Nelson Bay coach Sean McGrath says he was relieved to survive Saturday’s thrilling one-point win over Newcastle City with the Marlins’ season and his heart intact.
The Marlins kicked the first four goals of the elimination final and led by 18 points at the last change before City stormed home with a howling gale behind their backs at Dick Burwell Oval.
The Blues closed to 48-43 with five minutes to go, but Courtney Knight hit the post with a snap shot under pressure, Cameron Keast missed right with a set shot from 50 metres, Aaron Seen missed in almost identical fashion and the Marlins rushed a behind to leave the gap at one with a minute on the clock.
Knight marked in front of goal in the dying seconds, spun away from a defender and kicked a goal only to be penalised for a push.
“I was pretty anxious,” McGrath said after the 6.12 (48) to 5.17 (47) boilover.
“I was waiting for that siren to go, especially when Courtney Knight took that mark and kicked a goal and they paid the free kick our way, which was great, but they quite often get missed.
“For that to be called, the heart started beating again when that happened.”
Nelson Bay had not beaten City since re-entering the top grade in 2014 and had not beaten any of the other top-four sides this year, but McGrath had the rare luxury of fielding a side missing only one player, Nathan Vaisey.
“That has been the first time we’ve been close to that all season. It makes a difference,” he said. “We were up against it. It was a great win.”
He praised his side’s attack on the ball, especially in the first half and when the game was on the line.
“When the ball went to ground we really hunted in numbers and tackled well. The pressure we put on Newcastle was phenomenal.
“If we bring that pressure next week, the result will speak for itself.”
The Marlins will play Cardiff, who lost 17.8 (110) to 9.10 (64) to Terrigal-Avoca in the major semi-final, in Saturday’s grand final qualifier at No.1 Sportsground.
The Panthers were in control from the outset against the Hawks. They led 49-22 at half-time and kicked six majors in the third term. Peter Van Dam booted four goals and Ryan Webster three.