MYRTLEFORD had been in this position before.
And the 2005 grand final was the ultimate reference point.
Lavington’s Darryn McKimmie plunged the dagger into the Alpine Saints’ hearts on the biggest stage when he kicked a goal after the siren to wrest the premiership in the cruelest fashion imaginable.
Wangaratta Rovers’ Ross Hill did likewise in a home and away match two years ago.
Suffice to say long-suffering Myrtleford supporters were rightfully nervous when North Albury youngster Rory Feltwell had possession when the siren sounded at Bunton Park on Saturday with the Hoppers trailing by one point.
But Feltwell’s shot from outside 50 on tired legs came up short, much to the relief of the Alpine Saints, who had trailed by 11 points at half-time and three-quarter-time.
Myrtleford kicked the only two goals of the last term to regain the lead for the first time since early in the match.
They drew level with the Hoppers on two wins at the halfway mark of the season but, more importantly, established an eight-point buffer from bottom team Wodonga.
The Hoppers were the dominant team through the middle stages, but left the door ajar enough for the Alpine Saints to crash through in the final quarter.
Jarrod Hayse booted his fourth goal to bring them within a straight kick before Christian Burgess’ snap around his body put them in front.
Myrtleford absorbed the pressure better, with crucial contributions from their best player, Kristan Height, as well as defender Hamish Leahy and youngster Brodie Ricardi late.
Height’s courage showed when he was crunched but remained on the ground.
North Albury, which had been brilliantly served by Kris Holman, Jesse Wellington and Daniel Leslie, tired late with coach Jason Akermanis succumbing to cramp and being forced off in the dying stages.
North Albury managed only 0.4 in the last quarter to let another winnable game slip.
Myrtleford co-coach Leigh Corcoran said he was proud of how his players stayed in it.
“They were willing to dig deep and willing to win and not just contribute,” he said.
“We just wanted to make sure we had a winning mindset. We just want to raise the bar.”
The Alpine Saints couldn’t have wished for a better start when they kicked the first two goals before the Hoppers hit back to pinch a one-point lead at quarter-time.
Kris Holman and Leslie were catalysts for regular springboards from defence and the Hoppers went on with the job with the first three goals of the second term.
They had effective contributors, including pacy duo Feltwell and Jordan Harrington, and Wellington, who had two goals before half-time.
Also coming under notice were Lachlan Taylor-Nugent and NT Thunder recruit Patrick Heenan, before tiring late.
Myrtleford waited until the 22-minute mark of the second quarter for Matt Dussin to kick its third goal before first-year player Billy Williams booted another.
North Albury pushed Leslie forward at the start of the third, but he was soon sent back as the visitors kept within striking distance.
Wellington’s third goal came from a questionable 50-metre penalty and when Jarrah Makysmow also brought up his third soon after, the Hoppers maintained the upper hand.
A late lapse let Burgess goal for the Alpine Saints, who could have been closer had co-coach Brad Murray not squandered a shot from 30 metres on the siren.
But they were more poised in the big moments, with Nathan Cossignani winning crucial possessions and Riley O’Shea taking the points against Josh Minogue.