West Wallsend Bluebells 2 (Tye Jones, Joe Holt) def. by Belmont-Swansea United 4 (Clayton Poole x3, Corey Wilson)
Sunday 2nd September, 2:30 pm, Jack McLaughlan Oval
It was a Grand Final day involving two sides who were desperate to add an anticipated and historic championship to their accomplishments but when the final whistle sounded, it was Belswans who captured their first in 32 years.
West Wallsend were looking for their first championship title since 2007, while Blacksmiths were hoping to not become the first side in league history to lose three consecutive Grand Finals.
Both sides built their successful 2018 seasons on their speed and physicality and it was those qualities that saw the game begin frantically.
The match was only four minutes old when Klaudon Ahmataj came close with his boot to a low cross, but his side took the lead just minutes later through their star forward Clayton Poole.
A crossed ball bounced around in the box and couldn’t be cleared by the Bluebells’ defence leading to Poole bundling in the ball, however, their lead wasn’t around for long.
West Wallsend midfielder Bailey Jensen had a curling shot saved by a diving Ben Parmenter, but the follow-up play was good enough to make its way past the Belswans keeper. Ryan Cole latched onto the corner with a shot that was blocked, but the rebound was scrapped in by prolific striker Tye Jones to equal the score after ten minutes.
Belswans defender Corey Wilson began to create problems for the West Wallsend defence and his efforts came to fruition when he put his team back into the lead midway through the first half. He played a looming ball into the box at the feet of Ahmataj who then attempted to turn and shoot for goal. His shot was blocked but fell perfectly for a running Wilson who tucked it away past Jesse Cook in goals.
Rough and hardened challenges followed as both sides battled for supremacy and chances came at a premium including both Chris Gazzard and Brendan Frost launching shots high over the crossbar as well as a Poole free-kick that rattled it in the last moments of the opening half.
Poole made no mistakes in the second half though and opened it in style with a stunning goal. He received a pass out wide on the right corner of the penalty box, turned back onto his right foot and curled his shot into the bottom left corner of the net.
Down by two, the Bluebells pushed hard in the hunt to work their way back into the contest. Adam Cooper looked like he had made a chance after juggling the ball over Belswans defenders, but his shot sailed too high.
The introduction of substitution Cameron Lodge for Belswans caused havoc up front and with West Wallsend’s minds focused on scoring, their defence became fragile and it was Lodge who created the fourth and sealing goal for the boys from Blacksmiths.
A pass that found its way behind the defence didn’t seem as though it’d have much impact as Jesse Cook looked to collect it easily, but a determined Lodge was able to nick the ball away from the goalkeeper straight to Clayton Poole who completed his Grand Final hat-trick knocking it into the open net.
As they have all year, the Bluebells continued to fight right until the end and Joe Holt grabbed one back for his side toeing a through ball past Ben Parmenter, but his side still fell two goals short, and it’d be Belswans who’d take the championship trophy back to Blacksmiths.
Belswans’ championship-winning coach Josh Rufo said it was an achievement that he felt the club deserved as a result of their tireless, hard work over the course of the season and recent years.
“There’s been a lot of hard work that’s gone into it, and I think it’s [winning the championship] rightly deserved,” Rufo said.
“I think it’s a just reward for all the hard work that’s gone into running the football club.
“Football is about being consistent…we’ve been in three Grand Finals in a row and not many teams can say that.”
“We said in the sheds ‘we just have to trust in what we’re doing. We’ve gotten here for a reason, let’s just keep doing what we’ve been doing.’
“There’s no great science behind it, just a lot of hard work.”
Rufo suggested it was a strong overall performance from his side that won them the title but also gave special mention to attacker Clayton Poole for his efforts and a big contribution to the win.
“I’m not one for singling out players, but it’d be hard to go past Clayton Poole,” Rufo said.
“There were so many players who played well, it was a very good team performance but if you had to single out someone, you’d give it to Clayton Poole just for that X-factor.
“He showed all his quality and wound back the clock.
“I thought it was a really competitive game.
“I think we were better in those little moments in the game. I think we probably worked that little bit harder off the ball and we wanted it just that little bit more.
The Grand Final stood as Rufo’s last game in charge at the club and he said it was a comforting note to leave on.
“For me personally, I think that win was more pleasing for me than my previous one,” Rufo said.
“I got to do it with my brother who was a great part of it and with a lot of good friends like Mick Stafford and all the players.
“It’s very special…it’s good to be able to say I was going to do something and now I’ve done it.”