Albury regained its crown on Sunday with a pulsating eight-point win over Wangaratta in the grand final.
With a strong breeze, reaching almost 40kmh an hour at times, the teams struggled to master it with Albury kicking seven straight behinds to ground out a gripping 11.12 (78) to 10.10 (70) win in front of 7146 spectators at Wangaratta’s Norm Minns Oval.
Albury had a 37-point lead midway through the second quarter, but the momentum shifted shortly after when Jessy Wilson was charged with striking Zac Leitch and sent off for 15 minutes.
The Pies kicked the last three goals of the term to go into the second half 22 points down.
Both teams applied ferocious pressure, kicking five goals 14 with the breeze in the second half to three goals two.
Albury defender Dean Polo was named best on ground.
Given the wind, it was never going to be a game without mistakes and Albury adapted better, just kicking, punching, scrapping the ball forward at any opportunity.
“They’re (Wangaratta) very much a momentum team with the ball going their way, you hack the ball our way and gets them off foot a little bit and obviously it was very windy, so that affected the skills,” Tigers’ co-coach Shaun Daly said.
Wangaratta made one change, dropping Luke Saunders for Frazer Dent.
Albury teenager Mat Walker created history by becoming the first player in the league’s 125-year history to make his club debut in a senior grand final.
The home side grabbed the first point, but best on ground contender Jake Gaynor nabbed the first goal after five minutes.
Kicking into the breeze, Albury stunned the Pies with their ferocity, leading by three goals at quarter-time.
The Tigers then made the most of the wind, landing three goals, including Elliott Powell’s wonder goal which he dribbled through from the boundary line around 15m out.
But Wilson was off the ground and Wangaratta did superbly to peg back the margin into the breeze.
Pie Mark Anderson was forced off late in the term when collected by Rhys King while trying to shepherd a team-mate.
Brayden O’Hara kicked two goals into the breeze to push the margin to 26 points, but an inspirational performance by Matt Kelly proved the catalyst for the comeback.
Mitch Jensen produced a goal to rival Powell’s, with four Tigers converging on spearhead Michael Newton, the clever forward somehow weaved the ball through traffic.
The Pies had a stack of chances to snare the lead late, but will rue inaccuracy.
Albury led by three points into the final term, but Gaynor magic – a checkside from 30m – handed the under siege Tigers some breathing space.
However, a Newton snap after five minutes for his third cut it back to two.
It was the last goal, but Jim Grills stopped one when he marked on the line with three minutes left to round out one of the most gripping deciders in recent years.
- Receive our daily newsletter straight to your inbox each morning from The Border Mail. Sign up here