August 24, 2018
Last Saturday’s soccer semi-finals provided some real surprises for spectators … and also sadly spelled the end of the season for two of the region’s eight teams.
The matches were played at Tom Alford Oval in Kingaroy, and kicked off with a Women’s Division minor semi between Wests and Gunnettes.
Going into the match, Wests were ranked third on the ladder and were pegged as favourites.
Gunnettes, who are breaking in a number of new players, have been cellar-dwellers most of the season and were ranked a distant fourth.
To add to their woes, the purples only fielded 10 players for the match against Wests’ full complement.
But if Wests thought they had an easy leg-up into the remaining games of the finals series, the Purples soon disabused them of the idea.
Gunnettes attacked their opponents with ferocity whenever they had possession, and redoubled their efforts in defence to deny Wests any easy shots at goal.
Wests gave as good as they got, but the end result was that when both sides walked off the field at half time the score was nil-all.
And it stayed that way at full time, and after 10 minutes of extra time, too.
So in the end, the only way to determine the winners was a dreaded penalty shoot-out, using a change to the rules introduced this year that saw each side take two shots in a row at their opponents’ goal.
Wests were the first to draw blood, while Gunners got nowhere on their initial attempts.
And when Wests scored again on their fifth shot to bring the score to 2-nil, Gunnettes could have been forgiven for thinking their season had come to an end.
But when West’ sixth attempt hit the cross-bar and Gunnettes’ goalkeeper Rahab Murray shot a rocket past Wests to nudge the score to 1-2, the tension amongst spectators in the stands was palpable.
This ramped up even further when Wests failed to advance any further with their next two tries.
So when Gunnettes found the back of the net to level the score, then repeated the effort to win the match 3-2, it was understandable that the joy of the team couldn’t be contained.
“We worked so hard for this, we deserve this,” Gunnettes captain Carissa Raines told her team-mates on the way to the change rooms.
“The same thing happened to us two years ago. It’s incredible.”
The match spelled the end of the season for Wests Women, who would be disappointed with the result after a year of steady improvement.
Meanwhile, Gunnettes will live to fight another day by securing their spot in this Saturday’s preliminary final game against Nanango’s Panthers.
In the Men’s Division minor semi that followed, Barambah defeated Nanango 10-nil in a result that came as no real surprise to anyone.
Nanango have struggled for numbers all year, and the depth of talent in the side has been badly dented by having its most experienced players sign up for berths with South Burnett United.
This has meant that while the male Panthers weren’t quite as deep in the cellar as the Gunnettes, they were still a long way behind the third-pegged Bears, who have good depth in their side and many years of solid playing experience under their collective belts.
The match saw Barambah run all over the Panthers as most spectators expected, slicing their way to a big point score with apparent ease.
To their credit, the Panthers have stuck at their game all season despite the many difficulties they’ve faced.
And they doggedly refused to let their heads drop through the 15 weeks of competition that preceded the minor semi-final game, which saw them fail to notch up a single win.
Their season may have come to an end, but Nanango’s reputation for producing the local competition’s hard men certainly hasn’t.
The second big surprise of the day came in the Women’s Division major semi-final, where Barambah dealt the lady Panthers their first loss in three years by taking the match 4-2.
Early this season, Bears captain Elle Mollenhauer had forecast that this year’s Women’s Division Grand Final would be fought between the Bears and Panthers, and it seems she may be clairvoyant.
While the match wasn’t as sudden-death as the minor semis are – the winner secures a spot in the Grand final while the loser gets a second chance for a Grand Finals berth by going on to the Preliminary Finals – Panthers still went on to the park as favourites to win.
This was because the lady Panthers have performed flawlessly so far this season, just as they did in 2016 and 2017.
The lady Bears, by contrast, have had a bit more of a roller-coaster ride this year, with occasional player shortages and form that has sometimes failed to fire.
But on Saturday the lady Bears proved hungrier for the ball – and the win – than the lady Panthers, despite the fact the score was tied at nil-all at half time.
In the second half, Barambah kept up the pressure and were rewarded with points, thanks to blistering goal-scoring by Sarah Kemp and Courtney Thompson that saw the Bears sink their final goal in the dying minutes of the match.
The lady Bears now have their spot in this year’s Grand Finals, and the pressure will now be on Nanango when they play the Gunnettes this Saturday to see who’ll get the second berth.
The third surprise of the day came in the Men’s Division major semi between Wests and Gunners, where no-one could predict the outcome in advance.
For most of this season, these two Kingaroy sides have jostled for leadership at the top of the table.
They have been so closely matched that there have been times when it would be hard to slip a cigarette paper between them.
As a result, neither side were clear favourites and most spectators felt the match was anybody’s … which is pretty much how things turned out.
Both teams turned out to be very evenly matched for the full length of the game, which ultimately saw Wests secure their Grand Final spot with a very narrow 1-nil win.
Gunners will now play Barambah for the other Grand Final berth.
The Preliminary Finals will be played at the Nanango Sports Fields in Burnett Street this Saturday, August 25.
Winners of these matches will go on to the Grand Finals on Saturday, September 1 while the losers will bow out of this year’s competition.