THE Macleay Valley Eagles under-13s side had a fleeting taste of fairytale success at Port Macquarie on Sunday.
Alas, the young footballers - many of whom had played in a rugby league match the previous day - were denied the Mid-North Coast AFL title by the competition's dominant force this season.
Minor champions Port Black had home advantage as well as physical superiority over the competition's rookies, but the boys in blue and gold brought courage, spirit and vocal support by the bucketload to Wayne Richards Park.
Buoyed by impressive wins over Camden Haven and Port White in previous finals, the Eagles earned their grand final appearance.
In dry and sunny conditions, both teams started the game with plenty of intensity along with a few nervous errors characteristic of such an important game.
There didn’t appear to be too much space early on, despite the large ground, as players were keen to get to the drop of the ball.
The Eagles had a slight wind advantage and took an eight-point lead into the first quarter break, courtesy of a fantastic goal from Shaydan Close.
As the wind increased, Port Black came out firing in the second quarter and drove the ball long into the forward line on several occasions.
Under huge pressure from a fast-moving centreline and the backline under siege, the visitors had few answers as the Port team piled on six unanswered goals for the term.
The Eagles dug deep in the third and managed to outscore the Port team, however a 23-point deficit heading into the wind for the last quarter was always going to be tough ask.
With both teams tiring after a physical encounter, the game opened up allowing the Eagles to play some of their trademark football. They tried valiantly right to the end, scoring two goals into a stiff breeze.
However, it wasn’t enough - with Port Black running out victors by 30 points.
The dominant display by Port in the second quarter, particularly by Dylan Marchingo - who finished the game with 6 goals - proved to be the difference.
Final scores: Port Macquarie Black 10.4 (64) def Macleay Valley Eagles 5.4 (34).
THEY had hoped for a more satisfying conclusion, but the Eagles team can be pleased with a successful year.
Many players enjoyed their first season of AFL, the team played some impressive football with a high level of skill on display, and several players received representative honours.
"Congratulations also to Chris Holten, who won the leading goal-kicker for the league," coach Tim Elder said, "which reflects both his skill as a player, and the ability of his teammates to get the ball to him.
"The future of AFL in the Macleay looks bright with ever-increasing numbers of youngsters wanting to try the game and the securing of South Kempsey Oval as a home ground.
"May the Eagles go one better and soar high next year."