Shepparton supporters held their breath for what felt like an eternity as the ball left Kyle Mueller’s boot in the dying stages of yesterday’s Goulburn Valley League grand final with his side three points down.
A packed Deakin Reserve crowd stood collectively still as the Kyabram small forward’s snap across his body at goal in the last minutes of the contest hung in the air, with the respective premiership hopes of both clubs hanging with it.
If the Sherrin continued on its original course, the Bombers would have hit the front and almost certainly secured a third successive unbeaten flag.
But as fate would have it, the gusting breeze that had interfered during the day decided to have one last say in the result, pushing the ball into the left goal post and cruelling Kyabram’s chances.
The thud of the woodwork was quickly replaced with cheers from the Shepparton contingent, and the frenetic final minute of play was punctuated by a special Harry Boyd mark on the grandstand wing to seal his side’s first premiership success since 2000.
With the pain of not only last year’s grand final loss to the Bombers — but a long road of hardship near the bottom of the table — at the forefront of Shepparton’s collective mind, the tears flowed freely as the magnitude of what the outfit had just achieved sunk in.
From early on in the clash it was clear that the Bears were ready to throw everything they had at the Bombers in the hope of stopping the powerhouse’s winning streak at 62.
Mitch Brett was resolute in defence, while Jonty Wardle and Liam Duguid were also outstanding in stopping roles.
Morrison medallist Nik Rokahr opened the scoring with a sublime piece of stoppage work in the fifth minute of the match, roving an Ash Holland hitout before drawing first blood.
The move was repeated regularly on the biggest stage of them all, and eventually snared Holland the Wilf Cox and AFL Vic Country medals and Rokahr the Barry Connolly Medal for player of the finals series.
The Bears continued to secure the lion’s share of possession during the first term, but could not capitalise on the scoreboard with four behinds following Rokahr’s goal.
Against all the run of play, Mueller created something out of nothing up the other end of the ground to slot Kyabram’s first major, with memories of last year’s grand final — where the Bears also held sway early before the Bombers stormed ahead — coming to the minds of those in attendance at Deakin.
The mistakes of the past were not repeated though, with the Bears remaining firmly in the contest through fierce tackling and desperate defending.
Scores were level at the first change before the Bombers began to slowly build an advantage, firstly through a Lachie Smith set shot and then through a Kayne Pettifer major.
Liam Ogden, Brad Mangan and Luke Morris were also influential and by the time the game reached its main break, the reigning premier had moved 11 points ahead, and when Sam Sheldon goaled early in the third term the margin became a match-high 19 points.
The tide began to turn back in Shepparton’s favour after some brilliant work from Jordon Butts set up a Joel Brett major at the 15 minute-mark of the quarter, and three more Bears goals followed to have the squad hit the front again in the opening minute of the deciding stanza.
In such a close climax to the season, it was always going to be the small moments that carried huge importance.
Pettifer managed to wrong foot Bears co-captain Ted Lindon in the goal square before sending the Bombers back into the lead, while Jason Morgan’s two telling intercept marks — and one monster bump on Matt Ryan — looked to keep things under control for Kyabram.
But the Bears continued to launch their frames at every opposition disposal, smothering a number of kicks and handballs in a row to eventually set up Anthony Andronaco at the top of the goal square thanks to a high free kick.
The dangerous forward doubled down on his efforts just minutes later in almost identical circumstances, and his celebration indicated it was Shepparton’s time to shine.
And shine the Bears did when the final siren sounded at their home ground, but not before Lindon had engineered his own ‘‘hand of God’’ moment on the members’ wing.
The Shepparton leader swatted down a Kyabram handball destined for Patrick Wearden — who was in top gear with a paddock in front of him — to ensure his troops would go down in history as the team that felled the giant of the GVL.