Rovers may have the edge
RICHMOND Rovers’ hopes of celebrating their 50th anniversary with a fourth consecutive grand final win will go on the line when they host fierce local rivals Lismore Thistles in the Football FNC prem-ier league soccer preliminary final at 4pm tomorrow.
A grand final appointment with minor premiers Goonellabah awaits the winner, with Rovers favoured to go through for a rematch of the 2009 decider.
Rovers expect to be at full strength with their only doubtful starter being defender Adam Gray, while an injury-ravaged Thistles are starting to bear the scars of a torrid semi-final campaign.
After finishing fifth, the Blues have had to beat Ballina and Pottsville away from home in sudden-death semis to keep their grand final dream alive, but their success has come at a cost.
Missing from their line-up tomorrow will be central defender Grant Sinclair, midfielder Max Toovey, their top scorer Matt Parrish and his replacement, brother Brenton.
Brenton Parrish was the Blues’ hat-trick hero in their stunning 5-2 win over Pottsville, but a bad cork makes him a highly unlikely starter.
“It’s David and Goliath really,” Blues coach Ken MacPherson said.
“Rovers have the edge on us in size and experience and with a wounded side we face a huge hurdle.
“It’s great to get this far and we’ll be able to give a few younger players some experience at this level, but it’ll be tough to negate their strengths at set plays, such as long throws, free kicks and corners.”
While Thistles will start as the underdogs, they have plenty of youthful enthusiasm and speed, combined with the guile of seasoned captain Darren Beardow in central midfield.
If he can use his trademark through balls to release quicksilver striker Jake Nind, his pace will threaten a Rovers backline that leaked five goals against Thistlesin the first round.
That match ended in a remarkable 5-4 win for the Blues, while their second-round clash also produced an avalanche of goals, with Rovers gaining revenge with a 6-3 scoreline.
The two games were the highest-scoring games in the league all season, but Rovers coach Tim Sheridan is not predicting a repeat.
“It’s a semi now, so I’m expecting it to be a lot tighter, but if we can get away to a good start we could run away with it,” Sheridan said.
“We’re also keen to make up for last week, when we never really got into our stride against Goonellabah.”
The disappointing loss to the Hornets in the major semi is sure to spur on Rovers in the first semi- final between the two neighbouring clubs in more than a decade.
Rovers will look to their traditional strength down the middle of the paddock, where three of the biggest players in the league form a formidable spine.
The imposing trio of central defender Scott Coster, midfielder Aaron Heffernan and striker Sheridan also boast plenty of experience and on their day can dominate in the air, or on the ground.
If they can lay the platform for some of Rovers’ pacy younger players such as striker Jonathan See and overlapping defender Jessie Hartman to capitalise, Thistles’ defence will be in for a busy afternoon.
Despite the odds being stacked against them, the Blues have shown enormous resilience to get within a game of the grand final and will be motivated by the chance to write a fresh chapter in the club’s history.
The last time Thistles reached a grand final was a generation ago in 1992, when they went on to win consecutive titles after having to share it the year before – with none other than Richmond Rovers.
In the premier reserve division preliminary final, Goonellabah will host Ballina at 1pm tomorrow, with the winner to meet minor premiers Rovers in the grand final.