The Plunket Shield was already in the bag but the Green Army wasn't done as captain William Young and Dane Cleaver defied the Northern Districts Knights in Napier today.
The Heinrich Malan-coached Central Districts Stags had started day four of the round 10 and final game adamant to finish their 2017-18 first-class campaign with an unblemished record at Nelson Park.
No 4 Young and No 6 Cleaver did just that — 75 not out and 87no, respectively — for what has to be the sweetest draw in domestic cricket this summer for the undefeated Stags.
The Knights were not about to roll over for an early ride back to their equally scattered districts, either. ND gave it their all, turning down any expectations of handshakes until they had had time to ponder during the tea break before the gentlemanly gesture came.
The visitors' resolve was clearly reflected in their bowling — three bowlers employed in the first innings but seven summoned in the second dig with just Brent Arnel claiming 4-35.
Without doubt, this was always going to be about a Stags do where even the $75,000 booty wasn't going to cut it.
For the lads who jovially split into platoons of bowlers and then batsmen for photographs, it was about reinforcing a sense of belief that they had what it took to grind it out when the going got tough.
CD needed to exorcise their demons this summer after losing two white-ball grand finals and they did, with aplomb.
Sure, it still hurts but winning the toughest battle — the four-day red-ball format — was the ideal soothing balm to finish a summer that saw them finish second, second and finally first.
The sensation for a champagne-drenched Young and his troops was evident on their beaming faces and required no translation.
"It was very disappointing to lose the white-ball finals and it hurt a lot. We had this Plunket Shield coming up at the end of the season with Wellington as the front runners so there was still plenty of fire in the belly to win at least one trophy this [season] and it came through so it's incredibly pleasing," said the 25-year-old Taranaki cricketer who lives in Napier.
Young said it was a bit of anti-climax to concede close to 500 runs only to find the Firebirds had lost to the Auckland Aces just after tea yesterday.
With Malan they had concluded it was better to remain unbeaten with a stalemate rather than chase 404 runs when play resumed today.
"Six wins and no losses was going to mean more to us so we just decided to go out there to see out the day," he said, emphasising there were no temptations to deviate from the blueprint through pangs of valour to eke out victory.
The Stags' credentials were undeniable — No 2 Greg Hay (786 runs), No 4 Young (686), No 6 Jesse Ryder (640), although he didn't play in the last three rounds, and No 10 Cleaver (560) on the most runs scored list in first-class cricket this season.
Young, a former New Zealand age-group captain who must surely be due for a Black Caps red-ball stint, and Cleaver were mindful that had ND got a wicket they would have dug their toes in until bad light crept in.
"It was really important that we kept each other going and kept talking to keep ourselves on our toes."
While he didn't have statistics handy, Young suspected they had had most successful season in CD's history with two runner-up berths and a champion one.
"Prizegiving's going to be sweet tomorrow night now that we have the trophy in the cabinet," he said of their dinner at the Napier Conference Centre.
A grinning Malan said the shield was the hardest format to win.
"It just shows that the squad we have and the depth we have. It's quite pleasing to end the campaign and be on the right side of it."
The South African coach, who should be a shoo-in for the Black Caps job some day, saluted ND for fighting long and hard.
"We've had a fantastic season so it would have been great to finish 1st, 1st and 1st but the world isn't perfect and sometimes you just have to adjust accordingly."
Consistency was CD's edict and they had that with some of the boys earning higher honours on the international platform, with Seth Rance igniting the fuse.
"It's exciting to see the squad and talent that we have. These boys win games of cricket individually and keep playing as a team," said Malan.
Cleaver, who had slowly but surely got his way back into the campaign after a mysterious lower back injury while batting in the one-day Ford Trophy grand final, relished "being out playing with the lads".
"The Plunket Shield is pretty special so it's good to be out there," said the 26-year-old right-hander who had begun to carve a niche as an opener when promoted this summer.
He echoed the sentiments of others that losing the white-ball silverware was a disappointment but winning the shield had turned it into an "amazing season".
"[The shield] is what we deserved with the way we played the season."
Cleaver said the players would come out stronger from the two grand final losses with experience.
"Obviously they were bitter, very hard to take but we've learned a lot about playing under pressure in the final because it's different from your round-robin games."
The Knights, he said, made it easy for him and Young on the batting crease today because of their competitive nature.
"They are very aggressive and play a good brand of cricket so it made it very easy for us to concentrate because they were out for a fight so you had to be as well."