A 51-6 thumping in last year's grand final was playing in the back of their minds, but Eastwood managed to hold their nerve to win their fifth Shute Shield final 33-13 at Concord Oval on Saturday afternoon.
It was not the fairytale ending Southern Districts were hoping for, but with no Sydney University for the first time in a decade, and minor premiers Manly dusting off their surfboards a week earlier than expected, the 7000-plus crowd at the home of Sydney rugby were on deck to witness a reversal of last year's grand final.
The painful memory of that 45-point thrashing a year ago was the key motivator for Eastwood this season and it showed in a clinical performance against a Southern Districts line-up who did well to make the decider after finishing the regular season in fifth place.
Eastwood captain Hugh Perrett said some of his teammates were worried about a repeat of last year, but he could not be happier with the way they played.
"After that day I never watched the video. I tried to erase it; we never spoke about it," Perrett said. "We know it was a bit out of character and to concede 50 points in a grand final is slightly embarrassing, so we knew we were better than that."
You lose a few games and you doubt yourself. Before today you think it's going to be the same as last year, the doubts go through your head. But the whole 80 minutes was sensational."
Southern Districts dominated field position early and showed off the attacking style that had sent them into the decider and within reach of a first Shute Shield. But a Jed Gillespie try through the middle gave Eastwood a 13-6 lead at the break, before five-pointers to Jai Ayoub and Michael McDougall sealed the win.
After experiencing the heartbreak of last year against Sydney University, Tom Hill, who slotted three penalties and four conversions for Eastwood, broke down in tears after the game and said it was one of the proudest days of his footy career.
"I just hugged Mum and it all came out," Hill said. "I saw my family and that was amazing. My family know everything I've been through. It's really satisfying – that's why you start training in November, it's years in the making. People play whole careers in Shute Shield and don't even get close to grand finals and I feel so lucky to be in this great team."
Ben Volavola's try from a set-piece gave Southern Districts an inkling of hope in the second half, but a streaking McDougall down the left wing assured Eastwood of their victory, to the joy of hundreds of gallant supporters who rushed onto the field at full-time to be with their clubmates.
The inclusion of Ireland-bound Wallabies and Waratahs second-rower Kane Douglas in the Southern Districts line-up was not enough for the side, who lacked spark in attack.
Douglas replaced his brother Luke in the starting XV and said he was more upset at the fact his brother got just five minutes game time. "It's pretty disappointing. We came here pretty confident and I feel bad for my little brother. I came back and took his spot. He only got five minutes and we weren't even out there together," Douglas said.
"It's going to make the boys better people and better rugby players. You've just gotta pick yourself up. The sad thing is every year you know you're not going to play with the same players. We'll celebrate well tonight though."