Saints in heaven
By CHRIS McKINLEY
IN A good, old-fashioned slog, Sawtell have walked away with the North Coast AFL premiership for the second year in a row after overcoming the Coffs Harbour Swans by 12 points in a close grand final on Saturday.
The Coffs Coast International Stadium was bathed in sunshine and the 1517 onlookers turned out looking forward to a classic encounter.
The Saints' back to back premiership was set up in the first quarter when they managed to kick ahead of the Swans by 22 points.
Sawtell were constantly the first team to the ball during this period and when they did manage to get hold of the ball they controlled the play by having more numbers around each contest.
Players like Jai Hardy and Steve Jackson, along with Courtney Tune, continually got the hard ball and drove the Saints forward, where Luke Matthews and Robbie Zeegers converted everything that came their way.
After the main interval it was simply a war of attrition with both outfits going goal for goal.
For Saints coach Russ Matthews, relief was his overwhelming emotion at the end of the tense affair, finally getting the victory that deep down he knew the team deserved.
Speaking with Russ after the game, he said he was so proud of the way his charges went about the job, and especially proud of his four sons who played in the Saints' line-up.
"We knew we had the players there to do it," he said.
"The players just kept going and going, their dedication was great."
And go and go they did.
The Swans were well in the hunt late in the game, not allowing the Saints to score a major in the final term, but the three-quarter time 26-point deficit was too hard to pull back in a tight contest.
Matthews was ecstatic with how his charges continued to play hard football all day.
The Woodlock Medal, given to the best player on the ground, was awarded to the Saints forward Luke Matthews for his great game in kicking three goals.
The Swans were no easy beats on the day and continually pushed Sawtell to the limit.
The early break on the scoreboard was the telling factor at game's end.
Swans coach Jeff Reed was left to lament an opportunity that he only sees as a loss.
"We let them get a few goals in front at the start and we couldn't make up that ground," he said.
Reed went on to say 'when we got a roll on we let them in for a soft goal and you just can't allow that in grand finals'.
While Peter Chadwick was his usual magnificent self in a hard contest, Wade Hickey, Dave Colman and Jay Guthrie consistently drove the ball back any time Sawtell threatened to get a run on.
"When the going got tough we relied too heavily on the older players getting us through when others needed to stick up their hand up and be the person to start to lift," Reed said.
So another grand final has gone begging for the Swans but their coach was optimistic at the end of the game, saying 'doesn't matter what happens, the sun always comes up the next day'.
Now, will we see the Saints string together another two or three flags?
The nucleus of the Saints team is a young one, so there is no reason why people can't say that on Saturday they saw the team that could dominate North Coast AFL for the next few years.