Ben Paterson’s goal on the final siren saw Lower Plenty pull off one of the great come-from-behind wins to claim the 2018 A Plus Labour Solutions Division 2 premiership.
Despite not leading at any stage throughout the encounter, the Bears found a way to be in front where it counted most, defeating Eltham 3.10 (28) to 2.10 (22) at Preston City Oval.
In trying conditions, Lower Plenty didn’t kick a goal in the opening three quarters and trailed by 19 points at the last change. However, the Bears showed great determination in the last quarter to kick three goals and keep the Panthers scoreless to earn promotion to the top flight.
Paterson found the ball in his hands in the final moments after being found unmarked in the forward pocket. He quickly gathered the football and snapped through the match-winning goal on the full-time siren, sending the Lower Plenty faithful into a frenzy.
“I’m speechless to be honest. I was in the right place at the right time, I didn’t even realise the siren had gone the crowd was that loud,” Paterson said after the game.
“We’ve had such great belief this year. We were first to the contest and hacked the ball, and we gave ourselves every opportunity.”
Lower Plenty coach Ben Turner was stunned by the finish and said he “couldn’t have been more proud” of his players, who turned the tables on Eltham after losing their previous three encounters throughout the year.
“I can’t believe it,” said Turner.
“I think purely effort. I guess we felt (the Market end) was the scoring end and if we got enough entries inside our 50, who’s to know what would happen.
“We just had to compete longer, be as competitive as we could for as long as we could and just sustain it. I can’t believe it.”
Despite the low-scoring nature of the game, there were some clear standout performers. Lower Plenty captain Patrick Flynn was rightfully named best afield with his dominant ruckwork in the last quarter pushing his side forward continually.
Darcy Barden, Paterson, Tom Keys and Matthew Duckworth also contributed significantly to the win, which handed their club its third premiership in the NFNL and first since 2011.
For Eltham, Bronson Glasgow’s grunt work through the middle of the ground was a highlight, while Tim Currie, Gavan Connelly and Brent Macaffer performed admirably.
The scoring was non-existent early on as the sides struggled to deal with the heavy rain and strong cross wind. Eltham kicked the only two behinds of the first term to take a small lead into quarter time.
Eltham coach Paul King felt his troops had the ascendancy throughout that first term and that the city end would prove to be a more likely avenue to a goal.
The second term was again played with manic intensity as neither side was able to penetrate their opposition’s defence. Tim Currie finally nailed the first goal on the half-time siren with a checkside from the forward pocket to give Eltham an eight-point advantage.
Eltham only allowed the ball to enter Lower Plenty’s inside-50 a handful of times in the third quarter and held the Bears scoreless throughout the term. However, the Panthers couldn’t turn their forward dominance into scoreboard pressure.
The Panthers attacked relentlessly through the quarter, but could muster just 1.4 for their efforts, with the major coming at the 20-minute mark courtesy of a Gavan Connelly snap.
In his three-quarter time address, Lower Plenty coach Ben Turner implored his troops to keep their composure in the last term and assured them they could come from behind to win the match against their more-fancied rival.
The Bears got off to a positive start in the final quarter when Paterson finally kicked their first goal of the game at the five-minute mark of the quarter, before Fabian Dorbolo followed with another from a quick snap out of a stoppage five minutes late.
With the game on the line, Lower Plenty dominated the territory battle and put through six-consecutive behinds to level the scores in time-on.
With extra time beckoning, the Bears withstood a number of late surges forward from Eltham, before Dale Nolan and Corey Sleep combined to send the ball forward in the final seconds to set-up Paterson’s match-winner on the siren.
Lower Plenty returns to the top-flight for the first time since 2016, while a second season in A Plus Labour Solutions Division 2 awaits for Eltham.
Final score: Eltham 2.10 (22) def by Lower Plenty 3.10 (28)