By Tim Klingbiel
Coffs City United Lions vs Orara Valley Dingoes
Orara headed into the second leg up against nearly insurmountable odds as they attempted to overturn a 4-0 defeat against the competition’s most consistent side in 2017. But if observers have learnt one thing about Joel Finlayson’s side this season, it’s that they leave absolutely nothing in the tank and give their level best every week until the full time whistle blows.
That factor alone meant this would be no routine outing for Glen Williams’ Lions, who would have been hoping to get through unscathed and put together some decent football in the lead up to a likely grand final appearance. Either the Raiders or Bombers would represent a difficult assignment should they make it past the Dingoes, and Williams knew this match would be vital preparation for any permutation of the following weekend.
Between the warmth of the afternoon and the bone dry firmness of the surface at Forsyth Park – owing to drought-like figures for precipitation in recent months – the conditions on the day were hardly going to be conducive to aesthetically pleasing football, and the scene had been set for a gritty battle that has seemed to typify meetings between these two clubs in the top grade.
With the early exchanges taking place at a typically rapid tempo, the Lions engineered a number of quality chances – any of which would have put the tie well and truly to bed – but profligate finishing proved their enemy and the scorers were not troubled. A resolute Dingoes side seized the opportunity the home side had gifted them by letting them off the hook and began to press forward with verve and intent. Their ability to create gaps in the lauded Lions defensive line was on display, and their endeavour was rewarded with a deflected strike that sent Josh Wiseman the wrong way and the score read 1-0 Dingoes.
The old adage of ‘you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take’ held true for the Dingoes and their willingness to have a red hot go saw them all of a sudden with a tiny whisper of the unthinkable on their minds. But the Lions didn’t come down in the last shower and have been in tight situations umpteen times before. The goal proved ultimately to be the wake up call they needed, wresting control of the game back from Valley and creating a hatful more chances in front of goal.
A few more misses got the gremlins out of the Lions machine and by the time Deng Mayak calmly finished to bring the Lions level, it appeared the demons of the first period had finally been exorcised. With nothing to lose, Orara had no designs on retreating quietly back to Dairyville – these men simply do not understand the meaning of backing off.
The second stanza commenced with some flashbacks to an hour previous, with the wasteful Lions attack again spurning several golden opportunities to kill the contest. Just as they did the first time round, the Dingoes again made Coffs pay for lacking efficiency in front of the onion bag. The lively Chris Dooley had been a constant source of problems for the Lions, and this time as he wormed his way into the box, he was brought down unceremoniously and the Dingoes were awarded a penalty. With chances few and far between, it represented a golden opportunity for the canine contingent to claw their way back into the contest, but unfortunately for the yellow men, the ball thudded straight into the bar and the Lions were let off the hook.
With the outcome now virtually a foregone conclusion, Coffs now had aspirations of winning the game as well as the overall tie, and it was midfield workhorse Aaren Allsop who stepped up to break open the Dingoes’ structure in the centre of the park and provide Deng Mayak with a well weighted through ball. Mayak turned on some dazzling individual skill to leave several Dingoes defenders and ultimately keeper Josh Harrigan in his wake, converting to put the Lions up 2-1 on the afternoon and 6-1 overall.
With 15 minutes remaining and little to play for given the way things stood, both sides could be forgiven for letting the high work rate throughout the match get to them, and there was little in the way of further goalmouth action. As the referee brought proceedings to a close, a dejected Dingoes outfit saw their finals foray extinguished, though they can hold their heads high having delivered the club’s best Premier League result in a number of years and taken the game to their opposition every week without fail.
With a high intensity, enterprising brand of football, Finlayson’s men have found a recipe that stands them in good stead for further finals appearances in subsequent seasons, and the trip to Dairyville has quickly become a dreaded one for opposing sides who know they will be in for a trying, arduous afternoon. If the core of their squad sticks around for another dig, there’s no reason they can’t go one better in 2018.
For the Lions, Saturday’s win was just reward for a season where they claimed a commanding Premiership and the thought of missing out on a grand final appearance would not have entered the head of anyone around the club, though the Dingoes made them work for every goal. Williams will have them ready and raring to go for a massive showdown this weekend, and though the vast majority of his players were there for last season’s grand final triumph and know exactly what it takes to win on the main stage, their assignment this time around would appear even trickier and they will need to be at the absolute peak of their powers to get home.
Urunga Raiders vs Boambee Bombers
The Raiders went back to their fortress at the Patch looking to overturn a 2-1 first leg defeat and would certainly have been favouring themselves to get the job done. It’s never an easy task to come away from Urunga on the right side of the ledger – in fact, not since round 7 of the 2016 season had anyone managed it, but intriguingly enough, that team was the Bombers. Put simply, the Raiders are a force of nature at Morgo Street and the confident home faithful believed a win for the men in maroon and a fourth straight grand final appearance was all but assured.
The Bombers are a different breed to your run of the mill guests at the Cabbage Patch though, and the travelling contingent were of the opinion that the first leg result was a sign of things to come. Having broken a five game drought against the Raiders, Boambee believed they had shaken the hoodoo once and for all and were ready to test themselves on the biggest stage.
The pre-match huddles took place under perfect blue skies on Saturday afternoon at Morgo Street, with a place in the grand final on the line.
