GOLDEN Square won its fourth consecutive Bendigo Football League premiership on Saturday after prevailing in an epic grand final against Gisborne that wasn’t decided until a kick after the siren at the Queen Elizabeth Oval.
With Golden Square leading by three points in front of a crowd that paid a gate of more than $66,000, Gisborne’s Rod Sharp marked a pass from team-mate David Antonowicz 45m out on the press box flank.
As Sharp walked back to take his shot at goal, the siren sounded at the 31-minute mark.
With the result of the game and 2012 premiership resting on the boot of the 32-year-old, Sharp launched his kick from 50m.
Off the boot, Sharp’s kick looked headed for a match-winning goal, before landing on the goal-line where Golden Square ruckman Zac May punched the ball clear as Square celebrated a memorable 16.10 (106) to 14.19 (103) victory in one of the greatest BFL grand finals of all time.
While it was jubilation for Golden Square, which joined Eaglehawk (1894-98), South Bendigo (1909-12), Sandhurst (1930-34) and Northern United 1984-87) as teams to win at least four BFL flags in a row, it was another heartbreaking grand final loss for Gisborne.
Gisborne’s last grand final appearance in 2007 had been a two-point loss to Eaglehawk, with that match and Saturday’s classic two of only eight grand finals in BFL history decided by three points or less.
As well as Sharp’s kick after the siren, the game will also be remembered as the match in which Golden Square full-forward Grant Weeks set a new record for the most goals in a BFL season.
With his four goals, Weeks finished the season with 164, surpassing Frank Crapper’s previous record of 163, set in 1933 for Eaglehawk.
Weeks broke the record 39 seconds into the last quarter when he threaded his fourth goal off his left foot in the pocket at the Barnard Street end to give Golden Square a 24-point lead.
But staring at a four-goal deficit and with tiring bodies in the hot conditions, Gisborne refused to wilt and over the following 15 minutes was able to bridge the gap back to two points after consecutive goals to impressive 19-year-old Lachie Crosbie, Tim Stanton-Smith – who was stretchered off the ground with an ankle injury soon after – and its best player, Darren Farrugia.
With the momentum back Gisborne’s way, it was Golden Square’s turn to rise to the occasion and answer the challenge.
A missed set-shot from Weeks was followed by a goal to Golden Square’s Matt O’Toole when he roved a pack to give Square breathing space with a nine-point lead at the 18-minute mark.
However, O’Toole’s goal was answered when Farrugia marked 50m out and was gifted a dubious 50m penalty, with the classy forward’s sixth goal bringing the margin back to three points, before Crosbie missed a shot on the run.
But Gisborne still couldn’t edge in front as, again, Golden Square responded when O’Toole marked a clever chip pass from fellow veteran Jason Griffin and kicked his second goal at the 24-minute mark.
With Square back out by eight points, O’Toole’s goal was Square’s last of the game, with its last two scoring shots behinds from set-shots to Weeks and captain Simon Rosa, who hit the post.
Down the other end, a missed shot from Farrugia was followed by a booming set-shot goal to Sharp courtesy of a free kick from outside 50 with 42 seconds left.
With Golden Square clinging to a three-point lead after Sharp’s long-bomb goal, Square’s Dale Lowry won the centre clearance and drove the ball to Weeks inside 50.
However, Lowry’s kick was chopped off by Gisborne’s Jarrad Lynch, who marked and cleared the ball to the grandstand wing, where he found Michael Steinbach.
Steinbach won possession and passed to Antonowicz, who was 50m out and close to the boundary.
In the dying seconds, Antonowicz marked and chipped a 15m pass inboard to a sliding Sharp, setting the scene for his dramatic kick after the siren.
Renowned as one of the longest kicks in the BFL, and considering only a minute earlier Sharp had nailed a set-shot from outside 50m, Square players and supporters had every right to be on edge as he prepared to take his kick.
With the kick in the air and looking headed for a goal, Gisborne’s coaching and support staff burst onto the ground from the interchange bench ready to celebrate, only for the kick to fall agonisingly short.
A dejected Sharp – a six-time premiership player and one of his side’s best – later told the Bendigo Advertiser he was “distraught” at the missed opportunity.
Earlier, the game got off to a horror start for Gisborne when, at the opening bounce, Michelsen medallist Scott Walsh was crunched in a tackle and forced from the field with a broken leg.
