Thistles secure first grand final appearance in 21 years
LISMORE Thistles have secured their first grand final appearance in 21 years after a nail-biting win over Lismore Workers in the major semi-final of FFNC's men's premier league.
The derby clash finished goalless after extra time before Thistles claimed a penalty shootout victory to seal the win.
After already taking the Tursa Employment and Training Anzac Cup and minor premiership this season, the Blues now stand on the verge of the first treble in the club's history.
In front of a big home crowd, Thistles produced one of their best performances of the season.
In a fast-paced match, keeper Brad Robertson had to make an early save before the Blues first chance fell to Max Hospers, but his powerful header shaved the crossbar.
Clear-cut chances were rare but pacey Matt Armstrong carved out several opportunities, only to be denied by Workers custodian Simon Cleaver.
Wayne Mortimer looked dangerous at times for the Redmen and almost stole the game with a late header that forced an acrobatic diving save from Robertson.
With the scoreless deadlock unbroken after 90 minutes, extra time and then a penalty shootout was needed.
Tension mounted as both sides slotted four dot shots, before Robertson palmed a Mortimer shot onto the post, allowing Jakeb Speers to slot the Blues' winning goal and trigger jubilant celebrations.
Blues coach Craig Kennedy said his team's committed effort had proved crucial.
"Credit to Workers, they played well," Kennedy said. "Our boys won it not just with their play, but with sheer guts and determination and their will to win."
Richmond Rovers' remarkable record of seven consecutive grand final appearances has ended after a 2-1 away loss to Byron Bay in the sudden-death minor semi-final.
In that time, Rovers have won four grand finals, five minor premierships and two Anzac Cup titles, but this year they will finish without a trophy for the first time since 2006.
Byron began well, with Golden Boot winner Seb Bell emphasising his importance to the side with the opening goal after 15 minutes.
Bell turned his marker to slot an accurate shot from the edge of the box, but Rovers responded when a Luke McWaide cross found unmarked Andrew Casagrande at the far post for 1-1.
The Rams had the better of the second half, with a corner providing the chance for Jonathan Pierce to score their winning goal.
Pierce latched onto the ball as it spilled out of the box, driving an unstoppable 25m shot home.
"It's disappointing that our run has ended, but the time was going to come sooner or later," Rovers coach Matthew Olley said.
"Considering it was a rebuilding year for us we've still done well, and we're already planing for next season."
Byron will now meet Workers in the preliminary final next week, for a place in the grand final against Thistles.