“Yesh sir, [hiccup]. Yesh sir I will.” – A slovenly Pierre-Nicholas Boyer, less than six hours before kick-off, responds indignantly to gentle questioning of his ability to play football in the morning.
A brave performance by the Herston Hatchets this morning saw them overcome all odds to win their first championship in ‘three or four’ years. The lads from UQ came from behind to beat Naita Phoenix 2-1, in an ill-tempered Grand Final that saw the opposition finish with just nine men.
An extraordinary level of hype had surrounded the fixture throughout Grand Final week. A record live audience watched captain Kregg Laundon’s appearance on the Footy Show on Monday night, and the Grand Final parade brought the city to a standstill on Friday. But as the players lined up before kick-off this morning, and the national anthem blared over the Tannoy at Opperman Park in Logan, it was clear from the expressions on both sets of players that they were fully focussed on the task at hand.
Player-manager Laundon was fortunate to be able to select much the same team as in last weekend’s semi-final win over QUT. Stalwart Drew Williams pulled the gloves on in public for the first time in several weeks, while Tom Souchen came straight back into the starting lineup for his final Hatchets appearance before his potential graduation this November. It was an emotional moment for the Canadian national, who was seen kissing the badge on his shirt as he walked onto the pitch.
Kick-off arrived, and it was an understandably tense opening stanza as both teams attempted to feel their way into the game. Phoenix moved straight into their traditional strategy of ‘kicking it as far forwards as they can’, while the Hatchets relied on a more measured approach. But it was the former strategy that created the first chance of the game.
A long Phoenix clearance from deep in the UQ attacking half of the pitch somehow fell perfectly for their moustachioed number ten. Bearing down on goal, the opposition striker had time to dribble past the dive of ‘keeper Williams and shape to pass into an empty net. However, the despairing extension of one of centre-back Simon Bennet’s telescopic limbs was able to clear the ball behind for a corner.
Unfortunately for the Hatchets, Naita Phoenix weren’t so wasteful with their next opportunity. The controversial ‘no slide-tackling’ policy of QIF resulted in an indirect free kick inside the box after a perfectly timed Mickey Ryan intervention. The dead-ball opportunity was driven hard across the face of goals, where it was flicked into the net by one of their strikers. An underwhelming first goal in the final, but that didn’t worry the unwashed horde of Phoenix supporters who had arrived just before the game in a courtesy bus provided by Logan Truck Stop.
The goal immediately spurred the Hatchets into action. A long spell of pressure created a number of good chances. One viciously curving Michael Alim strike found the outside of the post from outside the box, and it seemed only a matter of time until scores were level once more.
But the half-time whistle echoed harshly off the grim surroundings as the players headed back to the sheds, with the score at 1-0. It was still a quietly confident half-time address for the Hatchets, who took confidence from last week’s three-goal second half. They knew that scoring is always easiest with
The second half began with a slight reshuffle. Big man Alex Cote was thrown up front, with the surprisingly sprightly Pierre-Nicholas Boyer dropping back to midfield. The move paid dividends immediately. From kick-off, Boyer combined with the ever-present Toby ‘van’ Brunckhorst on the left, before Sonesh Amin played a through ball for Laundon. The Herston captain found Alex Cote in space, who was able to turn and take the ball inside the eighteen-yard box, before being cruelly hacked down by a Phoenix defender. The referee pointed to the spot with glee. Cote picked himself up, dusted himself off and sent the keeper the wrong way, to even the scores up at 1-1 before a minute of the second half had elapsed.
Cote was proving to be a real handful for the Naita defence. Ten minutes later, he was again the catalyst for some strong UQ attacking play. In space on the right, he looked up and saw the compact midfielder Alim rubbing his hands together in anticipation at the top of the eighteen-yard box. Alim was eager to make up for his earlier narrow miss, and struck his shot first-time. To the delight of the travelling supporters, the ball nestled snugly into the bottom corner of the net. Alim’s third goal of the season gave the Hatchets the lead for the first time.
The drama wasn’t yet complete. Although Herson controlled the play up until the 80th minute, Phoenix still managed to create a few chances. One fast break forced Williams to make an excellent save low to his right. The UQ custodian, who is a father figure to many players, carefully adjusted his cap before putting in another tackle on an on-rushing opposition player.
In the 80th minute, the game was completely changed after a Phoenix player appeared to strike Williams as he fisted a cross away. The hot-headed opposition midfielder, not content with one bookable offence, then had a crack at timid defender Mickey Ryan, who would not hurt a fly (it is alleged). Fortunately for fans of fair play and the FIFA bylaws in general, the linesman saw EVERYTHING and advised the referee to issue a red card. With a one-goal and one-player advantage, it was now the Hatchets’ game to lose.
A difficult task for the Phoenix became a monumental one just minutes later. Their abrasive number ten gave away one too many fouls for the referee’s liking, who proceeded to show the yellow card. That was not to our friend’s liking, who vented forth such a torrent of abuse that the referee had no choice but to give him a second yellow, and send him back from whence he came. Down to nine men, with just five minutes remaining, the match looked to be over as a contest.
The final whistle blew to scenes of jubilation from the Hatchets players. After a long and gruelling season, the pay-off of a grand final win was all the sweeter. Shown below is the team’s celebration in front of their adoring fans.
Pre-season training for 2015 begins this week. Bring your runners.