Work to be done
MONDAY began like any other for Sawtell captain coach Craig Wallace.
The big front-rower may have become a few hours before the first in a generation to guide the Panthers to a top grade Group 2 grand final but he had a business to run in the Coffs CBD and early morning found Wallace behind the counter at Low Pressure Surf Co.
There was no headache from celebrations and only a few bruises in evidence of the momentous 30-22 victory over Woolgoolga in the preliminary final.
"The history part of making the grand final against Port Macquarie is just great and I want everybody to revel in it," he grinned between congratulatory phone calls.
"But the playing squad has a firm grip on reality.
"Every one of them knows what they did on Sunday has to be done all over again in a few days, otherwise the entire season means nothing at all."
More than a quarter of a century has flashed by since the Panthers last played a season decider.
They've come perilously close before ? seven preliminary finals in a decade ? and fallen at the final hurdle.
But not this time.
Former player Darren Blaikie knows all about the pain of not making it.
"I played in five of those of those finals and know all about disappointment," he said.
"To finally get there is fantastic and while I don't follow the game much these days, I hope they win next Sunday.
"It'll be fantastic for all us old blokes who helped along the way."
Wallace pinpoints an 18-12 victory over the Sharks on May 14 as the moment the wheel began turning in Sawtell's direction.
"We had four of our best missing that day and the win set a platform," he remembered.
"Continuity developed from there and we've come a long way.
"Only 13 players have been turned over in the squad to get the right combination and a lot of clubs would kill to have that statistic."
Adding fuel to the fire is the personal rivalry -- most call it animosity -- between Wallace and Sharks boss Tony Pascoe starting long before both arrived locally.
When told Pascoe hadn't travelled north to watch the weekend game, instead contacting the Coffs Coast Advocate for an overview, Wallace looked genuinely shocked.
"Tony's first mistake," was his ominous comment.
"Things must have changed as he always does his homework on the teams he has to play."
Routine of life for his players will be as normal as possible, Wallace maintains, at least till kick off time at 2.30pm Sunday.
"Eat, sleep, train, work and whatever else they do," he said with a grin.
"Most of all enjoy it and have fun without getting carried away by the hype.
"We have important work to do in a few days time."
Work that's been waiting to be done for more than two decades.
Panthers Grand Final countdown
Tuesday - Light training run and team discussion.
Wednesday - Free time to relax and get mentally settled for the task ahead.
Thursday - Increase training schedule and make final preparations.
Friday - Bonding session over drinks with supporters and former players. Experience and enjoy the occasion.
Saturday AM - Complete work/family commitments and pack the gear.
Saturday PM - Players and staff begin the migration south with some staying overnight and the rest arriving on game day.
Sunday AM - Everyone together for breakfast and last minute orders. Move to the stadium and sit together enjoying the lower grade grand finals.
Sunday 2.30pm - When 'Gracey' blows his whistle, play like your life depends on it.