OPINION: Club rugby finals day can evoke so many memories for supporters in Taranaki.
No matter where your allegiances lie, there have been some epic encounters since the Taranaki Rugby Football Union introduced a "finals" format back in 1985.
In that year it was the continuation of the battles between Inglewood and Eltham.
A dour encounter, which needed a midweek replay to find a winner after the two teams ended the 80 minutes at 9-all, it was the start of 27 tales of joy and heartbreak.
It might be hard to imagine for many attending today, but New Plymouth Old Boys were nowhere to be seen at this time of year as Inglewood, Eltham, Hawera and Clifton were the only teams to contest the final for the McMasters Shield for the first eight years.
I remember 1988 well.
Hawera were favourites as they prepared to take on Inglewood.
The march past was a meeting of yellow and black against maroon on the old cycle track at Rugby Park, as supporters carried banners and balloons, many yelling for all their might.
The day did not end well for those from down south, as Inglewood went against the script and ran the ball from all quarters of the field, eventually running out 38-25 winners.
1993 brought the start of an unparalleled era of domination, since the "finals" were introduced anyway, as Old Boys set about a run of six consecutive titles with a lineup that would be the envy of any club coach today.
Their stranglehold on the championship was broken late into the match only when Anthony Callaghan somehow managed to squeeze a drop kick through the posts to give Clifton an unlikely 18-16 win.
I can see it clearly, as I rose to my feet from the concrete terraces at the southern end of Rugby Park to see Clifton's supporters in delirium at the other end.
While Old Boys' supporters might cringe to acknowledge it, it breathed life into what was becoming a far too predictable competition.
There have been plenty of other memorable finals, too.
Who could forget the classic 2001 version when Tukapa survived extra time to beat Eltham-Kaponga 40-32, or the torrential rain and freezing temperatures that greeted supporters in 2007 when Old Boys pipped Coastal 6-0.
Sure, club finals day might not generate the verve of support it did through the 1980s and 1990s, but it is still one of the best days on the Taranaki sporting calendar.
While I don't agree with subsidiary finals taking up space on what should be a day to recognise the best in a division, I can't argue with the fact it brings supporters who would otherwise not turn up to Yarrow Stadium.
There is also something special about the atmosphere away from the No 1 field, as supporters, some often rabid in their encouragement, are kept from the sideline by fencing wire and a few standards.
It creates great theatre, pressure and memories for many players who experience it only once in their careers.
Spare a thought, too, for the men in the middle whose decisions are often greeted with equal amounts of cheer and sneer.
So, for players and supporters from Coastal, Old Boys, Clifton, Bell Block, Southern, Stratford, Tukapa and Patea, good luck and enjoy the day.
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- © Fairfax NZ News
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