we were able to convert our opportunities.
“We knew we were going to stay in the game, as long as we won our own footy around the contest.”
And they did enough of that when it counted.