PHOTO: VALENTINE SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Kahibah FC 0 def. by Belmont Swansea United FC 3 (Harper 49’, Shearer 60’, Rufo 111’)
Belswans win 3-2 on aggregate
Saturday 19th August, 2:30pm at Kahibah Oval
The wind was blowing a gale from the south-west and it was on the faces of Belswans in the first half. They were physical, paying Dave Hodgson some extra attention especially.
Matt Parker put one wide at the back post in the 21st minute, before last week’s hero Jamie Hadlow steered a free header over the bar four minutes later.
Tega Marcus hasn’t played a big role so far in the finals, and had a chance to make a big impact in the 30th minute – but his free header went wide at the back post.
The defining moment of the half came in the 39th minute when Dave Hodgson had a ball cannoned into his arm while defending from the front. He immediately went down and exited the field minutes later with a suspected broken wrist.
Belswans had the wind at their backs in the second half and took only four minutes to take advantage of the elements. They moved the ball from left to right, Steele Harvey was set loose down the line and squared it up to Tega Marcus. He found Mitch Harper in the middle, who finished making it 1-0.
Just over ten minutes later and Belswans were level. A direct free kick, beautifully struck by captain Joel Shearer nestled in the top corner with some help from the wind and sparked wild celebrations down on the sideline as the aggregate scores were now 2-all.
Cameron Lodge had a good chance following a magnificent turn in the 74th minute before Corey Wilson got up for a corner in the 87th minute and had a chance from three yards out. He lashed at the ball and got under it – sending it high over the bar, and the game went to extra time.
Under NNSWF regulations, away goals don’t count in extra time which meant whoever did the damage on aggregate would go through. Kahibah didn’t make the most of the wind at their backs in the first period of extra time, but Belswans looked more threatening in the second.
In the 111th minute of play, Belswans struck for their third goal. Dan Rufo rose higher than the rest from the corner, the tallest man on the park slamming home with his head to make it 3-2 on aggregate, which seen Josh Rufo do his best Antonio Conte impersonation on the sideline as he embraced anyone within touching distance.
Kahibah threw men forward from this point. Brendan Hayes put a chance across the face in the 116th minute, and despite throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Belswans, they weren’t able to find a way through and ensured Belmont-Swansea would feature in the Grand Final.
Belswans coach Josh Rufo was delighted with his side’s victory.
“The character of the team speaks for itself, 2-nil down (and to) come here, 3-0 win… our football was exceptional,” Rufo said.
“It was terrible conditions for both teams, but we both had to play in it and we scored 3 goals… we strung 400 passes to their one, we dominated the game.”
Rufo also had a word to say on the match winner, and next weekend’s opponents – unknown after they’d won, but now confirmed to be Cooks Hill.
“Dan is a big boy and he’s always a threat, so I think we tried it, he doesn’t normally come up that high (or) he gets a nosebleed but we tried it and it came off, so we’ll run with it,” he said.
“I think you should be asking the opposition if they want to play us.”
Cooks Hill United FC 7 (Lewis 33’, 45+1’, 52’, 56’, Gallagher 36’, Ashton 42’, 79’) def. Thornton Redbacks FC 1 (McAllister 81’)
Cooks Hill win 10-1 on aggregate
Sunday 20th August, 2:30pm at Newcastle Athletics Field
It was a slow start as some horrendous rain and wind wreaked havoc for both sides. It settled about midway into the half though, as did Cooks Hill who would go ahead in the 33rd minute.
Lee Ashton made a good run down the left-hand side, and cut in towards the goal on the byline. He attracted some extra attention from Thornton ‘keeper Chris Burg and used this to his advantage to cut back to Cal Lewis who scored into an empty net.
A penalty two minutes later would all but seal the deal for Cooks Hill. Steve Cummings was pinged for a trip on Alex Gillespie, which looked like a slip in the wet conditions. Cal Gallagher stepped up and sent Burg the wrong way to make it 2-0 and 5-0 on aggregate.
The party was only just beginning for Cooks, as they added their third in the 42nd minute. Tyson Fletcher received the ball inside the six-yard box and wasn’t told about the fast approaching Lee Ashton. The number 10 pounced, stealing the ball and poking home in the same action to make it 3-0.
As if a 6-0 aggregate lead wasn’t enough, Cooks would add another on the stroke of halftime. Fletcher again was caught in possession inside the box, but this time it was Cal Lewis who was the benefactor – he finished his second and Cooks’ fourth of the day.
A deflated Thornton came back out firing in the second half, but it’d be Cooks who’d make the early breakthrough once again. Cooks Hill found their way in first though in the 52nd minute with a near carbon copy of the first goal which was set up by Ashton and scored by Lewis.
They had a second of the half just four minutes later when a hopeful ball from the deep from Nick Russell found Cal Lewis, who finished into the far corner for his fourth of the afternoon.
There would be a sour note for Cooks Hill in the 59th minute though, which was an injury to import Jonas Ramspott. The big German went up for a ball with Thornton youngster Jack Halverson and came down bad on his knee which left him writhing and moaning in pain. He exited shortly after.
Thornton began to come into the game a little in the final twenty minutes, with Jamie Subat lashing one toward the goal with the outside of his boot and Jack Halverson missing an open goal with a left foot shot which went astray.
Lee Ashton scored for Cooks Hill yet again in the 79th minute, the beneficiary of a Nick Russell corner which made the score line 7-0. Thornton pulled one back in the dying embers of the match, with Subat finding Tallan Martin in the middle, who produced a nice little flick to captain Nathan McAllister, but it was only a consolation.
Cooks Hill scored a 10-1 aggregate win, the biggest since Maitland prevailed 13-1 across two legs back in 2014 – incidentally, against Thornton.
Speaking after the match, Cookers coach Graham Law was delighted to have made the season’s main event so the team could give back to the club.
“The Grand Final is for the club, and it’s the same in every club in Newcastle, the committee work so hard and don’t get to watch so now it’s at another venue they get to turn up, watch and enjoy,” Law said.
Cooks also had the chance to take away back-to-back clean sheets for the first time this season, but let a goal in late on. Law wasn’t too dismayed.
“Yes and no, because if you see the moment when we score we’ve made three changes, we’ve got a player off injured and I’ve got DJ up front as a striker, the whole functionality of the game was gone… we were on warm down for 20 minutes, so I don’t even register us as losing a goal,” Law said.
“Just as I don’t register Thornton giving up, the game’s dead at halftime and in fact, I told the boys at halftime and spoke about the objective of managing themselves… I knew the Thornton players would be frustrated and not in a deceitful way, but they would have rather been anywhere else.
“I just wanted to get to the end of the game with all my boys fit, and I haven’t achieved that… Jonas [Ramspott] is injured, Cal Gallagher is injured, Daniel Johnson is injured.”
Law was under no illusions as to the challenges his side, possibly a depleted outfit, will face against Belmont-Swansea next weekend at Magic Park.
“I didn’t ever think Belswans were out of the game [against Kahibah], but they looked to have got their tactics right yesterday, and we’ve had real in different games against them,” Law said.
“We smashed them at home which was very un-Belswans like, and then when we were at Belswans that was our worst performance of the season, we were terrible so it’s hard to manage off previous games.
“We’ll play anyone, respectfully, you just want to be in the final… you look through my squad and we’ve got players that have played in and won finals, so I think that will work for us.”