HOPES CRUSHED AS SHARKS GET LUCKY
By GREG WHITE
WHEN the standard of the City of Port Macquarie-Hastings unfurls over Coffs Harbour City Council chambers at 9am this morning, the townsfolk will have seven days to ponder how deep the Sharks had to dig for yesterday's 22-18 grand final victory over Sawtell.
Trailing the Panthers 14-0 and going backwards, the minor premiers got lucky. But it was the kind of luck you make yourself.
With just two starts in seven weeks under their belts and a Panther forward park dishing out pain in every tackle, Port finally got their groove back and were powering away near the finish.
Port president Phil Langsford appeared shell-shocked sitting alone in the players dug-out when it all had ended.
"After a couple of drinks it might start to sink in but right now I'm content to let the boys enjoy the thrill of the moment and sit here alone with my thoughts," he said.
Langsford seemed close to tears and many of the senior Sharks players were already shedding them, especially some of the veterans for whom the sands of time are running out.
Kristian Murphy was there in 1995 when the Sharks finished the season winless but has now added a fourth title to his bulging trophy cabinet.
"This one probably means the most of all of them," he grinned in between backslaps.
"I don't know if I'll get another chance at my age and this is the one we had to fight hardest for.
"The Panthers just kept coming but we made it."
The oldest player on the field was kissing everyone in sight, including some old stagers he once played against but who had the good sense to retire long ago.
"Isn't that the most fantastic thing you've ever seen?" 38-year-old warhorse Mark Temple asked all and sundry.
"If we'd gone down I might have considered going round again but that's probably a good way to go out."
Josh Mann had also made it four winner's medals and admitted he was considering retirement.
"I'll make my mind up when the drink wears off," he laughed.
Sharks captain and newly crowned Coffs Coast Advocate player of the year Matt Shipway had double reasons for celebrations.
Today is his 21st birthday.
"It must be a dream," he said. "Please, nobody wake me up."
It's no dream ? the Sharks really are premiers and, while the Panthers have done their city proud, there's a flag flying in our skies for the next seven days to prove it.