CHARLTON supporters could have been forgiven for thinking “here we go again” closing in on time-on of the final quarter of Saturday’s North Central league grand final against Wycheproof-Narraport.
Having lost the previous three grand finals by a combined 21 points, tense Navies’ supporters watched on as the Demons had levelled the scores after earlier trailing by 13 points at three quarter-time.
The Demons had the momentum, were kicking with the wind and at that stage looking like they would add another year of grand final heartbreak to the Navies.
But the Navies weren’t going to let another opportunity go begging for the fourth year in a row and – like the Charlton community had done in the face of floodwater adversity during the week – rallied with the game on the line to record a memorable victory, 10.10 (70) to 9.9 (63) at St Arnaud in front of a crowd that paid a gate of $39,365.
Scores were tied at 9.9 apiece at the 18-minute mark of the last term after a Demons’ rushed behind.
The deadlock was broken three minutes later when the Navies won the ball in the middle of the ground and it ended up in the hands of Andrew Hooper, who from 50m launched a kick that bounced through for a goal.
Then from the centre bounce Hooper won the clearance and delivered inside 50 to Thomas Finlay, who marked 25m out.
However, Finlay’s shot sailed across the face and went out on the full, leaving the margin one straight kick and the possibility of extra time if the Demons could respond.
But extra time was seemingly snuffed out when the Demons’ kick-in from the out-on-the-full was marked by Charlton’s James McGrath.
After shaving valuable time off the clock as he went back to the centre, McGrath unloaded a set-shot from 50m that fell short, but the ball was punched through for a behind that moved the Navies seven points clear with 90 seconds to go.
McGrath’s was the last score of the game as the siren sounded soon after on the Navies’ first premiership since 2009.
Charlton forced the Demons to play catch-up footy for much of the game.
Kicking with the breeze in the first quarter, the Navies booted three of the first four goals inside 16 minutes to lead by 15 points.
As well as kicking what was the final goal of the game, Hooper also slotted the first when he nailed a 50m set-shot after 90 seconds.
The Demons whittled their deficit back to eight points at quarter-time, before the Navies kicked the first of the second term – again through Hooper.
However, the Demons, on the back of their midfield getting on top at the stoppages and generating repeat inside 50s, responded with three goals in quick succession through Corey Jones (two) and Andrew Mead-Harding to hit the front for the first time midway through the term.
The Demons had their noses in front at half-time by one point – 5.6 to 5.5.
Both teams added one goal apiece in the first five minutes of the third quarter – the Navies through Jye Sandiford and Demons through James Coatsworth – before Charlton gained the ascendancy in a decisive period.
In a game where scores didn’t flow freely, in a 12-minute patch the Navies added 3.3 to no score to open up a game-high 20-point buffer.
Cody Gunn kicked the first two of the goals, before Hooper banged home a beauty from 40m.
It was a threatening margin for the Demons, who after Jones missed a set-shot had Kieran Prestidge mark and convert for a much-needed goal that reduced their deficit to 13 points at three quarter-time.
The Navies had two early chances to kick the all-important first goal of the final term, but a set-shot from Finlay went out on the full, before a Joe McGrath set-shot just missed.
Down the other end the Demons’ Tim Holobowski snapped a goal out of a stoppage to bring Wycheproof-Narraport back within eight points.
But then it was the Demons’ turn to squander opportunities. First Jones missed, and then Jason Coles sprayed a set-shot out on the full.
Having been switched forward, the Demons’ Matt Riordan juggled a mark and from 35m slotted the goal that brought the Demons within one point at the 16-minute mark, and when they scored a rushed behind shortly after to tie the scores, the scene was set for a dramatic last eight minutes as the flag hung in the balance.
Navies’ coach Aaron Walklate – with a bandaged head for much of the second half – won the Des Darcy Medal for a superb leader’s game in which he won plenty of ball and was a steadying influence.
The lively Finlay (two goals), who has overcome two knee reconstructions, was awarded the AFL Central Victoria Medal.
Hooper was superb with his four goals, while Kieran Sait in defence, Sandiford, who was particularly prominent in the second half, and Ben Walklate were also in the best for the Navies.
The best for the Demons was tenacious onballer Joel Turner.
Wingmen Dane McLennan and Morgan Fawcett were also named among the best, along with Jones (three goals), fellow forward Mead-Harding and onballer Ricky Allan.
Saturday was the eighth time in the past nine years the North Central grand final has been decided by 15 points or less.
Charlton premiership team: Aaron Walklate (coach), Daniel Thiesz (captain), Ben Walklate, Thomas Finlay, Matt Giri, Cody Gunn, Daniel Hayes, Andrew Hooper, Anthony Judd, Josh Ketterer, Luke Kyriakides, Michael Laffin, James McGrath, Joe McGrath, Dean McKay, Luke Mulquiny, Tim Nicolson, Sam O’Connor, Kieran Sait, Jye Sandiford, Rhys Thompson.