Double Delight: Titans AA9 and AA13 deliver premiership glory in two tightly contested Grand Finals.

Post date: Aug 23, 2017 2:21:35 PM

A windy Saturday afternoon at Beaman Park set the scene for the Cooks River Titans All Age 9’s to secure their first premiership, something this team has been working towards for three years. Minor Premiers at the end of the regular season, the seasoned Titans defeated Lakemba 2 - 0 in a drama filled Major Semi Final to secure their berth in the division nine final.

By far the two best teams in the division, on one hand you had a technical Lakemba side looking to avenge their semi final defeat and on the other, you had a disciplined Cooks River side that knew how to get the job done. The stage was set (albeit almost being blown away by the wind) and emotions were heightened after three difficult fixtures between the sides this season.

With a blast of the referee’s whistle meant that the game was underway. The belief amongst players and supporters was that this was going to be a tight, physical game but that theory was thrown away in only the fourth minute. It didn’t take long for the break though a slick passing interchange between Titans players caught the Lakemba defence out, the ball was played into the box and found an unmarked Titans player Michael Watson aka ‘Watto’ who buried the ball into the back of the net, sending the large contingent of Titans fans and the players into delirium. This seemed to settle the Titans who appeared nervous before kick off.

The early stages of the match proved to be a midfield battle, with neither team gaining the ascendancy. Maybe the early goal would prove to be the match winner. Only time would tell. Both sides presented themselves with some half chances to no avail. Titan’s custodian Morgan Stebbing ensuring the almost impenetrable Titans defence had a great wall between the sticks, dealing with everything that came his way. Lakemba’s best chance came with fifteen minutes remaining in the half. A swift counter attack saw the ball fall to the feet of the Lakemba attacker inside the penalty area, however his shot went agonisingly wide of the far post. The rest of the half saw much of the same, with the ball being anchored in the midfield. The Titans had one last chance before halftime but their shot flew just over the crossbar. Moments later the halftime whistle blew and the Titans were leading 1 – 0 after a gutsy first half in difficult conditions.

Structure and communication were the instructions at half time and this was evident as the second half begun. The Titans came out holding the ball well and this frustrated Lakemba who found it difficult to maneuver through the wall of Titans defended. Special mention goes to Cooks River’s sweeper Dan who was exceptional; He did not miss a beat, thwarting every attempted attack that came his way. In the early stages both sides created several half chances to no avail, showing how difficult it was to get a strangle hold on the game.

As time progressed it was evident that only a piece of magic would lead to a goal and Lakemba almost provided it. A sloppy pass in the midfield saw Cooks River concede possession and the intricate passing of the Lakemba team saw them one on one with the Titans keeper but the ensuing shot was sprayed well wide. You could see the midfield tussle frustrating both sides as the fouls were tallying up thick and fast.

Then the moment came with twenty minutes to go a beautiful through ball to Titans striker ‘Watto’ saw him clear on goal, this was the moment the Titans could seal their fate, but his shot was well saved by the keeper to the despair of the Titans players and fans. Counter attacking football was the order of the day as the both sides exchanged swift counter attacks that were only lacking the finishing product. The relentless midfield battle was taking its toll on both sides.

With under fifteen minutes to go the game was on a knife’s edge and with one moment of madness, turned the game on its head. One of the most disgusting challenges you will ever see on a football field saw the Lakemba forward was rightfully and quickly sent off after Karate Kicking a Cooks River player in the chest once the ball had past. This left Lakemba in a difficult position trying to claw back a 1 – 0 lead against a Cooks River wall who were determined not to be beaten.

The last ten minutes saw very little action with the ball being anchored in the midfield, seeming like it would never escape. Then it happened. With a sharp blow of the referees whistle it was over. Cooks River Titans players and supporters were sent into delirium, as the AA/9’s were crowned champions with a gutsy, yet classy performance. It was a perfect way to end the season and do the double.

As the All Age 9’s lined-up to collect the trophy and medallions, the All Age 13s were preparing themselves for their Grand Final against Enfield. Much of the build up to this match mirrored the previous grand final featuring the All Age 9s: the Grand Final match was contested by the two best teams in the division and Cooks River as Minor Premiers defeated Enfield (2nd) in the major semi final by one goal (4-3 the final score) only to meet them again two weeks later in the showcase game.

Apart from the semi final, the two sides had met twice in the regular season with the Titans winning both matches 5-3 and 4-0 but if the semi final was anything to go by, this game would be a very tight affair. Enfield welcomed back one of the attacking weapons from overseas but lost their keeper due to injury in the preliminary final however Cooks River had two key players leave for overseas just to make the game more finely balanced.

From the kick off Cooks River asserted their dominance by winning most of the midfield battles with Peter Koutrodimos and David James ‘DJ’ controlling the middle of the park. After 11 minutes the first major chance fell to Cooks River after a free kick from skipper Tony Pantelis floated to the back post and was met by the oncoming DJ by the header glanced over the bar. The Titans continued to press against the youthful Enfield with no player over the age of 23 in their squad as opposed to the Titans who have 6 players over the age of 40, 11 players over the age of 35 for an average squad age of just over 34 years. Most of the attacking raids came from the wide midfielders with Billy Vasiliou and George Kallimanis pumping down both flanks to cause the Enfield defence all sorts of problems.

Occasionally, the Titans would dissect the Rovers structure through the middle of the park through some quick triangular interchange of passes and on one such occasion in the 21st minute it paid dividends as Mario Pandelas was put through expertly by Koutrodimos after the latter beat two players before laying the ball off for Pandelas to finish with aplomb and give Cooks River the lead. Moments later, a cross from Vasiliou found Paul Paras who quickly swiveled to shoot by the shot sailed to the left of the upright.

Enfield did manage to cause some problems of their own but most attempts were handled expertly by the well marshaled back-line of Gavalas, Pantelis, Kambounias and Mamatsis and behind them always barking orders Peter Solomakos in goals provided the reliable hands needed on the day. A key moment came in the 31st minute when a speculative lob into the box sailed over Solomakos but the ever present Pantelis cleared off the line. However, apart from that nerve racking moment it was the Titans who would go into half time feeling the more disappointed not to go into the break with a larger lead especially after hitting the woodwork on 2 occasions and a strong wind in their backs.

The second half was a bit scrappier as Enfield grew more desperate and Cooks River played a more counter attacking game against the strong head wind. The injection of Phillip Fourlas in the latter stages of the first half and continued into the second half assisted greatly as he expertly held up the ball on many occasions allowing players to run off him in all directions. Paras up front was always a handful for the Rovers defence and a close range shot from just outside the 6 yard box somehow was forced off the line. The Titans rotated their bench to bring on fresh legs in Peter Liaros and Chris Xenikas who both battled hard playing upfront and out wide respectively and hassled the Enfield players no end.

Another ball over the top again found DJ and this time his header hit the bar and out. In the 73rd minute the Titans were awarded a free kick outside the box. Pantelis stepped up and drilled the shot only to canon off the left hand upright but again the ball would not fall to a sky blue shirt for the rebound. The Titans hit the woodwork again in the second half to make it 5 times in total for the match and in matches like these one starts to feel that Enfield was riding their luck and may then snatch a goal despite being limited to shots from outside the box but it was not to be as the referee eventually blew the full time whistle to make it a well-earned Grand Final win for the All Age 13s.

A very good crowd was on hand to watch both Grand Finals with many family and friends from both teams as well as players from other Cooks River Titans teams who had come down in support of their fellow Club men on the day to add a brilliant all around atmosphere at Beaman Park.