By Tim Klingbiel
Sunday afternoon’s simultaneous quintuple of Men’s Premier League matches was headlined by a winner takes all battle for fourth place at Dairyville, and it was the home side who ultimately came away with the spoils. Premiers Coffs United snuck home against a game with Sawtell, while Boambee and Urunga each registered comfortable wins going into their face-off and Northern Storm edged out Coffs Coast Tigers.
Orara Valley Dingoes vs Maclean Bobcats
After no doubt considering themselves slightly unfortunate not to come away with at least a point from Maclean Street the previous weekend, Joel Finlayson’s men would face a tough task to galvanise themselves for an all or nothing clash with a Maclean side firing on all cylinders. The thought of yet another year without finals football would have been devastating for Valley, particularly given the strength of their start to the season before a mid-season run of 5 losses in 8 games threatened to derail their progress.
Their northern opponents too would have been keen to cap their incredible run of form, with 6 wins and a draw in their last 7 leading up to this game, with a finals appearance and a chance to recapture the heights of their all conquering 2009 Championship squad when Fraser Robinson, Travis Armstrong, Kevin Crofton, Aaron Bylos, Jeremy Walters and luscious locked custodian Graeme Courte weaved their magic to get past a seemingly indomitable Lions outfit.
An early goal to the Dingoes, in off the stanchion, kicked things up a gear and forced Maclean’s hand. The score remained 1-0 throughout the first half, but a powerful header from Orara midway through the second period doubled their advantage and all of a sudden the Bobcats’ hopes were in serious jeopardy. With less than 10 minutes remaining on the clock, Maclean pulled one back to halve the deficit and set up a frenzied last few exchanges. Knowing a draw would be enough to make finals a reality once again, the Bobcats pushed hard and threw everything but the kitchen sink at the boys in yellow, but it was not to be. The final score of 2-1 to Orara was good enough to book the home side a place in the post-season and send their northern challengers packing.
Maclean will be incredibly disappointed to miss out on finals by a whisker and Dennis Mavridis had really built a winning atmosphere around the squad in recent weeks. With the Premier League boys undefeated in 7 and the reserves finishing the season with only a solitary loss in their last 11 games (1-0 to Premiers Urunga), they had well and truly proven themselves a genuine threat to any side in the competition. The Bobcats are playing a very effective brand of football and will surely feature once again among the competition’s upper reaches next season.
A rematch of last week’s flat stick athletic endeavour against the Lions awaits for Finlayson’s troops, who will no doubt view defensive structure as being paramount to securing a rare victory over the competition’s top team. They were only a couple of fleeting lapses at the back away from a result just 9 days ago and will certainly be backing themselves to create the biggest headlines at Dairyville since the Axemen’s grand final triumph of 2008 (closely followed by the Dingoes’ own 3-1 smash and grab in the opening round of season 2013 against the Lions). Regardless of the result, a finals appearance will do great things for the club and imbue the whole senior setup with a new level of enthusiasm for 2018.
Sawtell Scorpions vs Coffs City United Lions
A chilly afternoon at Toormina with the winds reaching a substantial rate of knots saw the table topping Coffs City United Lions eager to work on some tactics against a Sawtell side who had bowed out of finals contention the previous week.
A high tempo start saw the Lions asking a few questions of the Scorpions defence, though the home side held strong with a string of saves and blocks. Coffs coach Glen Williams was pleased to see the deadlock finally broken as Joel Digney fed a pinpoint cross to target man Deng Mayak up front, who finished emphatically with what Williams himself described as a piece of ‘aerial brilliance’ to put the Lions one up. The score would remain the same at the break.
Williams would have been somewhat dismayed by the profligate finishing of his young charges throughout the second half, as the attack continued to create chances and spurn opportunities to increase the score. Sawtell very nearly made them pay dearly late on as Josh Wiseman was drawn into what Williams noted as a ‘brilliant save’ to preserve the Lions’ lead. Ultimately though, the Premiers were able to keep their young opponents at bay until the final whistle and take home a 1-0 win to extend their winning streak to 3 after the setback at the Patch. Often-unsung defenders Brent Turner and Tom Hauville have been key in maintaining the Lions’ solid defensive record throughout the season and credit must go to them also for the clean sheet on Sunday afternoon.
