Aaron Heffernan (Richmond Rovers), left, and Kale Hopper (Goonellabah) go to the air in the grand final on Saturday night.
Aaron Heffernan (Richmond Rovers), left, and Kale Hopper (Goonellabah) go to the air in the grand final on Saturday night. Jerad Williams

Rovers win major premiership

RICHMOND Rovers proved again they are the big match specialists of Football FNC premier league soccer, claiming their fourth consecutive major premiership with a heart-stopping 2-1 win overa profligate Goonellabah in a dramatic grand final at Oakes Oval, Lismore, on Saturday night.

Rovers had already surrendered the minor premiership and Anzac Cup to Goonellabah this season, but refused to give up their most cherished trophy, coming from behind to triumph.

It was a heart-breaking replay of the 2009 grand final for the Hornets, as Rovers again rose to the occasion with a spirited second-half performance that turned a 1-0 defecit into a 2-1 win in front of a vocal crowd.

Goonellabah looked sharper early with crisp passing and plenty of running off the ball allowing them to create two good chances in the first few minutes.

The first was narrowly cleared off the line by desperate defence, before Hornets striker Mario Tinning squandered a golden opportunity with an embarrassing miss in front of an open goal.

Despite the lost opportunities, Tinning and fellow striker Thiago Priori continued to cause problems with their speed and willingness to take on defenders.

Rovers had gambled on starting injured striker Jon-athan See, but he had little impact up front and it took17 minutes before Rovers created their first clear chance which was skied over the crossbar, while the Hornets continued to pressure and hit the woodwork following a free kick soon after.

Rovers’ best opportunity of the half came from a blistering 30-metre free kick from player-coach Tim Sheridan that forced a brilliant diving save from Hornets goalkeeper Brad Robertson, tipping the ball past the top corner.

Just minutes before half-time Goonellabah finally got the goal they deserved when captain Matt Dorigo headed in from a Mitch Edwards corner to take a 1-0 lead.

Rovers regrouped at half-time and in a desperate move to get back into the game they changed their formation from 4-4-2 to 3-5-2 by pushing defender Scott Coster from defence into midfield.

“We had to do something; we had 45 minutes to go so we decided to go on the attack and take a bit of a risk at the back,” Sheridan said.

The change altered the complexion of the game as Rovers started to spend more time in possession and Sheridan almost scored with another free kick that produced another tremendous save from Robertson.

But the pressure on Goon-ellabah was mounting as Rovers began to muscle their way back into the game against their smaller opponents and the equaliser eventually came from the Heffernan brothers midway through the second half.

A shot from Jacob Heffernan could only be parried away by the ’keeper and fell to his brother Aaron at the far post, who made no mistake with a clinical finish from close range.

The goal lifted Rovers, while Goonellabah seemedto lose the tempo they had in the first half and struggled to create chances against Rovers’ uncompromising backline of Mitchell Flower, Adam Gray and Jessie Hartman.

In attack, Rovers’ target man Sheridan was attracting plenty of attention from the Hornets defence, but his ability to keep his feet under pressure proved decisive.

With 11 minutes remaining he ran on to a through ball in the box and despite being surrounded by markers, managed to pivot and hita low shot that beat the advancing ’keeper.

His winning goal cappeda spirited fightback that proved Rovers’ resilience yet again and confirmed their reputation for performing under pressure.

“The boys just love September football and once we’re in the semis we’re hard to stop,” Sheridan said.

“The club has lost only two grand finals from 15 appear-ances so there’s a lot of tradition there – you can’t buy spirit like that.”

Rovers already have the record of five straight grand final wins in their sights.

“That was part of our motivation; we want to be up there with the all-time great teams with another win next year,” Sheridan said.

While Goonellabah put in a good performance, they will be left to wonder what might have been if Player of the Year and Golden Boot winner Dave Annetts had been fit, along with central defender Paul Pomroy.

Both would have filled vital roles that were missing – a finisher and someone to contain the size and skillof Sheridan up front.

The Hornets were also left dissatisfied with some of the refereeing decisions, including an incident in the dying minutes involving Mitchell Flower, who could easily have been shown a card of either colour.

“Some of the decisions or lack of them were hard to understand,” Goonellabah coach Mark Ambler said.

“But we really should have finished the game off in the first half. They came back and took their chances, so credit to them.”

While Goonellabah has still had a successful season in winning two titles, the major premiership remains elusive and their drought now extends to 15 years.



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