Rovers may be 'best ever'
RICHMOND Rovers have set a benchmark that may never be beaten by clinching their third consecutive premiership double with a torrid 3-1 win over Goonellabah in the Far North Coast premier league soccer grand final at Crozier Field in Lismore on Saturday.
In an ironic twist, club founder Bill Harris was captain-coach of the only other side to achieve the feat, the now defunct Goonellabah Stars in 1960.
He then left to establish a new club to encourage more competition in the emerging league and that club, Richmond Rovers, has now emulated the feat, laying claim to being the best side ever.
The win completed an undefeated premiership season for Rovers, who have lost just five games in the past three years.
A crowd of about 1200 saw Rovers get away to a dream start.
Tim Casagrande was bundled over in the box and when he slotted home the dot shot Rovers led 1-0.
The Hornets almost equalised just minutes later when tall defender Paul Pomroy rattled Rovers' cross-bar with a thundering header from a Sam Ireland free kick.
Goonellabah held their shape well and began to apply pressure.
Starved of possession, Rovers looked vulnerable and the Hornets eventually scored a deserved equaliser just before half-time.
Ben Andrews hit a low, curling free kick from wide on the left into Rovers' box, where a cluster of players rose for the header.
Unfortunately for Rovers captain Joel Saye, the ball deflected off his head into his own net, leaving the two sides locked 1-1 at half-time.
The game was bearing similarities to the major semi two weeks before, when Goonellabah had the better of the first half but were overwhelmed in the second, and so it was when Rovers scored within minutes of the restart.
Tim Casagrande used his pace and determination to chase down a ball most players would have written off, allowing him to get behind the Hornets' defence and blast a low ball across the face of goals.
The cross came off the foot of unlucky defender Braden Burgess into his own net.
With victory now within their grasp, Rovers' experience came to the fore and they tightened up their game, giving little away in midfield and dropping back into their own half to defend in numbers.
Both sides created half chances but both goalkeepers were up to the challenge, with Andrew Marshall solid as ever for Rovers and Brad Robertson also reliable for the Hornets.
The game remained in the balance until just minutes from the end, when a late penalty gave Rovers the chance to seal the result after Jonathan See was brought down in the box.
Russell Dent made no mistake from the spot and when the full-time whistle blew soon after, Rovers jubilantly celebrated their historic hat-trick of doubles.
“There was a lot of relief mixed in with the elation and satisfaction and it's good to see the boys rewarded for their hard work, not just this year but over the past three years,” coach Scott Coster said.
“While I was very proud of the guys, credit to Goonellabah too because they outplayed us in midfield in the first half and we really had lift to get our shape back - they made us fight for it.”
Rovers midfielder Brett Lane was named player of the match, with strong performances also from his midfield partners Aaron Heffernan and Russell Dent, along with the Casagrande brothers.
While Goonellabah coach Brendan Logan was disappointed by the loss, he admitted: “While we played well, you have to admire Rovers' ability to win.
“I think experience was the difference. We have an average age of 20 and still have a lot of improving to do, but the future of the club looks bright, it's only a matter of time until we win a title.”
Logan praised Kale Hopper and captain Marc Rosenstein for strong games in midfield, but in the end the Hornets were left frustrated by their inability to break down Rovers' gritty defence.
The timing of Rovers' achievement couldn't be better with their 50th anniversary next season, when thoughts will inevitably turn to their campaign for an unprecedented fourth straight premiership double.
For club founder Bill Harris their 50-year milestone will have extra cause for celebration, after producing what he described as 'the best side we've ever had'.