By Lance Jenkinson
Deer Park stands alone as the only metropolitan football club in Victoria to win seven straight top-flight premierships.
The Lions claimed the incredible record with a jaw-dropping come-from-behind three-point win over highly-fancied Altona in a Western Region Football League division 1 grand final classic at Avalon Airport Oval on Saturday.
Lions coach Marc Bullen lauded the character of his players after they appeared to be down and out staring a 25-point deficit in the face at half-time.
“The records are the records and the accolades are the accolades, but you’ve got to praise the players for what they did today,” Bullen said. “They were down and out, but they were absolutely enormous late in the game.
“We got challenged, we got thrown spanners, but at the end of the day we made the right decisions at the right times, went for the jugular and we’ve won a premiership.”
Deer Park was more like pussy cats than lions in the first half. The Lions had the game being dictated to them and were getting beaten in the physicality stakes.
What they needed was something different and Bullen put in his order at half-time.
“We decided to put a special working party together at half-time when we were down by four goals,” he said.
“We wanted to change the direction of the game and bring back 1980s footy.”
It was not exactly old school ‘bring back the biff’, but it was definitely a brutal ’80s style of physicality shown by Deer Park.
Daniel Cooper produced an old fashioned clothes liner early in the third quarter to be the first yellow carded, Chris Stewart had a brain snap and followed him to the bench shortly after and Jack Redpath got his marching orders in the last quarter.
Deer Park played two down in the third quarter and one down in the fourth.
The Lions got a lift from captain Jack Purton-Smith in the midfield, while roaming tall Scott Greenhough stamped his authority on the game and small forward Spiros Amarantidis sparked to life.
Stewart returned to have a major influence, while Kwame McHarg was an ever present.
The tone-setter for Deer Park though was Jackson Barling, who made his mark straight out of the half-time break.
Barling ran through the centre square looking to collect any Altona player in his way. It changed the tone of the game and gave Deer Park a physical edge.
From that moment on, Altona appeared to second guess itself in the contest.
Deer Park took over the clearance battle and had Altona’s defence, admirably led by Kelly Pickard all day, under immense pressure.
A six-minute patch at the start of the fourth quarter saw the Vikings lead all but disappear.
Amarantidis got Deer Park going with a goal just 45 seconds into the fourth quarter.
Jeremy Mills, who claimed the best-on-ground medal, marked on the lead and converted four minutes later. Then Amarantidis marked and goaled to get the Lions to within one point.
Deer Park enjoyed a sustained period of attack for the first 20 minutes of the fourth, but its goals dried up after the Amarantidis major.
The Lions kicked four consecutive behinds and you wondered if those misses could prove costly.
Altona somehow got up off the canvas to fight until the bitter end.
The final 10 minutes saw the ball camped in Altona’s half of the ground, but they could not find an avenue to a match-winning goal.
For Altona, this is a result that will churn in the stomach forever more. The Vikings went in as favourites, finished as minor premiers and had beaten Deer Park on all three occasions this season.
It was Deer Park’s 11th senior premiership, moving it to fourth on the WRFL division 1 premiers list behind Spotswood (15), Parkside (14) and Braybrook (12).