NORTH Warrnambool Eagles got one of the two prizes they had their eyes on.
Jake Myles’ last-ditch shot at goal gave the Eagles a heart-stopping one-point win over rival Warrnambool on Saturday.
But the narrow triumph against a fellow flag fancy wasn’t enough for the Eagles to snatch third spot and a double chance.
The Eagles will take confidence from the 13.7 (85) to 11.18 (84) win into their cut-throat elimination final against Camperdown on Sunday.
North Warrnambool Eagles made the fast start and responded every time it was threatened by Warrnambool, which snared a one-point win in the two sides’ round nine battle.
The Eagles took a 14-point lead into the final change but the hard running link-up play which epitomised their performance in the first three terms vanished as the Blues stormed home.
Fearless small Jed Turland, who had a couple of costly misses in the third quarter, brought the Blues back to within 10 points.
Travis Graham, who was locked in an intriguing battle with Eagles defender Brendan Murfett all game, kicked his second shortly afterwards and bridged the gap to four points.
Blues spearhead Jason Rowan had chances to will his side home but finished the term with four behinds.
He levelled the scores at 83-all with some 23 minutes played and then snapped another behind to give the Blues the lead for the first time in the game.
Myles was prolific in the midfield and smart in attack.
He had the final two shots at goal, ultimately sealing the Eagles’ win.
Myles’ first attempt was marked by Warrnambool defender Peter Corredig.
Confusion reigned when Corredig stepped over the line, tying the scores.
North Warrnambool Eagles coach David Haynes said the ball was touched.
“Jake kicked one and it was touched off the boot, so it wasn’t actually a mark, and he’s (Corredig) played on and ran it over under pressure and then Jake kicked the other point,” he said.
“We knew there wasn’t much time left because there wasn’t a lot of goals scored, so it was a matter of being on the right side of the ledger for a change.”
North Warrnambool Eagles came out and made a statement.
They kicked the first four goals of the match in quick time, putting the reigning premier on the back foot.
Its smalls — Jarryd Lewis, Mark Murphy and Nathan Murphy — troubled the Blues’ defence, while ruckman Jordan Dillon ensured they had first use at the centre clearances.
Warrnambool settled, working its way back into the contest.
Jason Rowan kicked three goals to keep the Blues within reach but Jackson Bell, who continued his stellar form, Travis Graham and Sam Cowling all missed chances.
Mark Murphy took a clever mark on the quarter-time siren, giving the Eagles a deserved 14-point buffer despite having one less scoring shot.
Warrnambool eroded the deficit with goals to Cowling and Graham to start the second term.
Graham provided the spark. Hemmed in on the boundary line, he bounced it through from the pocket, earning goal-of-the-day honours.
Robbie Gregg was the Eagles’ most dominant forward on Saturday.
Three of his five goals came in the second term, with his ability to mark and crumb coming to the fore.
Gregg kicked the final goal of the first half after the Eagles zipped down the field on the back of a crisp end-to-end passage.
They stretched their lead out to 25 points early in the third term.
Lewis pounced on a loose ball, Michael Darmody converted a set shot and Haynes made the most of a free kick.
The Eagles’ potent forward line was stretching the Blues’ defence and their back six was resolute, often picking off errant Warrnambool entries and rebounding with purpose.
Josh Walters, who was busy for the Blues, converted a 50-metre penalty but Gregg responded.
Warrnambool moved reliable defender Tim O’Keeffe to the forward line.
O’Keeffe booted two important goals, just as the Eagles appeared capable of running away with the contest.
But Haynes received an off-the-ball free kick, giving the Eagles a 14-point lead.
The Blues wrested the momentum in the fourth term and the Eagles’ forward 50 entries dried up until late in the quarter.
Haynes said it emphasised the damage a lapse can have.
“It is a good learning curve probably,” he said.
“All the sides in the top five are quality sides and that’s why it is so even and you can’t afford to take your foot off the pedal for five minutes or 10 minutes because they will come back and come back hard.”
Warrnambool coach Scott Carter was disappointed with the loss, which bumped the Blues from second to third.
But Carter praised his side for its consistency across the home-and-away season.
“We have met our pre-season goal we set back in November to finish top three. We’ve achieved exactly the same win-loss record as last year of 14-4 and I think our percentage is slightly better than last year,” he said.
“So we’ve had a good home-and-away season and now we enter a qualifying final in good shape with a full list to pick from.”