By Barry Gibson
A fast finishing Hermit Park Tigers came from a long way back on Saturday to claim their second successive AFL Townsville senior premiership and in doing so etched themselves into the club’s history book.
The win marked the first time in the club’s 63-year history that the senior team has won back to back premierships. The win was also the club’s third title in four years, having claimed the premiership in 2015.
Coming into the game, the minor premiers had only lost one game in the regular season and were the clear favourites against an in-form University Hawks who finished the regular season in third place and had easily accounted for the Thuringowa Bulldogs in the Preliminary Final.
In front of a large and raucous crowd, the Hawks came out firing. Their pressure was infectious, forcing the Tigers to make countless skill errors, which in turn gave the Hawks forwards ample opportunities to score.
Ashley Watson, who finished the day with three majors, always looked threatening for the Hawks and his job was being made easier by the relentless work rate of the midfielder trio of Joshua Cass, Daniel Broderick and Troy Sherratt.
The Hawks dominated the centre clearances, as they led their opponents a merry dance in the first half.
Despite the Hawks dominance, the Tigers managed to stay in the game, thanks largely to small forward Jason Di Betta, who made the most of limited opportunities to kick three first half goals, while onballer Declan Wode and the hardnosed Thomas Keating were battling hard for the under-siege Tigers.
At the long break, the Hawks had opened up a handy 22-point lead and their supporters had every reason to start thinking a premiership was coming their way.
The third term started in perfect style for the Hawks, with a couple of quick goals that gave them what most at the ground thought was an unassailable six goal lead and a belief that the Tigers dreams of back to back titles was over.
The move of veteran Troy Chatfield to full back and Coby Dudman onto Skerrett in a shutdown role saw the Tigers start to gain some ascendancy.
The Tigers kicked successive goals mid-way through the third term and in doing so woke the Tiger faithful in the stands. The noise from the supporters ignited the Tigers and in the space of five minutes the Tigers had piled on a further three unanswered goals to set up a massive last quarter.
With the Tigers only trailing by ten points at the last change, the game see-sawed in the first ten minutes of the term.
Neither team were making headway on the scoreboard until some inspired play from Damien Pywell, including a soccer goal that Harry Kewell would be proud of, saw the Tigers draw level deep in the quarter.
The minor premiers then peppered away at the goals without luck, but lead by five points with just minutes to go.
With the crowd riding every contest with roaring voice, the Hawks went forward several times in the last few minutes through Cass, Ben Deguara and Jack Davies, but couldn’t convert. The Tigers back line crew of Oliver Koch, Chatfield, Adam O’Donnell and co were resolute in defence, repelling attack after attack.
A quick transfer of play from the Tigers defensive 50 down the grand stand wing saw key forward Matt McGrath mark juts outside 50 on the boundary. The burly forward centred the ball which resulted in young forward Josh Andrews charging up and taking a strong contested mark 25 metres out. In a calmness that belied his age Andrews extended the Tigers lead to 11 and in doing so took away any chance of a stirring Hawks victory.
It was a game for the ages, with both teams having their own story. Fortunately for Hermit Park, their story had a happy ending, whist the Hawks would be ruing what could have been a momentous win. Whilst the Tigers created history, the Hawks lots no fans. They were gallant in defeat.
Tigers co-captain Jason Di Betta walked away with the Rico Butler Medal for Best on Ground after his five-goal effort, including three goals in the first half when the Tigers only registered four as a team.
In the reserves clash, Hermit Park made it an impressive four premierships in a row with a hard-fought win over a Curra Swans outfit that never gave in. The Tigers also prevailed in the under 17s, whilst the Thuringowa Bulldogs won both the under 13s and 15s titles. Last weekend the Bulldogs also won the women’s premiership.
HERMIT PARK TIGERS
Goal Kickers: J. Di Betta 5, D. Pywell 3, T. Keating, C. Newton, J. Growden, J. Andrews
Best Players: J. Di Betta, J. Moroney, D. Pywell, C. Dudman, T. Chatfield
Goal Kickers: A. Watson 3, D. Walker, Z. Rohan, J. Cass, J. Davies, P. Burger, J. Harding, C. Wedding
Best Players: J. Cass, D. Broderick, A. Watson, B. Deguara, J. Davies