August 29, 2018
This year’s football season came to an end for Gunners on Saturday when both the Women’s and Men’s Division teams were defeated in the make-or-break Preliminary Finals.
The matches were played at Nanango’s Burnett Street sports fields between the winners of the minor semi-finals and the losers of the major semi-finals, both played on August 18.
The Preliminary Finals winners will now go on to play Barambah and Wests in next Saturday’s Grand Finals to determine the season’s top teams and runners-up, while both Gunners squads bow out in third place.
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In the Women’s Division, Gunnettes were scheduled to play Nanango’s Panthers in a match that turned out to be almost as knife-edged as Gunnettes’ narrow win over Wests in the Minor Semi-Final the previous week.
On that occasion, Gunnettes walked off the field 3-2 victors against Wests after a scoreless match and scoreless extra time led to a nail-biting penalty shoot-out.
The Panthers, meanwhile, broke their own three-year winning streak when they lost their Major Semi-Final to Barambah 4-2.
The loss was a wake-up call for the side, and they were clearly keen to return to form.
Sadly for the Gunnettes, who have 14 sign-ups for this year’s team, only 10 players fronted for the Preliminary Final while the Panthers came onto the park with a full squad plus three reserves.
But what Gunnettes may have lacked in numbers, they more than made up for in heart.
To the surprise of many spectators, the match remained scoreless at half time and stayed that way until roughly mid-way through the second half.
Both teams threw themselves at one another with such ferocity that two Panthers players had to be taken off the park with minor injuries after on-field collisions.
But it wasn’t until Maxine Evans found the back of Gunners’ net somewhere close to the 65th minute that the Panthers sensed the chance of victory.
And when Lauren Sims repeated the effort a short time later, Gunnettes fate was sealed.
Even so, the Gunnettes drew praise for the fearless and skilful way they played right up to the final whistle, and their dogged refusal to let their heads drop.
“They really made us work hard for this victory,” Panthers coach Alan Downie said.
“I really have to take my hat off to them.”
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In the Men’s Division game that followed, Minor Semi-Final winners Barambah were scheduled to play Gunners in a match that could have been anybody’s.
On overall season form, Gunners appeared favourites to win the match.
The squad has sat at or near the top of the table for most of this year, and until their narrow loss to Wests in the Major Semi-Final, seemed certain of a Grand Finals berth.
By contrast, the Bears have had a much more mixed season, displaying brilliant form some match days and indifferent form on others.
But given the Bears have shown an uncanny ability to turn the tables whenever their backs are against the wall, there was a lot to be said for that team’s chances, too.
Rain had begun to fall on the park by the start of the match, and it soon became clear the Bears were in it to win it.
Their generally older, bigger and more experienced side played a quick and aggressive game from the get-go, giving Gunners as few opportunities as possible and dominating possession.
Gunners fought back boldly, refusing to be awed by the Bears attack and making many of their own whenever the ball fell into their grasp.
But by the end of the match, their efforts weren’t enough to prevent the Bears securing a Grand Final berth of their own with a 2-nil result.
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This coming Saturday, September 1, the local competition’s Grand Finals will be played at Tom Alford Oval in Kingaroy.
The matches had originally been slated for Wondai, but a dry month and many frosty mornings have left that venue in a sub-standard condition.
Football South Burnett officials made the decision to relocate the Grand Finals early this week after inspecting the Wondai playing fields.
The Women’s Division match between the Panthers and the Bears will be played at 1:00pm, and will be followed by the Men’s Division clash between Wests and Bears at 3:00pm.
A canteen will be running on site, and spectators can confidently expect to see two of the best games played in local football this year.
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Last Sunday’s semi-final between ladder leaders South Burnett United and Willowburn White didn’t go well for the local team, with Willowburn narrowly taking out the match 1-nil.
United were understandably disappointed with the result, but they’ll get a second chance at a Grand Finals berth this Sunday (September 2) when they face off against USQ at Dixon Oval in Gatton in the Preliminary Finals.
United triumphed over USQ 3-1 the last time both sides met, and supporters will be hoping the local side sees a similar result this time around.
The match will get underway at 1:00pm.
If it goes United’s way, they’ll be having a rematch against Willowburn White at Clive Berghofer Stadium in the Toowoomba Football League’s Grand Final on Sunday, September 9.