THE long road back to the top is complete for Warrnambool and District league netball powerhouse Old Collegians.
The Warriors claimed their eighth A grade premiership on Saturday when they defeated Panmure 38-37 in an epic grand final.
A big crowd circled the courts at Reid Oval to watch a game that will go down as one of the greats.
It was fiercely contested between two teams that had a burning desire.
The premiership was the Warriors’ first since 2006, with that victory the last of five premierships in six years in what was a golden era for the club.
When Lisa Arundell took over as coach of the Warriors three years ago she began building for what was a long-term aim to get the club back to the top.
On Saturday the rebuild was crowned with an exciting and hardened group of Warriors fulfilling the destiny their coach had laid out when the journey began three years ago.
It took a heroic effort for the Warriors to take the premiership cup as they came up against a Panmure team shooting for their club’s first A grade flag.
The Bulldogs played like a team that was looking to create history as they threw everything they had into the game and while walked away beaten would have lost no fans in what was a brave battle right to the final siren.
The contest ebbed and flowed, with the Warriors having their noses in front for most of the game. They had a 13-11 lead at quarter-time and that went out to 20-16 at half-time.
When they shot the first goal after half-time it looked ominous but the Bulldogs shot the next four goals to close the margin to one.
The Warriors got the next goal before the Bulldogs surged to a one-goal lead. Old Collegians answered the challenge with the next five goals before Panmure fought back again to reduce the Old Collegians’ lead to 30-29 at three-quarter-time.
This set up a tight last quarter where the biggest margin was two goals but with scores level for much of the period.
Neither team could land the winning blow and inside four minutes remaining the Warriors shot a goal to take the score to 38-37.
In a dramatic finish, both teams had chances to score but desperate defence made it an impossible task.
Two injury time-outs just added to the tension as players went flat out in a last, desperate bid for glory.
With the score still on 38-37, Panmure centre player Mandy Condon was about to pass into her team’s attacking zone when the final whistle blew to announce the Warriors as 2013 premiers.
It was a game where heroes abounded on both sides, where every player on the court would have walked off knowing they could not have done more for their team’s cause.
While there was no love lost between the two teams after three physical encounters when they played each other during the season, this was a game that was the perfect advertisement for Warrnambool and District league netball.
It was fast, furious and fair and it was fitting that the crowd was out in big numbers to cheer on the participants of a grand final that lived up to all it could have been … and then some.