VINDICATION - that is the word Bathurst Bulldogs coach Dean Oxley used to describe what he was feeling after his men ended a nine-year Blowes Clothing Cup premiership drought with a 27-24 victory over Orange Emus in Saturday's grand final.
Playing in front of a huge crowd at Ashwood Park - the first time Bulldogs had hosted grand final day since 2002 - Oxley's men fought hard to overcome the Emus outfit which had denied them 12 months earlier.
Emus, playing in a sixth straight decider, took the match down to the dying minutes after fighting back from a 15-0 deficit, but when the siren sounded they had looks of devastation on their faces while it was elation for the Bulldogs.
"Vindication is a big word, but it's a word that shows you this has been the right path to get on and hopefully we are going to stay up here for many years now," Oxley said.
"Rugby is a game that can really rip your heart out, jump all over it, then it can also lift you to really the greatest moments of your life.
"I said that before in '94 when I won the grand final for Bathurst and this is another one of those special occasions where all the boys lift. When you play in a team sport it can be so special because they lift for each other, they get that job done and we fought with 14 men for 20 minutes of that game."
It was a match which was certainly befitting of a grand final between two of Central West Rugby Union's oldest and longest rivals.
As Oxley indicated, Bulldogs played 20 minutes of the contest a man short with both Harry Webber and Mark Donnelly shown yellow cards.
It was Bulldogs' first premiership success story in first grade since 2010 and iced a day which also saw the Bathurst club take out women's and third grade titles and be presented with the club championship trophy.
For the beaten Emus outfit there was the brave performance of fullback Nigel Staniforth. He started the match and scored the greens' first try despite battling a medial ligament injury.
There was a grand final hat-trick for winger Carter Hirini and a bold fight back which carried the defending premiers within three points of the lead with two minutes left on the clock.
"I thought the first half we were a little bit patchy, it took a while to get into the game. The second half was much better - we used the ball, created some space and made some opportunities, but just basic errors, kick-off reception let them back into the game. At times we had an opportunity and we let them back in and you can't do that in the grand final, let alone against Bulldogs," Emus coach Pete Bromley said.
"They've [Bulldogs] been the benchmark all year and they deserved the grand final. They played well, they deserve it, they're minor premiers, they've been the benchmark all year, so congratulations to them.
"It's all about laying the platform for the outside backs and in the first half we couldn't do that. In the second half we did and we created opportunities, but it wasn't good enough on the day.
"Grand finals are funny. You sometimes take a while to get into the game and then when you do you don't quite finish it off. We were there, we were thereabouts. We were good enough but not quite good enough."
It was Bulldogs who made the better start to the contest, a Will Oldham penalty goal then try to fullback Joe Nash in the right corner seeing the hosts out to a 10-0 lead after just eight minutes.
It took 17 minutes for Emus to finally enjoy some possession inside their attacking 22, but Bulldogs harassed them into knocking on as they moved up quickly in defence.
It was a mistake which was made to hurt more four minutes later when Webber broke away down the right wing and just when it looked as if he would be bundled into touch by Emus' cover defence, popped a pass back on the inside to OIdham in support.
He scored to make it 15-0.
But Emus showed the sort of fight which has seen them been the force of the Blowes Clothing Cup for so long. After that try they drove down field, created an overlap on the left and Staniforth crossed in the 34th minute.
That effort made it 15-5 at the break.
Bulldogs began the second half with 14 men - Webber having been shown yellow late in the first stanza for making contact with an Emus player while in the air.
Emus capitalised as they scored via Hirini before Webber returned, clawing it back to 15-12 in the 42nd minute.
From there the rivals traded tries with Brad Glasson crossing for Bulldogs, Hirini nabbing his brace then Nash responding with a pick and drive.
That made it 27-17, but with 12 minutes left on the clock Donnelly was shown yellow and it gave Emus a sniff.
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While a knock-on cost Emus what looked to be one certain try and Bulldogs scrambled well on their own line, finally the greens found a way through via Hirini.
He ran around to score under the sticks and give Jamil Khalfan an easy conversion to make it 27-24, but by then there was just over a minute left.
Bulldogs managed to hold on and the celebrations followed.
It was a proud Oxley who watched on as Peter Fitzsimmons - a man who was named the Blowes Clothing Cup player of the year - hoisted the premiership shield.
"They had to dig deep and they worked hard, and belief and trust you know it's there in words, but when you see it on the field and in the way they played, it just means something special," he said.
"The Bathurst community has been phenomenal and having a home grand final means you win these games, we play in Orange and possibly we don't get up. They lifted us when we needed them and that's what it all about. It's the biggest crowd we've had at this location.
"We were disappointed last year when we got beaten in the second half at Endeavour and here we are now, we're going to celebrate long and hard."
- BATHURST BULLDOGS 27 (Joe Nash 2, Brad Glasson, Will Oldham tries; Will Oldham 2 conversions; Will Oldham penalty goal) defeated ORANGE EMUS 24 (Carter Hirini 3, Nigel Staniforth tries; Nigel Staniforth, Jamil Khalfan conversions)