Victory for the Magpies!
THE Lower Clarence Magpies have ended their 25-year premiership drought after a Grant Brown drop goal clinched a one-point win in a dramatic, but mistake-riddled, 21-20 Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League grand final at the Maclean Showground yesterday.
Facing NRRRL excitement machine Northern United, the Magpies endured a horrendous turnover count, a crippling injury list and a never-say-die opponent.
But on the banks of the Clarence River, the Magpies somehow found their way through the minefield, handing the club its first premiership since 1984.
“To win it by one point, it's like winning by a hundred,” Magpies captain-coach Dallas Waters said.
“It was always going to be a hard slog, always going to be close, but I'll take it.”
But after losing their inspirational skipper to injury early in the second half and the tide turning towards United, the Magpies were scrambling to find a moment of magic.
Enter Brown's inconsistent boot.
Kicking only two conversions from five attempts, Brown popped up in the right place, at the right time, to nail a stunning winner.
“The boys in the front row made it a lot easier for me,” Brown said.
“But there was always somebody else screaming for the ball, but I told (Sam) Woodsy 'I want the ball Woods'.
“We made eye contact and he knew straight away what I wanted.
“It just hit my foot perfect ... and it was straight over.”
Watched on by the 1984 Magpies squad, the current crop could not escape the strong sense of history permeating throughout the ground.
But United were also not just playing for silverware. Victory would have put the visitors among a select group of clubs to win a premiership in their inaugural year.
And with five minutes to go and scores deadlocked at 20-all, the Dirawongs were eyeing a remarkable finish to an entertaining debut season.
“We never gave up and we played the whole 80 minutes,” United coach Chris Binge said.
“Credit to our boys, we came here to play footy and all our supporters would have loved what they saw.
“It was just one of those games, it could have gone either way.”
Stung by three first half tries - Sam Woods, Mikey Randall and Don Walker - United never looked out of the game, their philosophy of attacking football producing a try to centre Chris Swan.
And with the penalty count racking up in the visitors' favour, United were threatening an unwelcome boilover. Second half tries to Roy Bell and Fred Waters cancelling out Randall's second.
But after leading for 75 minutes, the Magpies were not about to watch history slip down the drain.
Surviving a drop goal scare moments earlier, the Magpies moved the ball to the other end and Brown peeled off right in front of the posts.
In at dummy half, Woods heard the call, sent the ball to Brown and the Magpies fullback did the rest.
There was still time for United to threaten one last time, but after 25 years of heartbreak and disappointment, the club finally had their fairytale finish.
Hordes of Magpies supporters invaded the field at the full time siren, swamping their exhausted heroes.
“We were down on the bench and we had to tough it,” Waters said.
“But we worked for each other and that's what it was about on grand final day.”