For the first time in 21 years, Eltham is premier.
Saturday was redemption day as the Panthers erased last year’s grand final defeat with dominant 41-point win over Diamond Creek in the NFNL Division 2 decider at Preston City Oval.
It’s the club’s first senior flag since 2002, winning the double as the reserves saluted, and earns it a return to the top flight for the first time since 2017.
Miserly against Preston’s notorious wind and explosive with it, a six-goal fourth quarter put a cherry on the 12.13 (85) to 6.8 (44) triumph.
VFL-listed young gun Finnbar Maley was inspiration, marking almost everything in sight and finishing with six goals in a standout best-on-ground display.
In a feisty clash, that saw a number of spot-fires, Eltham was able to harness the emotion and dial up the pressure on the Creekers.
First-year coach Tim Bongetti said the team had come in with a gameplan and executed to perfection.
“Unbelievable, we had belief, the belief set the tone,” Bongetti said.
“We wanted the make them feel uncomfortable.
“They’ve had it, on merit, their way all year and making them uncomfortable, under pressure, would only benefit us.
“Our best quarters of footy have come against the wind, we played Thomastown a few weeks back and moved the ball better than we did going with the wind, so we just lowered the eyes, kept hitting up, keep finding the right options.”
Diamond Creek had the wind at its back in the first quarter but was unable to capitalise, taking until the 25th minute to finally kick the first goal of the game.
Footscray VFL-listed star Ewen Macpherson showed his class to snap truly and give his team a seven-point lead at quarter-time.
While held goalless, Eltham limited the damage and Maley finally got it on the board 10 minutes into the second term.
Billy Bedford was yellow carded in the aftermath after reacting to Bongetti’s niggle.
Maley would kick another two in an outstanding quarter, while semi-final match-winner Jason McCormick and Darcy Vallance also hit the scoreboard.
Trailing by 29 points at the half, Diamond Creek needed a response in the third term.
However, it was quickly on the back foot as Maley again found himself in the right spot at the right time, marking a swirling high-ball and kicking truly just three minutes in.
Returning from injury, Jacob Booth kicked his first goal of the day and Jayden Walker followed it but it was all the Creekers could manage, reducing the margin to 22 points.
Needing a miracle comeback against the wind, Diamond Creek starting the fourth term strongly but couldn’t hit the scoreboard.
For the third time, Maley got the breakthrough, kicking his fifth goal after another acrobatic contested mark.
It was the party time for Eltham as boom off-season recruit Jesse Donaldson kicked a “worldie” from deep in the pocket, banana-ing the ball through much to the crowd’s delight.
Ruckman Tom Goodwin won the critical duel with Nick Barro, while Lane Sinclair and Josh Merkel were brilliant in defence and Mikael Avramov was prolific throughout.
However, Maley was a clear standout.
“He was the card I had up my sleeve, being able to throw him out in finals,” Bongetti said.
“To be honest, I reckon that’s the last game he’s played at the Eltham footy club.
“The kid’s got that much ability and that much up-side, if he can get into a professional program then anything can happen.”
The only negative for Eltham, a dislocated shoulder to Luke Wachinger in the first quarter but after a quick trip to hospital he returned to collect his premiership medallion.
The win also marks a remarkable turnaround for Bongetti.
Sacked by East Keilor last season he took the reins from mentor Robert Hyde and is now a two-time NFNL premiership player and the first playing premiership coach since Ricky Dyson led Bundoora to the Division 1 title in 2017.
“It’s unbelievable, I was crying as soon as the siren went,” he said.
“How 12 months can change your life, you get sacked from a job and you get to take over something.
“We’ve changed the outcome of this football club and where it goes now, the pathway is there for the new kids coming through.”
For Diamond Creek, Macpherson, Booth, Brenton Keating and Jai Norman were strong contributors.
The Creekers lost Daniel Jarvis (calf) and Andrew Elward (concussion) before half-time.
However, the club didn’t go home empty-handed, winning the under-19s premiership with a 20-point win over South Morang.
Meanwhile, Eltham’s reserves cruised to a 67-point triumph over Thomastown.
The Panthers hopes of a premiership treble remain alive with the club’s under-19s playing a Division 1 preliminary final on Sunday.