Coffs City United Lions celebrate a 5th consecutive Premiership, their final winning margin of 5 points being the equal widest of that streak.
Sawtell’s squad is full of talent and with a strong reserve grade side – who got past Coffs 4-1 earlier in the day to seal third spot – to call on for reinforcements, they are sure to feature once again in the battle for finals in 2018. Amidst the disappointment of slipping away from the top 4 in the season’s final few weeks, it’s easy to forget the remarkable turnaround the club have made from a 9th place finish in 2016 with just 2 wins on the board. Their young players will only continue to improve as they gain Premier League experience and if the squad sticks together, it will only require a couple of minor adjustments to get them right up in the mix.
At times this season the Lions have looked in cruise control and have carried themselves with an indefatigable aura, but recent weeks – the Urunga game, a 3-0 victory over Westlawn where they were below their potent best, the 2-1 arm-wrestle against Orara and Sunday’s narrow win over Sawtell – suggest they may not be in absolute peak form. Though they will enter this weekend’s tussle with the Dingoes as favourites, having won the Premiership and come out on top in the last 9 meetings between the sides with an imperious record of 36 goals scored and 3 conceded, the balance of play in the clubs’ round 16 match up will give them good reason to remain wary and they will definitely need to bring their A game to take an advantage home to the 2nd leg at Forsyth Park.
Westlawn Tigers vs Boambee Bombers
The midweek catch up between these two sides at Leisure Park was an entertaining one, with Blake Herdegen’s brace spurring the Bombers to a 5-1 win. 3 goals in the first 10 minutes for the Bombers seemed to suggest a heavy scoreline was in the offing but even after Westlawn had a man sent off on the stroke of half time with the score at 4-0, Boambee were guilty of getting a touch goal hungry and spurned a number of chances to increase the margin. The pick of the goals came from the Tigers with a lob from 50 yards eluding Jake Stitt en route to a 1-1 second half that the Junction Hill side would surely take some pride from going into the rematch at home on Sunday afternoon.
With two regular members of their three man backline missing, a slightly reconfigured Bombers outfit adapted well on the fly but it was some time until the floodgates really opened. An opportunistic Brady Parker finish was the only moment to trouble the scorers in a slightly tepid first stanza from the men from the south in a rather rare outing for the cobalt away strip, but they were still able to create regular chances so it seemed only a matter of time until they pulled further ahead.
Brady Parker plays a short corner to Jamie Newling as the shadows begin to descend on Barnier Park.
Boambee’s answer to Rory Delap, Joe Willman, launches the ball 35 yards into the melee of the box.
With around 6 players backing up from the reserve grade match immediately beforehand, the Tigers’ first half effort was gallant and they created a few opportunities on the counter, but the endurance factor proved a bridge too far in the second half as Boambee’s energy levels began to tell on the scoreboard. A 59th minute Christian Penny strike was followed by further finishes in the 70th and 75th minutes to complete an emphatic hat trick. Not to be outdone, Parker, well rested after featuring for only the first 45 on Tuesday night, popped up in the 82nd and 86th minutes to register a hat trick of his own, the Bombers ultimately running out 6-0 victors.
Tigers have made the best of a difficult situation in having to rely on a few players putting in 180 minute shifts every week, but they have been a thorn in the side of many of their more fancied opponents south of the Clarence, even keeping Premiers Coffs United to 3-0 just a few weeks ago. Captain-coach James Joyce will be encouraged by the late season form of the club’s reserve graders, and attackers Jayden Coulter and Andrei Labao combined well in the curtain raiser to give Boambee’s goalkeepers – one each half – constant difficulties and ultimately bring home a 4-1 win. Next season should see the younger members of the Junction Hill side go in more experienced and ready for the rigours of Premier League football, and they will have designs on making Barnier Park a tricky away trip for the Coffs teams and potentially being a genuine banana skin for those looking to pick up 3 points.
