BARNAWARTHA completed a fairytale season when it downed Mitta United by 20 points to claim the Tallangatta and District league premiership at Sandy Creek on Saturday.
The Tigers withstood a second-half surge from the league heavyweight to seal their rise from elimination final hopefuls to 2013 premiers in stunning fashion.
The 13.14 (92) to 11.6 (72) victory was the Tigers’ first flag since their maiden premiership in 2002 and capped a memorable first year in charge for Mark Sarau.
As you’d expect against Mitta United, it didn’t come easy.
When Matt McNamara snapped truly at the 15-minute mark of the third term, Barnawartha was out to a game-high 33-point lead.
Against any other team in the league you’d have called the match over there and then.
But not against the team that had won five of the past nine premierships — that’s not how the Blues operate — especially on grand final day.
Goals to James Gray and Nick Fraser in the opening five minutes of the final term cut Barnawartha’s led to a point and it looked as though the Tigers would be made to pay for failing to capitalise on their first-half dominance.
Instead, Sarau’s young troops responded with four of the next five goals to post the most memorable of victories after cut-throat finals wins against Kiewa-Sandy Creek, Thurgoona and Dederang-Mount Beauty in the past month.
“It’s surreal,” Sarau said.
“Even when we won last week it still didn’t seem like we were going to be playing in a grand final.
“Six weeks out from the finals we were sitting eighth and were two games out of the top five but we knew we could get in.
“We just thought we’ve got a chance if we keep working and working and that’s what’s happened.
“We knew if we stayed close to Mitta we’d be all right, because we’d really built that belief up recently.
“It’s a belief this group has been getting — it’s been occurring over a long period of time now.
“You just hope that all the things you’ve spoken about over the past 18, 19 or 20 weeks come to fruition — today they have.
“Mitta throw everything at you and you’ve just got to be able to weather that storm — I couldn’t be prouder of the boys.”
Barnawartha dominated the opening term from the 14-minute mark when Tim Price kicked the first goal.
Skipper Josh Spence quickly followed suit and when Matt Ladgrove crumbed and goaled, the Tigers had a 22-point lead before the Blues had scored.
After trailing by five goals at quarter-time, Mitta worked its way back into the match in the second term on the back of impressive efforts from Jarrod Gorupic, Nathan Reynoldson and Richard Turnbull to reduce the margin to 14 points at the long break.
The third term was an arm wrestle with Barnawartha booting the first three goals before Mitta kicked the final three goals of the quarter to set up a grandstand finish.
Gray and Fraser got the Blues as close as they’d been since the opening minutes, but it was the Tigers who stepped up next with Peter Cook, Spence and Barton medallist Cameron McNeill putting the result beyond doubt.
Cook, who had kicked four behinds after being well held by Tom Turner, booted his first goal at the nine-minute mark of the final term before Spence converted from close range after a huge pack mark in the goalsquare.
Blues skipper Alex Beggs kept them in it with a goal soon after before the mercurial Cook sealed the victory in style with a freakish goal from the boundary line.