FOOTY MAGIC: Fierce rivals combine to make fairytale ending
AUSSIE RULES: A spectacular 2018 AFL Wide Bay season got the fairytale finish it deserved on Saturday night when the Gympie Cats captured their fifth - and perhaps most special - premiership with a 31-point win over the Hervey Bay Bombers.
Less than a year after finishing second last in the QFA Wide Bay Sunshine Coast competition, signing new coach Courtney Findlay, effectively combining with wooden spooners and fierce rivals the Pomona Demons and crossing over to a new league, the Cats defied all expectations to beat the Bombers 14.11 (95) to 10.4 (64) and bring the coveted trophy home to the Gold City.
Tasked with battling out the decider on the Bombers' home deck, a dream start saw the Cats take a 26-point advantage into the quarter-time huddle after kicking four unanswered goals.
Coach of the year Darren Hunter's men hit back hard in the second term, bagging six goals to two and chopping the deficit to a meagre five points at the main break.
Even with injuries to Kimba Rowlands, Jordan Tucker and Kade Kent, Findlay's men regained their composure in a hotly contested third stanza, extending their lead to three straight goals at the last change before kicking away in the last to complete their miraculous season with an official coronation.
TIME TO CELEBRATE, CATTERS!
Crucial majors from Bronzen Rowlands, Jesse Lawrence, Beau Ridgway and Brad Forbes sealed the deal for the Cats, kick-starting celebrations among teammates, friends, family and a loyal contingent of supporters who rushed the field in unison moments after the full-time siren.
"It still hasn't really sunk in for me yet," Findlay said post-match.
"They're (Bombers) a really good football side, they've been the best football side for the most part of the year, lucky enough today we were able to get the chocolates.
"There wasn't too many high hopes going into this year at all, (but) we recruited quite well (and) we built a culture at the footy club which is quite strong.
"We're a very tight knit bunch at Gympie, our preparation and training has been fantastic and the boys have stuck to my systems, messages and structures throughout the year, which today came to fruition.
"I've won quite a few (premierships) as a player, but I think due to the circumstances, the challenges, the hiccups and the headaches this one's at the top."
Findlay credited his entire side for their contributions to the fourth and most important win of the season over their respected opponents.
Midfield duo Lawrence and Jack Cross turned in outstanding efforts in the absence of suspended skipper Lanze Magin, while vice-captain Tim Ellingsen's experience shone through with composure and clean ball use out of defence.
Ruckman Linton Congram also starred, taking crucial intercept marks to curtail the Bombers' ball movement, but it was acting captain Scott 'Gunny' Stiefler's performance recognised as the best on the ground.
"Like I've said before, this season could have been a complete flop with two sides who didn't like each other coming together," Stiefler said.
"This one is special."
The stand-in skipper performed admirably in adding the best afield medal to the league Best and Fairest gong he won last week, but Magin was not forgotten amongst the celebrations.
He was invited on the field for the post-match ceremony and held the premiership cup aloft while hoisted on teammates' shoulders, capping off one of the greatest nights in Gympie's sporting history.