A CHALLENGING match-up awaiting against Golden Square’s Anthony Holdstock combined with a windy September afternoon at the QEO that would make kicking at goal all the more difficult.
For Eaglehawk full-forward Matt Gretgrix, in his mind at least, it spelled a recipe for disaster as he prepared for the 2008 BFNL grand final against the Bulldogs.
“I remember walking to the ground and I had basically written the day off… playing on Stocky, who was a super player, a windy day, it wasn’t going be a great day for forwards,” Gretgrix recalled this week.
“But you get yourself into one of those zones, you end up taking marks you don’t normally take and with the Borough crowd behind you, you’re just playing on pure emotion and excitement.”
The 2008 BFNL grand final between the Hawks and Bulldogs will go down as one of the greatest in BFNL history.
The Hawks gunning for back-to-back flags against a Bulldogs side that was riding the wave of momentum of three wins in cut-throat finals to reach the decider.
What unfolded over those two-and-a-bit hours on the QEO was an epic encounter full of ebbs and flows that ultimately wasn’t decided until a last-minute goal.
It’s a famous Eaglehawk grand final victory that 10 years on will be celebrated with a reunion at Canterbury Park on Saturday.
While Gretgrix was keen this week to ensure he was kept out of the headlines for this piece, his influence on the game, along with the midfield performance of team-mate and another Borough favourite Damien Lock, are two of the enduring memories of the contest.
Having started the day full of doubt about his capacity to impact the grand final, by the final siren Gretgrix had proven match-winner in every sense of the word.
Not only was his eight-goal haul one of the catalysts for the Hawks’ victory, but it was his eighth goal with 59 seconds left on the clock that broke an 89-all deadlock and ultimately delivered the Hawks a gripping 14.11 (95) to 12.17 (89) win.
Gretgrix’s match-winning goal from 15m out on a slight angle at the city end followed a strong contested mark against the Bulldogs’ Jake Hall after team-mate Gareth Crawford had driven the Hawks into attack from a boundary throw-in in front of the scoreboard.
“I just needed another opportunity because I had dropped one or two chances just before that… it was good to grab it and in terms of the pressure, I knew any score would do it and I was fairly hopeful I’d be able to get something through,” Gretgrix said.
Gretgrix’s bag of eight goals featured one in the first quarter, three during a seven-minute burst in the second term, two in the third and two in the last on his way to earning the VCFL Medal in a game in which he saw off Holdstock and Lachlan O’Toole as opponents, before youngster Hall was moved onto him.
The Nalder Medal that day went to the Hawks’ Lock, who in a game where the windy conditions made quality ball-use difficult, his polish over four quarters and creativity by hand in particular was instrumental.
An Eaglehawk product, Lock had been an on-looker the previous year as the Hawks defeated Gisborne in the 2007 grand final.
A week before the Hawks’ ’07 flag against Gisborne Lock had coached Colbinabbin to a 99-point grand final loss against Elmore in the Heathcote District league grand final.
Returning to the Borough in 2008, Lock – who first played with Eaglehawk as a junior in 1988 – was desperate to win a premiership with his home club.
“Having watched the boys win the premiership the year before… being an Eaglehawk supporter since I was boy, it was just unbelievable to see them win it,” Lock said.
“That was the reason I came back to the club; I wanted to be part of one, so to get a premiership in that first year in such a close game was something that’s very special.”
While Gretgrix kicked the goal that gave the Hawks the lead in the final minute, Eaglehawk’s previous goal had come off the boot of Lock, who launched on the run from 50m.
Like Gretgrix’s last goal, Crawford also had a hand in Lock’s goal when he fired off a handball to his surging team-mate
“It was probably one of the better kicks of my career at what was an important time in the game,” Lock said.
“Being such a close game, the crowd noise from the Eaglehawk supporters, especially those on the hill, in that last quarter is a great memory that is still strong.
“To be able to sneak over the line the way we did was unbelievable. To win the Nalder Medal meant a lot and it’s a great accolade, but with his eight goals I think Matt probably should have got it.
“I was just happy to play my part and get a few kicks in such a big game."
The 2008 victory had similarities to the Hawks’ two-point grand final triumph against Gisborne of a year earlier, with both flags having been won with Eaglehawk facing three quarter-time deficits.
Having led by as many as 30 points during the third term, by three quarter-time the Hawks were 10 points in arrears as the Bulldogs held sway 10.13 to 9.9.
But with the wind at their backs, a 5.2 to 2.4 final term catapulted the Hawks – coached by Derrick Filo – to their 26th senior premiership.
“During that period we worked really hard on our fitness and we always had the belief that we could run a game out strongly,” said Filo, who kicked a goal in the first quarter.
“That gave us some confidence going into the last quarter and we knew that if we could get the ball down to Gerta (Gretgrix), which we were able to, that he was always going to kick a few goals.
“There’s no doubt though it’s a game we got out of jail in. Golden Square was probably the better team for the greater part of the day, but luckily Locky and Gerta stood up when it counted.”
Crawford too stood up when it mattered most for the Hawks. As well as setting up Gretgrix and Lock for the last two goals of the match, Crawford also kicked two of the Hawks’ five final-term goals.
The senior triumph capped what was a big day for the Hawks, who also had their reserves and under-18s play earlier, but both were beaten by less than two kicks.
“We had really good depth through that time and a lot of guys who had come through the thirds or reserves, so it was a tight-kit club and whenever Eaglehawk is in a grand final you know there’s going to be a good crowd there,” Filo said.
For the Bulldogs, it was a case of the one that got away. They led for 25 of the 29 minutes in the last quarter and had more scoring shots, 29 to 25, while they also hit the post four times during the game.
“Eaglehawk had clearly been the best side all year and we had to come through from the elimination final, but I guess we had the advantage of playing hard footy every week and building momentum,” Golden Square coach Mark Adamson said.
“But there’s probably two things that spring to mind when thinking back to that last quarter in particular.
“We missed some opportunities that had we taken them could have put the game out of their reach and then there was the situation where Gretgrix and Lock were probably at the peak of their powers and they just played unbelievable last quarters.”
One of those last quarter misses was a set-shot by Square veteran Darren Walsh, who had the chance to put the Bulldogs 18 points up at the 12-minute mark, but his shot faded to the right at the Barnard Street end and from then on the Hawks controlled the game.
Walsh, who had gone into the game with a crook calf and hamstring, kicked four goals for the Bulldogs that day and acknowledges a decade on that had he booted a fifth it most likely would have shut the gate on the Hawks.
“I was about 40m out and the wind was really strong blowing across the goals… I thought it was home and going through, but it faded late,” Walsh said this week.
“I reckon if I had kicked that goal I probably would have gone straight behind the ball and played as a spare, but I did the best I could that day. It would have been nice to win a flag at Square, but it wasn’t to be… that’s football.”
While the Bulldogs were forced to endure the pain of a narrow grand final defeat, the fire it lit among the playing group would spark what went on to become one of the greatest dynasties in BFNL history when Golden Square won the next five premierships, which included a record 135-point thrashing of the Hawks in 2011.
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