Sawtell show courage
PORT MACQUARIE 73
By CHRIS McKINLEY
IF Saturday's match between Port Macquarie and Sawtell actually turns out to be a grand final preview, then fans of North Coast AFL are in for a treat on the final day of the season.
In a see-sawing match, Sawtell courageously overcame a 15 point deficit midway through the final quarter to beat Port Macquarie in a nailbiter by six points.
Scores were levelled with eight minutes left on the clock and remained all locked up for a tension packed five minutes before Jai Hardy kicked the winning goal, much to the delight of the large Sawtell crowd that were in attendance.
"I have to admit I thought we were gone," a relieved Sawtell coach Russ Matthews said.
"They were running harder to the contest, we were 15 points down and there wasn't that much time left.
"The boys showed a lot of guts and determination today to be down and then come back."
Matthews' heart suffered some severe palpitations during the final term but at quarter time the likelihood of the match being a thriller seemed remote.
The Saints jumped the visitors in the first quarter and if it wasn't for inaccurate kicking for goal the result might have been all wrapped up.
Leading by 17 points at the first break the Saints were dominating through the midfield thanks to the efforts of Mark Couzens, Alex Pearson and Hardy.
But a shoulder injury to full forward Robbie Zeegers coupled with some tighter marking from the Magpies halted Sawtell's dominance and that's when the epic arm-wrestle started.
Dean Geddes playing at centre half-forward instead of his usual defensive post was providing a target up forward and on ballers Chris Martens and Daniel Butterfield started finding more of the ball.
Port actually won the third quarter on the scoreboard but that might've been different if Sawtell didn't waste so many opportunities in front of goal during this stanza.
One goal from eight scoring shots was wasteful football and considering the closeness of the final margin, could've proven costly.
So too could the number of goals Port Macquarie scored from 50 metre penalties.
The Saints were frustrated by some of the umpiring decisions but instead of getting on with the game preferred to argue the toss with the officials.
One Saint who doesn't bother saying too much to the umpires actually took the bull by the horns and was instrumental in the Sawtell fight back over the last 15 minutes.
When all was said and done, Sawtell believed they had the wood on Port Macquarie having defeated them at both home and away this season but Port feel that they have walked away with a moral victory.
Magpies' coach Paul Sheldon says so anyway.
"We've come up here undermanned and been beaten by only six points," he said.
"For any side to to give away a 25 point start and come back strong in an away game is a positive sign."
While not devastated by the loss, Sheldon was rueing Sawtell's quick start that left the Magpies behind the eight ball early on.
"They jumped us a beauty in the first 30 minutes, they were terrific," the Port coach conceded.
"To Sawtell's credit thay played a hard game and deserved to win.
"We've just got to regroup and get a bit smarter about our football."
Sawtell now have the two biggest scalps in the competition under their belts over the last fortnight but like any good coach Russ Matthews is still asking for a better effort.
"I'm happy with the last two wins but there's room for improvement that will come when we start getting blokes back on the training track," he said.
Sawtell-Toormina 3.6 6.9 7.16 10.19 (79) d Port Macquarie 1.1 5.3 7.7 11.7 (73).
Sawtel-Toormina: L. Matthews (3), J. Hardy (2), M. Bibby, R. Zeegers, D. Rava, M. Couzens, A. Pearson.
Port Macquarie: D. Geddes (3), J. Schmidt (3), S. Skreja, D. Butterfield, T. Donohue, C. Davidson, C. Martens.
Sawtell-Toormina: D. Carey, M. Couzens, J. Hardy, A. Pearson, S. Matthews, D. Meyers.
Port Macquarie: C. Martens, D. Geddes, J. Isaacs, A. Bagnall, D. Butterfield. Umpires: L.Turner, K.Berrigan. At Richardson Park.
Reserves: Port Macquarie 15.10 (100) d Sawtell 2.0 (12).
Under 18's: Sawtell 9.10 (64) d Port Macquarie 6.6 (42).