It was a Grand Final replay in nearly all respects for last weekend’s North Coast Hotel Group Premier League Competition, yes the footballing wheel of life had turned one revolution and produced the same starting line-up as 2015 with the Urunga Raiders staring across that magnificent surface of the Coffs International Stadium at the familiar red and black of the Coffs Lions.
It was 3-1 to the Lions after that match 365 days ago, 3 or 4 players summarily dismissed by referee Jason Hillier in a robust match that threatened to escape said official’s control on a number of occasions, mmm if the players were nervy spare a thought for Mr Hillier. No sign of any of that though as Hillier resplendent in teal tunic blew time on at exactly 7.03 the two pre-eminent sides this season produced some excellent football in that first 45 minutes of play. The highlight for mine, Deng Myak’s stunner from 24 m after 17 minutes of play, plenty of energy expended by both sides to that point with neither side gaining the upper hand and few chances crystallizing for either side until Myak cushioned the ball on his chest and then swept his right foot through a volley that had Raiders keeper Ben Sonta doing a backwards dance. Little Sonta could do though as the ball sailed over his head and into the top right corner to give the Lions a 1-0 lead.
It stung the Raiders, but they’d been down before and survived and they came so close to an equalizer as well on 29 minutes after Ben Dooley released Luke France, slipping a ball past Ike Turner who was too intent on ending Dooley’s run to notice the great white shark that is France looming to his left, France sprayed the shot though but the speed of the attack had exposed the Lions’ goal and on another night.
The Lions not so lucky only minutes later, Fabrice Wamara had gathered a ball from Jake Leslie on the right flank neatly boned one defender danced around Turner and fired in the Raider’s equalizer after 39 minutes oh yeah 1-1 now, but even as Peter Tiberius Snow’s blood pressure was falling back to the safety of double digits the footballing gods were conspiring, whispering and planning, yes they were. The Lions’ Callan Allsop had played a long ball just over the head of Mick McCormick into the space behind the Raiders’ defenders and Deng Myak was able to gather and control scoring his brace in the 44th minute to produce a half time score line of 2-1.
On balance and the scoreboard the Lions had produced a better 45 minutes of football, had greater ball possession and just what the Raiders could produce now would be resolved in the remaining 45 minutes. And the Raiders started well, France came close off a corner, his header pushed onto the crossbar by Josh Wiseman, the Lions keeper - the ball looked goal bound and only the sharp reflexes of Wiseman diverted its destination. It would be Deng Myak scoring his third and completing a grand final hat-trick that really hurt the Raiders. A huge 3-1 mountain to climb now and if that wasn’t enough Caleb Lokpo made it 4-1 about 10 minutes later. Joseph Andrew Petit might have made it 4-2 had his goal scoring radar been adjusted. Pettit had slid between defenders like a wraith gathering a loose ball off another Urunga corner but sprayed his shot left a moment that will stay with him for some time I would speculate. Tim Ruprecth did make it 4-2 after a blazing right side run leaving defenders in his wake scoring from close range. But it was cold consolation for the maroon and whites with the clock ticking down. The final score of 4-2 had the Lions once again lifting the trophy for 2016 and the Raiders left reflecting on what might have been. And proud they should be as well - two defeats in a season where they progressed to the round of 32 in the FFA Cup only to be eliminated from that competition by a semi-professional outfit, scored 86 goals conceded a paltry 16 and with 14 wins in the competition, perhaps the footballing gods were with them more oft than not.
In other results the Raider’s Reserve Grade side had a solid win 4-1 after leading 1-0 at the break over a determined Maclean outfit. Goal scorers the Macc Daddy 2 and Cale Simmonds 2, to produce a grand final win for the Ressies who also had a stellar season with 14 wins, only one loss in the competitions, scoring 70 goals along the way. The club presentation night will be this Saturday at the Urunga Golf Club check the club website for details and don’t forget to get your six-a-side teams together for the popular summer competition, Go U Raiders! - Tom Campbell