Rovers' win denies Byron's hopes of premiership double
RICHMOND Rovers' fighting spirit allowed them to grind down a profligate Byron Bay and earn a nerve-jangling penalty shoot-out win in the Far North Coast premier league soccer grand final.
The gutsy victory at Oakes Oval, Lismore, on Saturday gave Rovers a record 14th major premiership, erasing painful memories of their grand final losses to Workers in 2012 and Goonellabah in 2011.
Defending champions Byron Bay were chasing the premiership double and will rue their many wasted opportunities.
The game began at a fast pace with both sides creating early chances that forced saves from Rovers' goalkeeper Dean Morgan and Rams custodian Chris Jones.
Both were kept busy in an open match, but for most of the first half Morgan was the busier as Byron Bay applied plenty of pressure with incisive through balls for strikers James Tomlinson and Connor Cannon.
Eventually the pressure told when Kazi Tsukamato headed home the opening goal.
Minutes later Rovers striker Jonathan See broke away to confront Jones, but his shot grazed the outside of the post, allowing Byron to maintain their lead.
The pattern continued in the second half with both 'keepers making important saves, including a tip over the bar from Morgan to deny Michael Kelly and a smothering save from Jones to deny See.
Both sides also hit the woodwork, notably the Rams' Lachlan Dewar, whose close-range shot into an open goal thumped off the post.
The turning point came with just minutes remaining when Rovers striker Andrew Gray rose above the pack to head in a corner and force the game into extra time.
Rovers coach Brian Bugden made numerous subs to get some fresh legs on the field, including an unusual 'keeper swap, bringing on the experienced Andrew Marshall.
The move was a masterstroke with Marshall making some vital late saves, before playing a key role in the ensuing shoot-out.
After making two important saves in a penalty marathon that involved 22 shots, Marshall stepped up to hammer home his own dot shot, setting up Jeremy Perkins to slot Rovers' winner for a dramatic 9-8 victory.
See capped a stellar year with the Terry Greedy man of the match award to go with his Player of the Year and Golden Boot.
Rovers and Byron also fought out the reserve division grand final, with a 2-0 win earning Rovers a remarkable 11th title in 12 years.