RECORD-breaking Albury coach Paul Spargo labelled his proven big-match performers the greatest team in the 118-year history of the Ovens and Murray Football League after a gripping nine-point win against Yarrawonga yesterday.
Spargo entered the record books as the first man to coach five O?and?M premiership teams, but deflected the praise to his 21 players who completed a hat-trick of flags and inflicted more grand final pain on the Pigeons at Lavington Oval.
The Tigers have lost just three matches since Spargo returned for a third and final stint as coach in 2009.
Spargo edged clear of four-time premiership coaches and O?and?M Hall of Famers, Mac Holten and Laurie Burt with the winning margin being one point less than last year.
Yarrawonga becomes the first team to lose three grand finals in a row since Wodonga from 1993 to 1995.
The 1995 loss by Wodonga was the first premiership in charge for Spargo, who had returned the previous year as coach to the club where his career started in the early 1980s.
“They are an extraordinary group of players,” Spargo said.
“To win 57 out of a possible 60 games in three seasons no doubt makes it the greatest team in Ovens and Murray history.”
Spargo coached the 1995-96 flags and after Michael Buchanan completed the premiership hat-trick in 1997, the Tigers had a comparable 56-7 win-loss ratio.
Spargo will hand over the coaching reins to co-coaches Daniel Maher and Danny Stevens as the Tigers try to emulate St Patrick’s and Wangaratta in winning four successive flags.
Speedster Charlie Gaylard collected the Did Simpson Medal for best on ground and Morris medallist Shaun Daly was another star who was thrown into the ruck when the Pigeons laid down the challenge in the third quarter.
Co-captain Matt Fowler collected his sixth premiership medallion for the Tigers and is within one of equalling the record of seven flags as a player by legendary Wangaratta Rovers goal-kicker Steve Norman.
Gutted Yarrawonga players departed the ground as the Tigers were presented with their premiership medallions.
The grand final crowd 7894 people paid $61,441 in gate-takings which was more than last year, but short of the record $71,586 in 2009.
Spargo returned serve at some of the club’s critics including outgoing Lavington coach Tim Sanson, who launched an attack on the Tigers mid-season when Albury recruited discarded Wodonga Raiders player Marty Thompson and promoted him to the senior team without playing at reserves level.
Opposition clubs also look on with envy at the support of businessman Colin Joss, who employs many Albury players.
“There are a lot of
people outside with chips on their shoulders,” Spargo said.
“The Albury footy club is a magnificent place to be.
“People pick fun at it and have a bit of a go at it every now and then.
“But until you’ve been there you don’t understand the intricacies of it and what a great place it is.”
The reserves premiership was won by Yarrawonga with extra time needed to break a 10.14 (74) deadlock.
Excited Pigeons fans rushed onto the ground when the final siren sounded and the scoreboard mistakenly showed them leading by one point.
The Pigeons eventually won by 25 points and Wangaratta won its first under-18 premiership since 1992 with an eight-point win against Wangaratta Rovers.
Yarrawonga became the first club to win three successive A grade netball premierships with a 46-41 win against Wodonga .
Albury and North Albury won the B and C grade grand finals respectively.