A case of Grand Final déjà vu for Chelt

Cranbourne has sensationally won the Division 1 premiership in its first season in Southern league, giving an Eagles champion a fairytale end to his career.

Cranbourne refused to buckle in a tense, goalless fourth quarter to claim the Southern league Division 1 premiership on Saturday.

The Eagles beat Cheltenham by six points, 7.8 (50) to 6.8 (44), in the grand final at a sodden Moorabbin.

Zak Roscoe, who nearly didn’t play because of a hamstring injury, was awarded the best-on-ground medal, capping a relentless display with a vital goal in Cranbourne’s third quarter resurgence.

Cranbourne champion Marc Holt, who is tipped to retire, kicked what proved to be the winning goal right on the three-quarter time siren.

He’d taken a mark in the goal square before suddenly playing on and banging it through as the siren sounded, putting Cranbourne in front for the first time all game.

The umpire was on the spot and gave the all clear.

Holt finished with three goals and took several crucial marks in what is likely to be his swan song.

“He’s saying he’s done,” Cranbourne coach Steve O’Brien said on Sunday morning.

“You never know with him but having a beer with him last night I think that’s it for him. 

“There’s no better way to go than that. 

“He’s been saying he’s done for about four or five years and just the emotion he showed last night I think that’s it for him and you know what, if it is there’s no better way to go out.

“There’s no more deserving way for one of the best we’ve seen in local footy.”

Cheltenham and Cranbourne do battle. Picture: Valeriu Campan
Cheltenham and Cranbourne do battle. Picture: Valeriu Campan

Cheltenham took a 17-game winning streak into the grand final and Des Ryan’s Rosellas looked the better side in the first half, kicking the only goal of the first quarter and establishing a 14-point lead by half time.

Torrential rain fell in the third term as Cranbourne mounted a fight back, with consecutive goals by Kirk Dickson after a sliding mark and Roscoe from a Shaun Keenan handball.

Late in the term, Nick Darbyshire burst out of a pack to slot another as the Eagles’ belief soared.

Holt’s goal put Cranny ahead 47-42 at the final change.

O’Brien, 50, who’d never won a premiership in 43 years as both a player and coach, delivered a rousing address at the huddle, imploring his men to “drive it forward. Surge, surge, surge…” “Trust, belief. Dare to win. Right now, in 30 minutes time our dream is becoming a reality,” he roared.

The last quarter was an intense tug of war as both sides searched for the winning goal, but Cranbourne’s slender lead remained.

Cranbourne’s backline, led by inspirational captain Brandon Osborne, stood tall to repel Cheltenham, which was trying to win its first division 1 flag since 1934.

The final siren triggered jubilant scenes as Cranbourne secured the flag in its first season in Southern league.

O’Brien said he felt the momentum turn towards his Eagles in the third quarter.

“I thought it was very much a Cheltenham game early and then we had a plan, we made some changes in the second half, which was always the plan, to throw some different guys into the midfield to keep us strong in there and we did that in the third quarter and we saw results pretty early,” he said.

“Ten minutes into the third quarter I said, ‘it’s a Cranbourne game now’, and we just had a lot of belief at that point, even though we were behind I thought it’s looking like our game.’’

Cranbourne players celebrate their win. Picture: Valeriu Campan
Cranbourne players celebrate their win. Picture: Valeriu Campan

Experienced Eagle Ryan Davey went on to the ball in the third quarter and his impact was telling.

“Ryan Davey is 37 years old, he’s a warrior, but he’s the most competitive bloke you will ever, ever come across so we saved his legs for the second half and then we said ‘get in there and do what you do best’ and that’s what he did,” O’Brien said.

“He went in there and helped change the game for us.”

O’Brien also singled out Brandon Osborne.

“He’s the most underrated player that probably ever walked the planet,” he said.

“He’s a superstar. What he did in the last quarter was insane. I reckon he saved four goals off his own boot because he’s just that good, such a beast.”

O’Brien said the key to victory was an all-round contribution from his side.

“I spoke all week about we need 22 contributors and that’s what we had,” he said.

“Blokes who came into the side late in the year, your Adrian Russos and your Shaun Keenans…the last quarter some of their efforts, the little things, it wasn’t kicks marks or handballs, but their smothers, their tackles, putting their body on the line, that’s what wins you these games, mate.

“And we had it from 22 of them.”

O’Brien said there was “a bit of an untold story” behind Cranbourne’sd flag triumph.

“We had seven or our best 22 out from round one and there was a little bit of panic around the footy club at the time, thinking, ‘do we had to go out and find some recruits?’” he said.

“And I sat down with the leadership group and they just said to me, ‘no, this is our squad, Obbie, this the squad that we’re going to do it with, it’s now your job and your coaches’ job to get the next batch of blokes up to speed’.

“It was a defining moment for us, around round one, when those leaders said that. I was like, ‘I’m with you, boys, and that’s what we’re going to do’. We went to work, we educated, we put trust in the next wave of boys.

“I mentioned on Thursday night great sides don’t win premierships, great squads do. 

“And the proof’s in the pudding. 

“I think we played 40 players this year, for a premiership side that’s probably never been done. But that was necessity.”

Cheltenham was so close to capping an outstanding season.

Its skipper Jack Worrell led from the front with three goals, while ruckman Daniel Rendell gave a wholehearted display and Cameron Blitsas and Finn Ryan did well.