An emotional Daniel Cross has played his last game.
Albury’s favourite son, who played 249 AFL games with Western Bulldogs and Melbourne, clocked up around 13kms while running for the Demons in their loss to West Coast on Saturday afternoon, racking up 5692kms of travel in a 44-hour period.
“It’s been big, I couldn’t move much there in the last quarter,” he said.
The 35-year-old was asked if that was it.
“I think so,” he said before becoming emotional.
“I think my body could do it, but it’s taken a fair battering.
“I really wanted, it’s great to finish.”
The son of outstanding Albury player Peter, Cross will finish his career with 30 games for Albury, losing just one - last year’s grand final.
What a few days it’s been for Albury’s Mat Walker.
The Murray Bushranger created history by becoming the first player to debut for a club in a senior decider.
“During the year I was playing rep footy, so I wasn’t able to get that game in,” he said.
“I was booked to play, but I did my calf, so I couldn’t play.”
The 18-year-old kicked a goal with his second touch and certainly showed glimpses of his skill.
“The boys were unreal, they’re so nice,” he said.
“The least I could do is give the favour back.”
The selection of Walker was a major selection gamble.
“It was tough at the start,” co-coach Shaun Daly said.
“He’s been training all year and we watched a lot of clips.
“We spoke to his coaches and some recruiters, everyone raved about him.
“At the end of the day it was a relatively straightforward decision and he added a bit of a spark.”
Tiger forward Jessy Wilson’s charge of striking Pies’ ruckman Zac Leitch, and subsequent send off for 15 minutes midway through the second term, certainly changed the momentum.
“I was just getting a bit lippy to him as the game does, he gave a bit back to me, he gave me a jab and got me good on the jaw, so he said, ‘hit me’, so I gave him one back and that was it,” Wilson confessed.
“It was all in the fun of the game, we had a talk after the game and it’s all good now.”
The Tigers had a 30-point lead and Dean Polo was lining up a shot from 35m, on an angle, when Wilson struck Leitch closer to goal.
“I’m not usually like that and definitely in a grand final, to be sent off for 15 minutes, I do feel bad for letting the boys down and it’s a mistake of my own,” he said.
“Credit to the boys, we came out one man down and they did well.”
Albury’s Michael Thompson had the game’s toughest job, marking the league’s best forward Michael Newton.
The former AFL player broke the Tigers’ hearts last year with a stunning eight-goal haul.
And, including that five-star display, he had kicked 20 goals in his last three finals, destroying Yarrawonga and Wodonga Raiders in successive weeks.
Albury had hammered the Pies by 50 and 97 points, but Newton missed the second game and played little in the first.
Newton is taller by one cm at 194, with Thompson heading into the game with a set plan.
“I just didn’t want to get in front of him,” he said.
“I thought I’d be up there with him in pace, so I just started beside him or behind him.”
It worked with Newton restricted to three goals two.
Tiger Dean Polo showed why he’s clearly in the best five players in the league.
Polo shaded livewire Jake Gaynor for the Did Simpson Medal.
“I personally didn’t think I would win it, but obviously it makes it sweeter and enjoyable, winning the flag and winning the unexpected to,” he said.
“I guess it’s something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life for sure.”
Polo is such a clever player, either using force or finesse, directing play like a quarterback.
“I did play that role because I definitely went in underdone, so it suited me perfectly to sit back there and try and get through the game,” he said.
“I hadn’t played for four weeks (with a calf complaint) and then three weeks before that, so the consistent match fitness wasn’t there, I could definitely feel it.
“We obviously went in with a plan for me to play a bit of midfield and then sit back there.
“Obviously ‘Juice’ (Michael Newton), he’s the best player in the competition, so to stop him winning the ball and kicking goals, we win the game.”
Polo played as a loose man in defence, cutting off as much ball for Newton as possible.
It’s interesting because 12 months earlier that’s exactly what Wangaratta did against Tigers’ spearhead Josh Mellington.
The former Fremantle forward went into the game on 96 goals and when he kicked two in the first quarter, it looked a formality to reach his ton.
However, Dylan Van Berlo pulled off a stack of marks. with Mellington kicking his third and final major late in the game.
Last year, Newton had big players Josh Porter and Tom Whittlesea around him, so the Tigers’ defenders couldn’t focus on the Doug Strang medallist.
This year, without that height around him, the Tigers could zero in on Newton with the rest of the defenders and midfielders flocking back, looking after the other smaller forwards.
If any player tries to tell you a grand final loss isn’t the motivating factor just make up your mind after a win.
“I think that’s one of the reasons why it feels so good, knowing they toppled us and embarrassed us last year,” Polo said.
“It made it all the more sweet this time around.”
The Tigers had stressed pre-match that last year’s stunning 21-point loss to Wangaratta – after losing just one game in the past two years – wasn’t a huge factor.
“It was mate, it was huge last year, we got beaten around the pressure and a bit of team footy last year and we really focused on that for 12 months,” co-coach Shaun Daly said.
“To be honest, it’s been a long 12 months but this group that we’ve got together and this year, it’s all about one thing and that’s the team.
“I’m just so proud, I love this group.”
Albury went into last year’s decider with at least four injured players.
Cross had torn his calf in the second semi and re-tore it during the grand final, Joel Mackie also had a calf issue, Polo had a crook back and Michael Duncan injured his knee through the year and was never the same player.
Now, the Tigers never used that as an excuse.
And Wangaratta’s effort last year was one of the all-time great jobs, producing at least a nine out of 10 performance on the biggest day.
The Tigers were naturally filthy with the loss, but just as devastated they couldn’t show their best with the injuries.
“This year we injected some youth and some hunger, just to complement us old blokes and it’s paid off,” Polo said.
Cross was named in the Tigers’ best after he was hobbled last year, admitting it drove him all year.
“Absolutely, we just wanted this so bad,” he said.
“We just wanted to get back what was ours from last year, we had a better lead-in.
“I think that was the difference in the end, we had 21 fit players coming into the game.
“I’m just so glad we had the week off.”
Polo and Gaynor were the star players, but Luke Daly was enormous.
Thirty-one next week, Daly has come off his most consistent season and the number of times he cleaned up in defence, with his cool head, it was pivotal in the team’s win.
Cross also played well, fellow veteran Joel Mackie bulldozed through, while Brayden O’Hara’s class was crucial, kicking a goal into the breeze to start the third term.
For the Pies, defender Michael Bordignon was superb, Mat Grossman had the better of Chris Hyde, Matt Kelly had a barnstorming third quarter, while defender Jamie Anderson was terrific, repelling a number of raids.
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