August 29, 2016
Nanango’s Panthers chalked up their fifth consecutive 1st Division Grand Final victory at the Kingaroy Senior Soccer Fields on Saturday night.
A large crowd packed the grounds in freezing conditions to watch the Panthers battle their arch-rivals Gunners in a tense, see-sawing match that remained in doubt right up until the final minutes of game.
The electrifying contest capped off a six-hour day day of top-flight football action for fans, which also saw sentimental favourites Barambah narrowly win their 2nd Division Grand Final against Panthers, while Barambah’s Women’s Division lost out to the formidable women Panthers.
Apart from the 1st Division Grand Final, the Panthers also won this year’s 1st Division President’s Cup and 1st Division Minor Premiership.
South Burnett Football standing committee chairman Thomas Carroll said the three Grand Final matches were a great end to the season, and congratulated all the day’s players and their coaches for turning in brilliant games.
“You couldn’t really ask for a better end to the season,” Thomas said.
“Well done, everyone!”
The day began with the 2nd Division clash between Barambah and Nanango.
Two weeks ago the Bears had lost out 2-0 to the Panthers in their major semi-final but managed to reverse this last week by defeating Wests 4-0 in the preliminary final.
The win secured them a Grand Finals berth and a rematch against the Nanango squad, much to the relief of dedicated supporters.
The Bears also went into Saturday’s match as sentimental favourites.
All season many of their 2nd Division players have been backing up for 1st Division matches as well, due to a shortage of player numbers.
While this strategy of fielding exhausted players twice in the same day hasn’t paid off with any wins – Barambah’s 1st Division side finished the season with just one point on the league table – it has won them many fans for their dedication to the sport.
The depth of talent in the Barambah side couldn’t be underestimated, either.
Even though the Bears’ 1st Division points were abysmal, their 2nd Division tally was just one point behind the Panthers, a position the Bears shared with Wests by season’s end.
The Panthers, by contrast, had started the season indifferently but had constantly improved as the competition wore on.
By the end of 15th round when they went into the major semi against the Bears, the Panthers team had clawed its way to the top of the 2nd Division ladder, and welded its players into a potent strike force.
The Panthers also had the advantage of a week off while the Preliminary Finals were played out, so arguably came to the park the fresher of the two sides.
Both teams took to the field with the aim of winning the day, and their determination was evident from the get-go.
It was Barambah who drew first blood in the 23rd minute when Hayden Rennie found the back of Panthers’ nets.
And when he was followed by team-mate Ryan Sommerfeld just three minutes later, the Panthers refused to let their heads drop and ramped up their attack instead.
This strategy paid off when Sam Greley was able to find a hole in the Bears’ defence and boot a rocket for the big cats in the 29th minute.
But by half time, neither team was able to garner any further joy.
Barambah’s Chris O’Loughlin re-opened the Bears’ account shortly after the second half got underway with a quick score in the 46th minute.
And when Hayden Rennie sank his second of the day 10 minutes later to put the Bears 4-1 ahead, the Panthers redoubled their ferocious attack.
This paid off yet again for Sam Greley when he scored his second of the day in the 64th minute, followed not long afterwards by team-mate Trevor Adams, which brought the score back to 4-3.
But the Panthers were unable to equalise by the full-time whistle, and were forced to abandon their side’s hope of repeating the 2012 triumph that saw the Panthers winning all three of their Grand Finals games.
It was an understandable disappointment for the Panthers to go down to their opponents by such a narrow margin after putting in so much effort this season.
But if it’s any consolation, it was a match that kept onlookers on the edge of their seats throughout.
The Women’s Division match was also between the Bears and Panthers, with the Lady Bears’ path to the Grand Finals almost identical to their 2nd Division men’s squad.
The Bears had narrowly lost out to the Panthers in their major semi-final a fortnight ago, going down 1-0 after fighting the Panthers to a scoreless draw which pushed the match into extra time.
Then last week, they had won the right to a rematch by defeating Wests 4-2 in the preliminary final, again pushing the game all the way to a penalty shoot-out after a nil-all result in ordinary time, and no change to the scoreline in extra time.
On Saturday, the enthusiasm of the Bears’ supporters saw them ushered onto the field through a corridor of supporters and underneath a streamer-decorated banner.
The Panthers’ entry to the park was more understated but the steely determination of both sides to claim the crown was evident.
The two teams threw themselves at one another from the start, attacking one minute, defending the next, and shooting end to end along the park at a blistering pace.
But by half-time, neither had scored.
Given recent history, some spectators could have been forgiven for thinking they were going to witness another match pushed to extra time or a penalty shoot-out because the two sides were so closely matched.
But any such concerns were dispelled soon after the second half got underway when Bree Pogany found the back of the net for the Panthers in the 45th minute to open their account.
And when she repeated this feat 15 minutes later, it seemed clear the Bears weren’t going to have the best of the day.
The icing on the cake – for Panthers, anyway – was an own goal, which left the Bears on the worst side of the 3-0 scoreline.
The Bears were unable to improve on this result before the final whistle.
The match was a disappointment for Bears fans, who were clearly hoping to take home two trophies from this year’s Grand Final.
The Bears had played great football throughout the season, and were only a few points away from the Panthers on the league table by season’s end.
But the outcome was a delight for the Panthers, who had narrowly lost out to Wests in last year’s Grand Final after a three-year winning streak.
With no discredit to the Bears, the Panthers showed they were the best side on the day.
The match of the day that everyone had come to see, of course, was the 1st Division Grand Final between Panthers and Gunners, and it was one where all bets were off.
While Nanango’s 1st Division squad have gone through this year’s season with a perfect score – 15 wins from 15 games – Gunners’ season has been slightly less stellar.
Their eight wins, two draws and five losses put them 17 points behind the Panthers on the ladder by season’s end, and the raw numbers seemed to indicate they were the lesser side.
Two weeks ago Gunners had lost to Panthers 3-0 in their major semi, but had won the right to rematch last week when they downed Wests in the preliminary final 1-0.
All the same, Gunners have met the Panthers several times before in Grand Finals – including last year’s, when the scoreless match was pushed into extra time – and it is a side than can never be underestimated when the chips are down.
Which is precisely the way the match turned out.
The first half seemed set to be scoreless as both teams probed one another’s defences relentlessly and tried – without success – to find the back of each other’s nets.
But in the end it was Gunners who opened their account first, when Jacob Copas sank a rocket into the Panthers’ nets just minutes before half-time.
And when team-mate Torren Anderton repeated this feat nine minutes into the second half to put Gunners ahead 2-0, the atmosphere on the terraces was electric.
So it was an understandable shock for Gunners when Harry Sterling regained the Panthers’ honour barely a minute later with a strike of his own.
And when team-mate David Ashby repeated the feat in the 61st minute to equalise, the pressure was well and truly back on the purple and golds.
At this point both teams seemed to ramp up their efforts.
Simon Linnane put Gunners briefly back into the lead when he got a ball through in the 72nd minute with a brilliant rocket.
But when Panther Elliott Mangan sank a reply three minutes later to equalise again, the outcome of the see-sawing match was anything but clear.
Things stayed this way for a further tense five minutes until Kieran Mangan found the back of Gunners’ nets in the 80th minute, after which the writing was on the wall.
Gunners fought back furiously, but were unable to find a reply by the time the full-time whistle sounded, giving the Panthers their fifth consecutive 1st Division Grand Final.
Afterwards Panthers’ coach Lauren Mangan – who spent most of the match pacing up and down near the player’s bench – congratulated Gunners for a great game and confessed they had given cause for concern during the match.