Hail the winners and the losers in this one.
Deer Park had to will itself over the line for a record-extending fifth consecutive Western Region Football League division 1 premiership with a heart-stopping three-point win over Sunshine Kangaroos in the grand final at the Whitten Oval on Saturday.
The Lions greatness soared to unimaginable heights by collecting an incredible fifth cup in as many seasons, but the respect that Sunshine gained for its part in an instant classic is off the charts.
How often does a football team lose a grand final and its own supporters give them a standing ovation?
There can be only one winner on grand final day and Deer Park found a way to victory like it so often does.
The Lions certainly played with fire, but did not get burnt.
Had Sunshine young gun Lachlan Smart held on to a chest mark, 20 metres out from goal with barely 20 seconds left on the clock, the Lions dynasty might have been over.
Instead, the ball agonisingly spilled from Smart’s tired body, a stoppage was forced and seconds later came the final siren.
Uncontrollable screams of delight and tears of joy came from Deer Park players, while Sunshine’s players slumped to the ground to shed tears for a different reason.
It was a heartbreaking moment for Smart, one of Sunshine’s best players on the day and undoubtedly a future star of the club, that needed to be put into perspective.
In a show of sportsmanship, Deer Park coach Marc Bullen tried his best to console the opposition player, imploring Smart to keep his chin up.
“The last minute doesn’t make up the game,” he said.
What a game it was – one that will drive hits to the WRFL website for people seeking a replay over again.
The previous three grand finals were lacking in competitiveness, but this made up for all those lop-sided deciders.
It was apparent from the outset that Sunshine had come to play.
Kicking into a stiff breeze in the first quarter, the Kangaroos had the early exchanges on their terms, finding goals through Daniel Castellano and Nathan Lyons, the latter soaring for the mark of the day before converting.
But Deer Park produced two slick transition goals and benefited from a behind-the-play free kick that gifted a second goal in a minute to Jase Perkins to lead by 11 points at quarter-time.
Sunshine was on top in general play, restoring parity on the scoreboard with consecutive goals through Declan Moloney and Castellano, but their wastefulness going forward proved costly.
Two late James Condos goals before half-time gave Deer Park a handy 12-point buffer, which possibly flattered the premiers on the balance of play from the first half.
“James Condos was enormous in the last part of that second quarter,” Bullen said.
The second half was one you would like to put in a time capsule and reveal in 30 years time to give an example of WRFL football at its best.
It was hard, but fair, with players showing no regard for their own safety in pursuit of the ball.
There was also periods of exciting free flowing football, but the tricky windy conditions made it hard to go coast to coast. Given the conditions and pressure of the situation, it was the grand final we have desired for so long in the WRFL.
Sunshine showed that it was not going to fall away with the opening two goals of the third term through Moloney and Lyons.
Perkins, the leading goalkicker on the ground with four, put Deer Park back in front twice in the third, the first one was cancelled out through a goal from Sunshine’s Lachlan Langwell.
When Kwame McHarg took Lyons down in a bone-crunching tackle and goaled from the ensuing free kick, Deer Park had opened up that handy two-goal break again.
Little did the Lions know that it would be their last goal of the game.
Moloney opened the last term with a goal for Sunshine to peg the margin back to six, but Deer Park produced five minutes of sustained attack, which yielded three consecutive behinds through Kevin Klix, captain Jack Purton-Smith and Condos.
Those behinds would be enough for the Lions to secure the premiership.
Castellano kicked truly from a set shot after a head-high free kick to get Sunshine to within three points, but it would be as close as it would come. Repeated forward 50 entries from the Kangaroos failed to make the goal umpire sweat and Deer Park held on by less than a kick.
After leaving his magnet board at home, getting a flat tyre on his way to the game and finding out his spare was also flat, Bullen could hardly bare to watch the dying seconds, having a sickening feeling that it just might not be his day. But the Deer Park coach’s luck turned just in time to keep an amazing premiership streak alive.
“My heart was absolutely pounding,” Bullen said.
“I felt like it was going to explode late in the last quarter.
“At the moment, that’s certainly the best one [of the five premierships], they were pushing hard in the last couple of minutes, so it was an outstanding effort by our guys.
“We won a premiership from taking one of Sunshine’s catch phrases grit and effort.
“That’s all it was late in the quarter.”
For more pictures of the game, CLICK HERE