After enduring a torrid campaign last year, Young Lions – led by returning coach Mark Mellish – dared to dream big in 2018.
Now, less than 12 months on, the reigning Pascoe Cup wooden spooners have miraculously flipped their fortunes around and stand on the brink of premiership glory.
Young’s stunning first grade revival is nothing short of a Cinderella story.
The Lions clawed into this year’s finals series off the back of a gritty regular season showing that saw them finish in fifth place despite conceding more goals than they scored.
Add the loss of regular skipper and 2017 Player of the Year Duncan Cameron into the mix and the odds were suddenly stacked against Young to even make it past Leeton in the elimination finals.
Yet, as they’ve shown all year, the Lions have mastered the art of toughing it out and produced a pair of famous wins to book their tickets to the ball.
“It was just great, just a really, really great effort from the boys,” Mellish said.
“As I said to the boys at the start of the season, all you have to do is dream.
“I’ve told them time and time again that there’s no expectations on them, regardless of which team they’re playing against, so they just went out there and played football.”
The veteran coach held the reins at Hall Bros Oval from 2010 to 2015 before stepping away from the sport to spend more time with his family.
A phone call from Lions club president Paul Cameron in December last year convinced Mellish to return in his former capacity and begin what was slated as a long-term prospect.
You can tell that the guys just love playing together no matter what happens out on the field.Young Lions coach Mark Mellish
Now, with a Coach of the Year title to his name and just six days before his side takes to the field in a fairy tale grand final clash with Lake Albert, Mellish is content to sit back and watch his youthful squad soak up the atmosphere.
“You can tell that the guys just love playing together no matter what happens out on the field and that showed against Henwood Park.”
“The Hawks are quality so it was good to get over them and it’s exciting to be in the decider.”
Mellish pointed to the rising crop of Lions youngsters who stepped up against Henwood Park and backed them to dive headfirst into Sunday’s decider.
“Take someone like Abdul Arja who’s only 17 but made that free kick for Cal’s goal.”
“We’ve got some great young talent and hopefully they’ll be around for years to come.”
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