It will more than likely be the 0 part of the scoreline that will most please Shane Duncan as his charges head into a crunch semi-final encounter with Urunga this weekend. He will hope to have a full squad at his disposal and Messrs Penny and Parker will need to continue their rich veins of form in front of goal to breach the competition’s most watertight defence – with only 12 goals conceded in 18 games. Off the back of 5 straight wins, the Bombers will carry momentum into the encounter and are aiming to halt a run of 5 straight defeats against the Raiders having scored just 4 and conceded 21 in that skid (the bulk of that damage coming in a forgettable 9-1 home reverse at the back end of the regular season in 2016). The feeling around the squad is different this time around though and the Boambee faithful will be quietly confident of springing a minor upset and going all the way in 2017.
Mere moments after the full time whistle sounded, man of the match and hat trick hero Christian Penny sprinted to the Mr Whippy van adjacent to the field to indulge in a refreshing soft serve, adding to the carnival-like final day atmosphere at Barnier Park.
Urunga Raiders vs Grafton United
A trip up to Rushforth Park on Monday night for the round 9 catch up saw the Raiders inflict upon Grafton their heaviest defeat of the season in a 16-0 result and it appeared Sunday’s return leg at the Patch would be more of the same.
With the Urunga reserve grade squad, having already clinched the Premiership, completing an excellent regular season campaign with a 6-1 win earlier in the afternoon after a 9-0 win against the same opposition midweek, the Premier League boys were looking to finish their season on a high note after the disappointed of losing out on the Premiership to Coffs United.
The game was not without a little needle, particularly during the latter exchanges, a few strong tackles flying in and first grade debutant Nick O’Mullane being welcomed into the fray with a traditional greeting in the form of some bumps and scrapes. The always talkative Joe Pettit was a thorn in the side of the Grafton defence not only with his runs but also his on-field quips.
Two of the competition’s most dangerous attack-minded players, Fabrice Wamara and Ben Dooley, both had a number of pen strokes beside their numbers in the referee’s notebook as they added to their already substantial respective goal tallies for the season. The Raiders would ultimately come away with a 12-0 win but coach Paul Pomroy will be happy to have escaped the fixture with no major injuries or suspensions heading into a tough finals campaign.
The Raiders will now look towards this weekend’s fixture with the Bombers, a formidable opponent but one they have had an excellent run against in recent seasons. The Raiders’ style has generally matched up well with that of the Boambee side, but while they will be aiming to exploit their foes’ new look defensive triad, they will need to be wary of the in form trio of Brady Parker, Christian Penny and Blake Herdegen who have been looking dominant in recent weeks.
Experienced stagers like Michael McCormick, Jaxen Heward and Jai Waddick are always key in these types of games and the Raiders will need those men to do their best work to allow the zip and zing of co-conspirators Wamara, Dooley, Craig Simpson and Tim Rupprecht to flourish.
Northern Storm Thunder vs Coffs Coast Tigers
A game between two evenly matched sides who had run into their fair share of obstacles and extenuating circumstances in season 2017, both Storm and Tigers went into this one well and truly out of the finals race but with enough quality amongst each squad to put on an accomplished footballing display.
A duly entertaining game played out, the vicissitudes and momentum swings akin to a Shakespearean drama. The Thunder started the more brightly of the two teams and went 1-0 up on 12 minutes courtesy of their go to source of goals, Jamie Kennedy. Four minutes later, they were two up, fellow long time Storm stalwart Mykel Watson grabbing his own slice of the action.
Just as it seemed the Storm had mustered up a real head of steam and were going to run away with the contest, the tide slowly began to turn in the away side’s favour, and with five minutes of the first half remaining, Tigers were able to halve the deficit. Four minutes later, it was 2-2 and all of a sudden Scott Donaldson’s Thunder were very much on the back foot going into the break.
The second half saw both sides playing for pride, with the winner to finish above the other on the ladder, and ultimately it was Storm who broke through with 12 minutes remaining to seal a 3-2 victory. The win ensured they finished the season in 7th position on 22 points while Tigers finished in 8th on 18 points.
Earlier in the day, the Thunder reserves clocked up a 2-0 win over their Tigers counterparts to finish 4th, only goal difference preventing them from getting up as high as 2nd. They will play the Premiers, Urunga Raiders, this weekend at the Cove in what is sure to be a high quality affair.