The season that began with tragedy has ended in triumph for the Albury Football Club.
There were emotional scenes as James McQuillan joined his teammates to celebrate the 7-point victory over arch rivals Yarrawonga.
It was back in round one, against Yarrawonga, that mcQuillan suffered the spinal injury that left him a quadriplegic.
He defied doctor's orders to be at yesterday's grand final and there was no doubt he was the man who had inspired a stirring Tigers' victory.
"He's with us forever and is as much a part of this win as I am," Albury co-coach Daniel Maher said.
By DAVID JOHNSTON
ALBURY reclaimed its standing as the Ovens and Murray Football League’s top dog by winning a classic grand final against fierce rival Yarrawonga at Lavington Oval yesterday.
The Tigers are the envy of the competition’s nine other teams with their star studded line-up and off-field resources from the Joss Group.
But they were forced to rise above a brave and resilient Pigeons’ outfit which threatened to engineer one of the biggest upsets in the league’s 121-year history.
As their premiership window closes, the heroic Pigeons extended the Tigers to the wire to go down by seven points only a fortnight after a second semi-final drubbing and a come-from-behind one-point preliminary final win.
It was the closest margin of the six successive grand finals the modern day league heavyweights have played with the head-to-head record slanted the Tigers’ way 4-2.
Another big crowd of 9189 people was left stunned when veteran Jeremy O’Brien put the Pigeons in front mid-way through the third quarter.
First-year Tigers’ star Brayden O’Hara lifted in the hour of need with three pulsating second-half goals, but the Pigeons refused to roll over in the final term as Brendan Fevola proved to be an ever-present threat up forward.
Fevola booted six goals and was left two shy of 300 goals in three remarkable seasons for Yarrawonga.
He also hit the post late in the match and had another goal disallowed from close range in the frenetic final term in what might have been his farewell appearance for the Pigeons.
Young Yarrawonga defender Connor Hargreaves created history in becoming the first player on a losing team to collect the Did Simpson Medal for best on the ground.
Albury had plenty of premiership heroes including Luke Packer, Dean Polo and Bryce Carroll.
After accepting the premiership cup from Tigers’ great and the club’s latest inductee into the Hall of Fame, Tim Scott, Albury co-coach Chris Hyde described his teammates as “bloody champions”.
“Despite what people say, we deserve every second of this,” he said.
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It is the end of an era in the Pigeons’ leadership ranks with co-coach Chris Kennedy marshalling the Pigeons for the final time and he almost departed with a third successive premiership medallion.
The senior match finished late due to a tie at full-time in the under-18 grand final between eventual premier Wangaratta and Lavington.
After two periods of extra time, the Magpies inflicted more finals heartbreak on the Panthers with a one-point win — the same margin of the last two preliminary finals at senior level.
The reserves was a whitewash with Albury winning by 158 points after conceding the first three goals of the game.
Josh Maher, who lost his spot in the senior team before the second semi-final, booted nine goals in the romp.
The premiership winning Tigers’ reserves crashed through a banner before the game which paid respected to former player Braedon Hensel, who lost his courageous battle with cancer mid-year.
There was no shortage of sentiment before the senior game with James McQuillan there to watch his team.
McQuillan suffered serious spinal injuries in the first round encounter this season against Yarrawonga which was called off early in the second quarter.
The Pigeons’ player he crashed into, Marcus Cummins, was one of the first people to greet him after the final siren when he was wheeled onto the ground to join in the post-match celebrations.
His mum, Jo, revealed before the game he had recently had nerve transfer surgery with the success of the operation not expected to be known until after Christmas.
The senior banner also carried a tribute: “James McQuillan: An Inspiration To Us All. A True Tiger – TBS”.
The pre-match included the traditional parade of champions with former Brisbane triple premiership player Jonathan Brown delivering the premiership cup to league chairman Graeme Patterson before the game.
Albury mayor Kevin Mack left no one in any doubt who he was supporting on the day by wearing an Albury Tigers polo shirt.
Katie Baldock produced another excellent rendition of the national anthem as both teams and umpires lined up in spring sunshine.
The Pigeons didn’t go home empty-handed with their A grade netball team beating Wodonga in the grand final 49-40.
Other premiers were North Albury (B grade and 16 and under) and Lavington (C grade).
Gate takings were $72,000.
By JAKE BOURKE
CHRIS Hyde got straight to the point.
“Despite what people say, we deserve every second of this,” the Albury co-coach roared as the Tigers were handed their fourth premiership cup in the past six years yesterday.
The Ovens and Murray powerhouse lost just once for the entire season but it was far from smooth sailing at Albury Sportsground this year.
There was James McQuillan’s shocking spinal injury in round 1, the passing of much-loved clubman Braedon Hensel in June and a wave of constant criticism constantly coming in the Tigers’ direction.
“Albury is ruining the league,” some said.
“How can we compete with that?” piped others.
The Tigers still had to get the job done.
Add a mountain of external pressure leading into the game and a fearsome opponent in Yarrawonga, and Albury’s 19th premiership became much, much harder to win than what others might suggest.
And that task got even tougher once the match started.
Yarrawonga got off to the perfect start.
Brendan Fevola kicked the first goal of the game on the run, before Kayne Pettifer quickly added another.
Fevola then slotted his second with a clever snap.The Pigeons were flying.
They had shot out to a shock 19-point lead in the opening 10 minutes and Lavington Oval was buzzing.
An upset was on the cards.
Dean Polo, who was simply superb for the Tigers, steadied the ship with Albury’s first goal under immense pressure.
He handled the situation with poise before kicking truly from just inside 50.
It got Albury going.
Setanta O’hAilpin and Andy Carey added three more between them before the quarter ended and the Tigers were in front at the first change.
