It may sound odd for a team that has played in three grand finals out of the past four, but the Goondiwindi Hawks came of age on Saturday.
Despite going down in a titanic arm-wrestle against University in Toowoomba in the DDAFL grand final.
A free kick which could have gone either way split the deadlock with Goondiwindi fours points down after kicking two goals in quick succession.
Deep in their forward line the penalty relieved the pressure for University who were able to break clear and kick a game-changing goal.
With only minutes left, both sides threw caution to the cool Toowoomba wind, and the record will show University drew away for a deserving and hard-fought victory.
But what it won’t tell is how close the encounter truly was.
The Hawks dominated possession, were harder at the ball and harrassed and harried the Uni ball carriers from first bounce to final siren but some cleaner possession closer to goals and two “miracle” goals late in the game from the boundary under pressure sealed the Hawks’ fate.
They also missed star ruckman Ty Haigel who was unavailable due to family commitments.
Fill-in “Wilow” Willersdorf was superb in the first half but University changed tactics and began to punch the ball long in the second half and experience began to take a toll on the midfield set-up.
Making a mockery of that experience was young gun Sam McNaughton who showed he may be one of the league’s best midfielders by next season, if he isn’t already.
Jeremy “Jezza” Leahy was outstanding in what may possibly be his last game for the Hawks.
He continually got himself into the right spots in both attack and defence and showed that grand final experience does pay off.
Fullback Brent Jardine has had a spectacular run over the past two months playing his best football ever for the Hawks. In that time he has transformed the backline from an inexperienced last line of defence into a “wall” which often rebounds into attack.
It’s been an impressive turnaround.
Youngsters Jack Martin and Max Beinke have played their part along with powerhouse Angus Croft and the cool head and trusty left boot of Craig “Freck” Langley.
Then there was the powerhouse combination up front of Dave “Tassie” O’Toole and Adam Scoble.
Unfortunately for the Hawks Scoble is heading south for work but he has laid a platform for the Hawk forward line next year.
Coach O’Toole is an inspiration but has sometimes tried to do too much.
This year he has remained, mostly, up forward and in partnership with Scoble, the two have produced the most dangerous combination in the league.
O’Toole’s “ton” is only part of the story.
On Saturday Joe Verney proved with more confidence and focus on the ball and not the umpire he could be the perfect sidekick to the O’Toole show in 2019.
Jake “Harro” Harrison only knows one way, but he’s certainly not just a tough nut at the ball.
He kicked two much-needed goals under pressure on Saturday.
But a highlight for a few old warhorses such as 300-gamer, Murray Collett was a 45-50m goal out wide near the boundary by rising star Alex McNaughton. It never looked like missing and highlighted that a new era has arrived for the Hawks.
A host of young Hawks are laying the base for what many feel will be an exciting 2019. “There was not one person who didn’t put his heart and soul into Saturday’s match and I couldn’t be prouder of their effort,” O’Toole said. “Bring on 2019!”