Magpies bomb Ballina
By Darren Moncrieff
BYRON Magpies have plucked a premiership from a season thought to be going nowhere with an inspired win over Ballina in the Summerland Australian Football League (SAFL) grand final at Shultz Oval, Bangalow, on Saturday.
The Magpies toughed out a 19-point win in heavy rain, 8.8 (56) to 5.7 (37), to land the club's 11th premiership in a dramatic, tension-filled grand final in front of a wet, raucous and appreciative crowd. That margin was the highest all day.
The win was only the second time this season a team had beaten the one above it in relation to ladder position, and both times it was Byron when it mattered most.
Byron coach Carl Fail said it was his side's mental strength coupled with their superior fitness that won them the game.
"We developed a mentally strong approach to this year's finals and that's been our focus," Fail said.
"I really believe if you're positive and have self-belief, we humans can perform remarkable feats. I'm just incredibly proud of the boys. They were so committed to the cause."
Ballina coach Scott Brooks, who opted not to play on Saturday, said after the game that his players were hurting.
Scores at a premium
Rain fell throughout the game, putting possession and scores at a premium, easing off only mid-way through the final term but it nullified the Bombers' aerial advantage.
Byron's Danny Frith gathered countless possessions in the midfield. His precision passes to team-mates in the clear and marshalling the troops into position saw the former VFL footballer, originally from Daylesford in country Victoria, awarded the Bob Hill Memorial Medal as best-on-ground.
Paul Cason, fresh from tagging Lismore's George Massa out of last week's game, added yet another big name scalp to his collection, keeping the dangerous Travis Clarke quiet. A superb four-quarter effort from Magpie Christo Barrett-Hall up forward had the Bomber defence on the hop, as did Graham Hayworth, who set up several inside 50s.
The Magpies' defence, led by skipper Tim Caldwell, Gabe Hart and Sean McQueen, set the tone for how the game was to be played, largely on Byron's terms. Magpie Karim Kaufman, who had to pass a fitness test on Friday afternoon, pushed through the pain barrier to play an effective role for his side.
Ballina's grand final hard-luck story, Kurt Bullock, who has a prodigious leap, kept his side in it with his tireless work around the stoppages.
Rugged first quarter
In a rugged first quarter both sides took some time to adjust to the slippery conditions. Ballina, through Pat Bulzomi, was first on the board but Barrett-Hall hit back for the Magpies to square the ledger by quarter-time.
Ballina utility Tim Price put the Bombers back in front with a goal early in the second quarter, but Barrett-Hall again hit back with his second.
Scores remained locked in the third quarter until a brilliant goal on the run from Magpies forward Shem Aitken on the three-quarter-time siren broke the deadlock and gave Byron a one-point lead at the last break.
In their final messages, Brooks warned his players that they had a massive fight on their hands and to not waste the hard work they had built on all year.
Fail reminded his players of the 'force' within themselves and the job they had to complete. The Magpies are obviously familiar with their boss's Star Wars Jedi-speak because it had the desired result.
The result was sealed when Byron forced the ball towards Aitken, who found the ball in space, scooped it and snapped his fourth goal with less than a minute remaining.