Nambucca Valley Lions take home the trophy

It was the perfect ending to a perfect season.

This was the first year back in the senior North Coast AFL comp for the Nambucca Valley Lions, after eight years in the wilderness.

And while the pandemic threw a spanner in the works early on - threatening to derail their long-awaited comeback - it also threw a wild card in as well.

With the senior rugby league season officially benched, the lure of a footy game - no matter what code - drew some major talent into the Lions' ranks.

Granted, many of them had never played an AFL game in their lives. But they took to it like ducks to water. As did the other new recruits.

Despite the side consisting of no more than a handful of men with any past Aussie Rules experience, they were a slick outfit from game one.

Week after week, the Lions preyed on their opponents, never coming away with anything less than a convincing win.

Congratulations to Blake Toohey who celebrated his 100th game today

Congratulations to Blake Toohey who celebrated his 100th game today

And so with a squeaky clean record, and a Minor Premiership under their belts, the boys entered the Coffs Stadium today, carrying the hopes of the Nambucca Valley on their shoulders.

They were up against the Coffs Breakers - a side they'd beaten twice before. Still, Coffs had the homeground advantage - not that you would have known it from the noise of the crowd who all seemed to be chanting in unison for Nambucca.

It was clear from the first five minutes of play that nerves were owning both teams.

Fumbled balls, kicks to noone in particular, and high tackles created a growing sense of frustration in the players on field. The biff started early on, egged on by the hungry crowd.

A Nambucca error gave Coffs the first goal of the match - Rohan McMahon putting our northern neighbour's first serious points on the board.

That goal seemed to jolt Nambucca to their senses a little - the ball staying defiantly up their end for the rest of the period.

And after two near misses, the Lions finally nailed one between the goalposts, courtesy of coach Leif Stuart.

At the end of the first term Nambucca led - but only just - 1.2 (8) - 1.1 (7).

As the hooter sounded for the second, the Lions marched back into position, this time with the wind at their backs.

The second period started much like the first - the scrappy play not what what the Lions' supporters had come to expect from them.

But there was always heart. The Lions committed themselves to each attack body and soul. They were fearless.

It was Andrew 'The Bull' Welsh who scored Nambucca's second for the match. And then, just 15 seconds before the siren, Aaron Clarke popped in a third, taking the half-time score to 3.4 (22) - 1.1.(7).

It was very much anyone's game at this stage. And it was clear that what Nambucca needed was a Jimmy Angel rev up.

Premierships are quite often won or lost in the third quarter. So the Lions charged out onto the oval, ready to take what was rightfully theirs.

After a skirmish up the Lions' goal end, captain Aaron Boatfield found his target, scoring Nambucca's fourth goal.

Shortly after, a penalty on Jimmy Angel saw him with a free kick at goal from 10 metres out - the ball sailing straight as an arrow through the goalposts to earn the Lions their fifth. The Lions collectively breathed a little easier after.

Coffs had their second attempt at goal with three minutes to go in the third. The ball shot down the field from Breaker to Breaker until Nambucca's Alexander McDonald put a stop to that with a beautiful mark right in front of the goalposts.

With the ball up the Lions' end again there was only moments to go before the siren. Then, with the reflexes and poise of a jungle cat, Aaron Clarke plucked the ball out of the air for a perfect mark ten seconds before the buzzer. His aim was true and he took the Lions' tally to 6.8. (40) - 1.2 (8).

Watch the match here:

Coffs needed to pull out a miracle to change the game around going into the final quarter. But try as they might, they couldn't break through the Lions' defence.

Both teams were struggling to make it count, until Jimmy Angel swooped in with a saintly mark in front of the goalposts, securing Nambucca's seventh goal of the match.

The Breakers quickly answered with their own perfect mark in front of their goalposts - Dean Chambers kicking Coffs' second goal.

Tit-for-tat, Lion Aaron Clarke came barrelling through to take another blinding mark, before kicking it away quickly to Andrew Welsh, who put it away again for Nambucca.

But the Breakers had finally found their own groove - Lachie Clarke scoring their third with two minutes to go on the clock.

At this stage the game was all but won, but the Lions weren't slowing down just yet. This time it was Beau Langford's time to shine, and he put away the final goal of the Grand Final match.

The crowd counted down with ten seconds to go, and then it was all over - the Nambucca Valley Lions had won their first Reserve Grade Premiership, completing an unblemished season.

9.9 (63) - 3.2 (20)

Congratulations to Jake Hare

Congratulations to Jake Hare

But the Lions weren't done scooping the pool yet.

At the trophy presentation, Aaron Clarke was awarded Best On Ground, Leif Stuart was recognised as the season's highest scorer. And Jake Hare was overwhelmingly voted as the League's Best and Fairest, with Aaron Boatfield taking the runner-up award.

Coach Leif Stuart was ecstatic.

I couldn't be any more proud of the effort you put in out on that field. Now let's go home and celebrate the (bleep) out of this.

Leif Stuart

We caught up with team captain Aaron Boatfield after the match to get his post-game rundown.

"They definitely showed up to play. We were put on the back foot after breezing through all season. It wasn't good. But I had every faith in the boys," he said.

Despite a convincing lead after the third he said it wasn't until the dying minutes of the final quarter that he knew they had it in the bag.

"Those last five minutes we were all teeth - it was nice to savour those last minutes like that," he said.

He said he's "super grateful" for the season and knows it won't ever be like this again - "many of those boys won't play again - they'll go back to league," he said.

So I'm just thankful for the time that we had. And now we're just gonna go and savour this weekend.

We asked if the club would now be advancing to the First Grade competition.

"With a win like that and an undefeated season like we had, the league would expect us to go up to First Grade," he said.

"But I guess we'll find out next year."

Congratulations Lions. You've well and truly earned this moment.

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