John Mitchell made it five goals on the trot with the first of the second term before Yarrawonga master Craig Ednie was gifted a response after a 50-metre penalty.
O’hAilpin snapped his third, then rammed home a fourth, before Lonnie Hampton scorched through a pack to snag his first of the game almost 18 minutes into the second quarter.
The Tigers were 20 points clear and the floodgates were threatening to open.
But they didn’t.
Matt Gorman, one of the Pigeons’ best in defeat, kept Yarrawonga in touch although it didn’t take long for Aisake O’hAilpin to find a response after a brilliant run down the wing from livewire Matt Munro.
Fevola took a hanger and slotted his fourth of the day moments before the half-time siren.
The Pigeons still had hope.
That hope started to turn into expectation when Fevola booted the first two goals of the second half to take his bag for the game to six.
Scores were level and Damian Houlihan’s record of 10 goals in a grand final was starting to look shaky.
Fevola was on fire.
The Pigeons soon recaptured the lead after Fevola forced a turnover that saw Jeremy O’Brien kick an easy goal.
Enter Brayden O’Hara.
The former SANFL star had a quiet first half, a busted shoulder undoubtedly a factor, but turned the game back in the Tigers’ favour with back-to-back goals in the space of a minute after being thrown forward.
Albury was back in control and ahead by eight points at the final change.
It was the Tigers’ premiership to lose.
Mitchell landed the first blow of the final term after being controversially handed a 50-metre penalty following some confusion over a free kick paid against Richard Handreck.
It was a pivotal moment in the game.
O’Hara then made it seemingly impossible for Yarrawonga to win with another brilliant goal on the run from outside 50.
But the Pigeons do the impossible for fun.
Pettifer snapped a quick response before Beau Seymour ran into an open goal.
The margin was cut back to nine points with more than five minutes still to play. We were in for another classic.
Yarrawonga kept finding a way to pump the ball inside 50 and Fevola looked like he was going to win it off his own boot.
But he couldn’t find a goal.
He missed a chance he’d swallow 99 times out of a 100 with just moments to spare.
It wouldn’t have mattered.
The siren went seconds later and the Tigers were premiers.
Daniel Maher couldn’t have been more proud.
“We’ve had to stick fat this year,” the Albury co-coach said.
“We really dug deep.
“Not just the 21 that played but the other players, committee members and supporters.
“Grand finals aren’t won just on the day.
“I thought we needed to have a four-quarter effort today and we did.
“They showed last week that this week was going to go right to the death.
“We were expecting another epic and we got it.”
By BRETT KOHLHAGEN
ALBURY footballer James McQuillan was overcome with tears of joy after the Tigers held on for a pulsating seven-point victory over Yarrawonga at Lavington Oval yesterday.
McQuillan was swamped by teammates with many dedicating the win to the backman who was left a quadriplegic after suffering a spinal injury in the opening round of the season.
“It’s been a pretty special day,” McQuillan said.
“The sun was shining and the boys played well.
“They put their head over the footy all day.
“Yarrawonga nearly came back at the end and I had my heart in the throat but it was all right in the end.”
McQuillan sat in his wheelchair near the Albury interchange throughout the Tigers’ senior and reserve grade victories and planned to attend the Ovens and Murray club’s celebrations at Albury Sportsground last night.
Click play on the video below to hear an pre-match interview with James. (iPhone users go to video tab in menu)
He underwent nerve transfer surgery earlier this month and only decided to attend the match 24 hours before the grand final.
“I’m going well,” he said.
“It’s been great to catch up with everyone.
“I can’t wait to catch up with the boys tonight.
“Everyone has put in a lot of time to help me out and I appreciate everything that people have done for me.”
Albury co-coach Daniel Maher said McQuillan had been an inspiration to the Tigers.
“He defied doctor’s orders to be up here today,” Maher said.
“It’s just the sort of kid Jimmy is.
“He’s with us forever and is as much a part of this win as I am.
“I’m just so happy we were able to win for Jimmy and all the players.”
McQuillan suffered his injury during the second quarter of Albury’s opening-round clash against Yarrawonga with several Pigeon players and officials going out of their way to greet him after the grand final.
His mother, Jo, said the family had been touched by the level of support.
“It’s been incredible,” Jo said.
“It means so much to us all.”
THERE was one Tiger they went to when they held up the premiership cup.
One Tiger they all wanted to win for.
One Tiger who was an inspiration to them all.
And as his teammates celebrated they gathered around James McQuillan.
“It’s all about little steps and setting goals,” James’ mother Jo said.
“That’s really one important part of the rehabilitation process, and one of his goals was to get back here if Albury made the grand final.
“Him being here is huge, it’s very exciting for everyone in the family and a big step and we’re hoping him being here might spur the boys on a bit.”
McQuillan has been undergoing treatment since suffering a spinal injury back in the first round of the Ovens and Murray season.
And two and a half weeks ago he underwent a nerve transfer operation.
“From that we’re hoping to get more movement in his hands and seeing if we can get more tricep movement back,” Jo said.
“But we won’t know the results of that until well after Christmas.”
In the meantime, McQuillan was in the spotlight as each premiership winning Tiger paid tribute to their teammate.
“He handles it all really well,” Jo said.
“He’s very good at talking to people and when he came up today he knew there would be a little bit of a focus, but it’s fine.
“(The tribute) was fabulous, he loved that.
“He was stoked and it was a nice touch.
“Albury and Yarrawonga and the Ovens and Murray have been extraordinarily supportive of James and our family.
“The support has been overwhelming, we already knew that but to come here and actually see it ... the Albury Football Club has been amazing and the Albury community has been just fabulous.”