Going in hard: Rovers’ Adam Gray (right) tackles Goonellabah striker Dave Annetts in the grand final last year. Injury will prevent Annetts from playing today.
Going in hard: Rovers’ Adam Gray (right) tackles Goonellabah striker Dave Annetts in the grand final last year. Injury will prevent Annetts from playing today.

Hornets can end Rovers' reign

GOONELLABAH has the chance to end Richmond Rovers’ three-year tenure as undisputed champions of Football FNC premier league soccer when the two arch rivals square offin the grand final at Oakes Oval,Lismore, tonight from 6.45pm.

The two clubs also fought out the decider last year, with Rovers emerging 3-1 winners to string together a third consecutive premiership double.

But since then Goonellabah has snatched the Anzac Cup and minor premiership trophies from Rovers, giving the Hornets the chance to hold all three trophies for the first time.

History also beckons for Rovers, who can extend their club record to four consecutive grand final wins, a feat achieved just twice in 60 years – by Italo Stars (1977-81) and Lismore Thistles (1970-74), who each went onto achieve a fifth straight title.

A consistent Goonellabah has produced a near flawless season, losing just one match on its way to the minor premiership, before moving straight into the grand final with a 2-1 win over Rovers in the major semi-final two weeks ago.

In contrast, Rovers started the year slowly but have been building momentum and thrive on the big-match atmosphere at the end of the season.

They bounced back from the loss to Goonellabah with a torrid 1-0 win over Lismore rivals Thistles in the preliminary final last week, but it came at a cost, with key striker Jonathan See tearing a hamstring.

“With Jono out we’ll have to bring in either Scott Crouch, who has the pace, or Matthew Olley, who has the experience,” Rovers player-coach Tim Sheridan said.

Whoever comes in will partner Sheridan up front, where the big striker’s ability to use his size and touch to hold up the ball and distribute will be pivotal.

“We’ll look to control the ball up front and get our wide players such as Jacob Heffernan and Shane Scicluna behind their defence to cross,” Sheridan said.

“But we know they’ll have periods of pressure, so we’ll need big games from our central defenders Scott Coster and Mitchell Flower, along with Andrew Marshall in goals.”

Goonellabah will run on the same line-up that downed Rovers two weeks ago, despite the absence of Golden Boot winner Dave Annetts and central defender Paul Pomroy.

Neither will be able to return from injury for the decider, but the Hornets have shown their depth can stand the test, with a game plan based on strong team cohesion and discipline.

Their hard-working central midfielders Kale Hopper and captain Matt Dorigo will play leading roles, while dangerous strikers Mario Tinning and Thiago Priori make up for their lack of size with South American flair.

Tinning was instrumental in teasing apart the Rovers defence in the major semi with his speed and ball skills, making him a marked man tonight.

Goonellabah coach Mark Ambler has been instrumental to their success with his methodical approach and will be calling on his players to ‘go out and play with confidence and the performance will follow’.

“We recognise Rovers are a very good side, but grand finals are all about who wants it the most, so it’s up to us to play well and create our own luck,” Ambler said.

The Hornets will look to their strengths of measured build-up play and supporting in numbers up front, while Rovers have the ability to stretch play quickly to create space, which will test Goonellabah in transition, along with their traditional strength in set plays.

With both sides having so much to play for, intensity levels will be high and whichever side shows the greater composure under pressure should have the edge.

Fitness could also be a factor with the strong possibility of extra time.

In a sign of both clubs’ enormous depth, Rovers and Goonellabah will also battle out the premier reserve division grand final from 4.30pm.

Rovers have dominated the division in recent years and after again taking out the minor premiership they will be looking for an incredible eighth consecutive major premiership.

In another remarkable achievement for the club, Rovers have five of their six men’s sides through to grand finals – premiers and reserves, second, third and sixth divisions.

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