Golden Square – showing the experience of having played in the past five grand finals – was the first to settle.
Square kicked the opening four goals of the game through best on ground Rosa (two), Weeks and the electric Adam Baird inside the first 20 minutes.
Gisborne missed its first two chances through Farrugia and Antonowicz, before Farrugia kicked his side’s opening goal at the 21-minute mark.
Despite Gisborne having had more ball inside its forward 50 in the first quarter – 13 to 10 entries – Golden Square led by 27 points at quarter-time, 6.1 to 1.4.
Golden Square’s superior conversion in the first quarter would continue throughout the game and remain one of the key factors in its win.
With the backdrop of his pursuit of Crapper’s 79-year-old record, Weeks, who was opposed by Heath Simpson, had two of the four goals he needed by quarter-time.
A miss by O’Toole early in the second quarter was followed by a snap on target from Golden Square’s Luke Hammond, which pushed Square’s advantage out to a game-high 34 points at the four-minute mark.
However, Gisborne began its surge back into the contest when Clay Illman ran into an open goal.
Gisborne got on top around the ground, led by the work of Crosbie, Shaun Comerford, Sharp and captain Casey Summerfield, but the side couldn’t make it count where it mattered most – the scoreboard.
Between the nine and 17 minute marks of the second quarter, Gisborne had five-consecutive scoring shots for five behinds.
At that stage Gisborne had 11 scoring shots to nine on the board, but trailed by 23 points as Golden Square led 7.2 to 2.9.
Gisborne ended its run of squandered opportunities when Farrugia marked in the goalsquare and kicked his second goal.
And when Crosbie goaled on the run after two bounces, Gisborne was back within 12 points and it was well and truly game on.
A second goal to Adam Baird when he cleverly roved a pack stemmed the tide for Golden Square, before Gisborne hit back again with back-to-back goals to Farrugia and Antonowicz.
Antonowicz’s goal came from a strong contested mark in the goalsquare, with Gisborne’s attacking move set up after Square’s Hamish Morcombe had a 50m penalty paid against him.
From its 34-point deficit early in the second quarter, by half-time Gisborne had trimmed it to seven points as Golden Square led 8.4 to 6.9.
It was goal-for-goal early in the third quarter, with each team kicking three in the first 19 minutes.
At that stage Golden Square – which was never headed all game – led by four points, 11.4 to 9.12, as its accuracy inside 50 continued to prove telling.
However, over the last 11 minutes of the quarter, Golden Square kicked 2.3, which included goals to Dale Lowry and Rosa, to one behind to lead by 18 points at three quarter-time, 13.7 to 9.13, setting the scene for the frantic last quarter.
Midfield dynamo Rosa won the Nalder Medal for best on ground.
Rosa has played many a brilliant game for Golden Square over the past three years, but arguably none better than Saturday.
He set the tone early with a blistering first term and played with his customary poise and class for four quarters, while also kicking four valuable goals.
Adam Baird – now a four-time premiership player – reaffirmed his status as one of the BFL’s best big-game players with another strong grand final across half-forward and on the wing. He was also involved in some telling last-quarter plays.
Like Rosa, the hard-working Lowry was outstanding in the midfield for Square, while 18-year-old Comanche Walls impressed on his wing.
Travis Baird again figured among the best players, with the star centre half-back at his most influential in the third quarter.
He also kicked the goal of the day early in the third quarter when he threaded a 35m shot on the boundary.
Others to impress for the premiers included 20-year-old defender Sam Wilkie and forward O’Toole (two goals), who presented well all game.
Weeks finished with 4.3 and nine marks.
Gisborne’s best player was forward Farrugia, who was a deserving winner of the VCFL Medal.
Farrugia capped an outstanding season by kicking six goals to end the year with 75 as he further enhanced his reputation as the best medium-sized forward in the competition.
Youngster Crosbie relished the big stage in his first senior grand final and provided plenty of spark in the midfied and kicked two goals, with his last quarter, in particular, super.
Simpson did a fine job in restricting Weeks to four goals from Golden Square’s 52 inside 50s, while he received strong support in defence from Anthony Belcher.
Also among the better players were Sharp (two goals), who provided a strong phsyical presence either forward or up the ground, while Gisborne also named Stanton-Smith, who was opposed to Travis Baird, and Cameron Medica, who played on O’Toole, in its best.