The game got off to an auspicious start for the hometown heroes as they zipped the ball crisply across the deck, putting Boambee in a few pressure situations with one occasion seeing burly striker Fabrice Wamara clatter into Bombers gloveman Jake Stitt, who fell heavily but recovered in short order.
A long throw to Wamara saw him deftly flick a looping header into the six yard box, with Ben Dooley able to evade the attention of Sam Crampton and expertly fire home a precise volley on the turn. The Raiders sprinted away in celebration, whooping with glee, but although they had now edged ahead on aggregate by virtue of the first leg away goal, there was still a long way to go in this one and coach Pomroy would no doubt have been keen to temper any complacency and ensure the focus remained on the job at hand.
Ben Dooley races away to celebrate with his teammates after putting the Raiders 1-0 up.
The Bombers lifted their intensity and a rapid counterattack off the boot of Matt Ryan saw Brady Parker launch a bullet off his left boot that drew a smart stop from Lee Kennedy. Doing himself no favours to shake the ‘bad boy’ reputation he has garnered in the media in recent times, Parker collected a Raiders defender on the way through but the man in the middle, resplendent in sky blue, adjudged there was nothing doing and so the teams carried on.
Just a couple of minutes later, Blake Herdegen made himself a nuisance for the Raiders defence and collected the scraps from a miscued clearance on the left side of the box, striking an attempt across the face of the goal that Kennedy could only parry into the path of Christian Penny. Penny made no mistake from all of about a yard out, unleashing a thunderbolt into the roof of the net that might otherwise still be rising now.
The momentum was now with the Bombers and the crucial away goal had turned the balance of the tie in their favour once again. The Raiders gave away a free kick out wide and Lachie Moye stepped up to deliver the cross. From 40 yards, the ball floated seemingly innocuously through the air until some late dip deceived Kennedy and all of a sudden it was 2-1 Boambee. What initially appeared to be a cross had flummoxed everyone and the away side were ahead with the Raiders needing three more goals due to the second away goal.
To the Raiders credit, they continued to press with everything they had, and shortly before half time another throw in and another Wamara flick allowed a half chance to fall for Asama Radford, though he could only strike directly at Stitt. That would be that for the first stanza as far as goalmouth action was concerned. The loss of Dooley to injury shortly before intermission would hurt Urunga and force them to amend their structures in order to adapt.
The second half, like that of the first leg, saw a tighter midfield battle play out with chances at a premium. Both defences held strong and the level of play was what finals football is all about. Though there were a number of quick passing interchanges, the few threats on goal in the early stages of the second half seemed to come from set pieces.
It was Stitt who provided an unlikely source for a near assist as he lobbed a free kick into the mixer from well inside his own half, with Tanjil Everett contesting hard but only able to direct a looping backwards header into the path of Parker, who was then double teamed by Kennedy and Jaxen Heward and chopped in half only three yards out as he attempted to direct a header on goal. Despite the coming together of bodies in the melee, the penalty shout was dead-batted by referee Martin Gadd, deservedly anointed NCF’s Referee of the Year later that evening. Gadd kept a lid on proceedings well throughout the afternoon and it’s never an enviable task to oversee such a tight contest with such significant implications – to do so with aplomb makes him worthy of any plaudits coming his way.
Around the 70 minute mark, the Bombers won a corner after Everett and Jake Leslie got their wires crossed at the back. A pinpoint cross to the back stick found Parker, who stepped just off Lachlan Indian-Manning and rose highest to direct a header right into the centre of the net for a goal that was just reward for his efforts throughout the afternoon. Kennedy was left in no man’s land as he thought about committing to the cross and then hesitated in the purgatory of the six yard box’s edge. 3-1 on the day and 5-2 on aggregate now, and the Raiders would require another four goals to progress with only 20 minutes of play remaining.
Brady Parker rises highest to nod home Boambee’s third.
The resilient Raiders refused to drop their heads and while one would expect the third Bombers goal to knock the stuffing out of them, they kept plugging away and threw everything at the men in white. With the clock ticking down, an attacking raid by the maroon saw them exploit a rare lapse in a much improved Bombers defence that had only conceded 2 goals in the previous 4 games, and a pinpoint through ball released Kale Hopper who finished authoritatively to reduce the deficit.
At 3-2 on the afternoon and 5-3 down on aggregate, time was not on the Raiders’ side and the full time whistle blew with them three goals short of their target, a fourth consecutive grand final appearance not to be. Though the result brought crushing disappointment for the Raiders, whose reserve grade side were also knocked out earlier in the day, and whose fans quite simply wouldn’t have believed a loss at the Patch to be a possibility, they have a deep, experienced squad to draw on and will be back for another crack next year without doubt.
Shane Duncan’s Bombers on the other hand were elated, and within the sheds of the Patch delivered one of the loudest renditions of ‘My Eyes Have Seen The Glory’ for some time. They will be well and truly up for the challenge that awaits them in the form of the Lions this weekend, and will draw on the experiences of the 2014 season – where they defeated the same opponents over two legs to reach the final against the Raiders – as they go into battle. There is a different feeling around the squad this time and an unwavering belief has permeated the mindset of every player – with the way both teams have been playing, we could have one of the best footballing contests in several years on our hands.