Gordon are celebrating their first premiership in 22 years after a rousing grand final fairytale pulsing with grit, bursts of attacking sparkle and tears.
Saturday’s 28-8 scoreline reflected nothing of how tight this Shute Shield battle was because Eastwood had everything in their favour midway through the second half.
Victorious coach Darren Coleman had infused “Tartan Tough” as the 2020 mantra for his team and the Stags called on it big time when down to 14 men at Leichhardt Oval.
Somehow, the Stags survived eight minutes of 5m scrums on their own tryline, three penalties and the sinbinning of prop Bosco Tagaloa to keep out the Woods.
When Gordon did finally break out, winger Brandon Quinn made a lovely angled run to put Super Rugby scouts on notice that he’s serious about a change up from Australian Sevens duties.
The quick-release ruck ball was in five-eighth Rod Iona’s hands in a twinkle and he was over for the 21-8 game-breaker with just over 10 minutes to play.
Only 14 men on the field and the day was won.
“The call of TT, Tartan Tough, is our call to arms and those minutes on our own tryline with 14 men is the epitome of what drives this team,” delighted No.8 Jack Dempsey said.
“It’s awesome we had the chance to show it in the grand final...that’s what the guys in this team are built of.
“I’m feeling a lot of relief but so much joy.
“It’s been such a hard year, no matter where you come from, so to have a performance like that is special.”
It’s impossible to overstate how far Gordon have come from pushovers-to-premiers in two seasons under detailed mastermind Coleman.
Long-time clubmen were in despair when the Stags were conceding more than 50 points a game as lame losers in 2018, including a 73-10 thrashing from Eastwood.
There were joyous tears to this grand final but also those of deep grief to mourn the passing of much-admired former Gordon coach and mentor Gordon Ogilvie in grand final week.
He guided the young Stirling Mortlock who could recite his mentor’s famous saying “Gentlemen, Saturday is Rugby Day.”
This week, the former coach sent an email to a group of past players “This Saturday is Gordon Rugby Day” just days before he died
He never got to see the crowning comeback of the club he loved but Gordon’s old-and-bold and a new crop of achievers celebrated for him.
Fullback hero Reece Macdonald had to pull off one of the tackles of the season to keep Gordon ahead.
Eastwood had a stiff wind behind them in the second half to help haul in a 14-5 deficit.
When young five-eighth Tane Edmed put Lachie Anderson into a hole at 58 minutes, a decisive swing of momentum looked certain.
Up stepped Macdonald. He was giving away more than 25kg yet somehow felled burly Eastwood No.8 Pat Sio just metres short of the tryline to get Gordon into the backs-to-the-wall scrum scrap.
Gordon had many heroes. Replacement props Dom Hardman and Nick Fraser wheeled a scrum to turn the tide of penalised scrums.
Charlie Abel found the mark as replacement lineout thrower when Mahe Vailanu was forced off.
Replacement forward Brendan Mitchell rumbled over in a lineout drive near full-time to bloat the score when Eastwood’s chances were spent.
Eastwood stunned the minor premiers with the opening try for 5-0 at the eight-minute mark.
Halfback Matt Gonzalez put up a high kick which Quinn took cleanly enough but the hassling Eastwood defence forced a poor decision.
In trying to squeeze a pass to support Iona, Quinn only succeeded in creating a loose ball that lanky Eastwood lock Tom Anstee ran in from nearly 40m.
Three Iona penalty goals nudged Gordon into the lead at 9-5 but it really didn’t seem to be enough of a lead with a stiff breeze behind The Stags.
Australian Sevens speedster Quinn made up for his early blemish with a lightning counter-attack just three minutes from half-time.
He swooped on a Woods’ kick out of their own quarter and beat four groping defenders with pace and a swerve as if back on the sevens circuit.
He off-loaded to fullback Macdonald to fortify the lead to 14-5 at the break.
It was a tight skirmish in the opening half with Gordon forwards Dempsey, Vailanu and Tom Silk showing the way for their side.
Dempsey’s sharp runs always put his side on the front foot and you couldn’t miss him with his grand final haircut, which almost looked like a modern mohawk with a high shave above both ears.
For Eastwood, shaven-headed prop Jed Gillespie summed up the fluctuating fortunes of his side.
He handed Gordon three points when penalised for an ill-disciplined rush at halfback Harrison Goddard at the base of the ruck and hurling the ball at Vailanu.
Later in the first half, he was getting back slaps from teammates when latching onto Gordon ball at the breakdown to earn a relieving penalty deep in defence.
Edmed did some very good things but also had a few scratchy moments.
He didn’t find touch from a gimme penalty kick to touch when a 5m lineout beckoned and gave up a penalty when cornered by the spirited Gordon defence on another occasion.
Stout Eastwood performer Gillespie heads into retirement with some “what if?” hurt.
The Woods had a one-man advantage for 10 minutes and didn’t earn a point. The scrum had an advantage but maybe one ball released to the backs may have forced a telling score.
GORDON 28 (R Macdonald, R Iona, B Mitchell tries; R Iona 2 con, 3 pen goal) defeated EASTWOOD 8 (T Anstee try; T Edmed pen goal)
This article was originally published on RUGBY.com.au.