Central held on grimly to defeat Old Canberrans 2-1 in a gripping and somewhat controversial preliminary final in Men’s Capital League 1 on Saturday. They have now qualified to defend their premiership against the 2016 minor-premiers Goulburn next week.

Preliminary-Final result
Central 2 def. Old Canberrans 1

Central ride their luck to contain gallant Old Canberrans
On a chilly afternoon, both sides kept their supporters on the edge of their seats in a tight game of end to end hockey with few clear opportunities for either team in front of goal. Sporting stunningly creative coiffures, Checks’ James Day and Matt Sandford worked tirelessly in midfield. Central too were rock solid in the middle with Chris Jorgensen, Thomson Stuckey and Brett Funnell linking more often than not with the indefatigable Matt Hotchkis who took the field with a knee taped in bright lime green. Hotchkis played a more defensive linking role which proved effective against the pressing tactics which Checks applied to Central’s defensive structure.

With Seyi Onitiri barking orders and leading typically by example, Old Canberrans enjoyed dominant field position for much of the early stages in the first half, pressing Central’s defence and forcing them into long overheads as their most effective option of clearing the ball to their forwards. This tactic paid off for Central early in the game when a Tomadini clearance found Hotchkis who forced a penalty corner. The shot on goal was on target but disallowed for being too high. Undeterred, they persevered and in the 18th minute, another pass to Hotchkis saw him storm towards the circle, pass to Jason Donohoe who ran the ball to the back line; he then passed to Troy Sutherland who slotted the ball home to give Central a 1-0 lead. Central held on to their one goal lead which they took to the break, after surviving a series of circle penetrations but allowing Checks few genuine scoring opportunities.

This had been a torrid first half and the defence for both teams was kept busy. Central seemed to prefer using long flicked clearances to high forwards Jason Donohoe, Troy Sutherland and Jamie Hawke, while Checks’ attack routinely started with one-out running from midfield with Lewis Shepherd, Tristan Kearns and Isaac Russell busy throughout, working hard to make inroads but creating few real scoring chances. At the back, Tim Black for Central and Brad Fairhall for Checks were especially brilliant, repelling threats emphatically with no-nonsense tackles. A feature of the game also was the composure of the Central defence. They remained resolute under sustained pressure for much of the game, patiently weathering the storm with confident and creative passing.

The second half started with Central in the ascendancy and they almost extended their lead in the 44th minute when Hotchkis broke through the Checks’ defence only to find his tomahawk shot parried effortlessly by Checks’ unflappable goalkeeper Mark Ross. Checks continued to seek opportunities with long hopeful hitting from defence but their efforts seldom found their targets or when they did, possession was lost with poor ball security. In the 49th minute, their fortunes changed when Central conceded a soft free hit just outside their defensive 23. Onitiri slammed the ball to an unmarked Dan Conroy and he quickly shot the ball to Lewis Shepherd who scored.

With 20 minutes left, the game was tied at 1-1 and Checks had a place in the grand-final in their grasp. Back on even terms, they lifted and pressed Central’s defence but again they left themselves short in defence. A quick clearance to Central’s Sutherland saw him under pressure but after withstanding some wickedly ungainly if not, crude uncompromising tackles, he worked the ball to Hotchkis in the circle. Again Checks were vigilant and dogged in defence, but their efforts went unrewarded when the ball popped up to Alex Absolom standing just in front of the net and he put the ball away to restore the lead to Central with 15 minutes remaining. A grand-final place was again beckoning for Central.

Urged on by the plaintive cries from their supporters, Old Canberrans continued to search for the equaliser they needed but were let down all too often by rushed, wayward final passes or poor ball control. Undaunted they would not give up and as they lifted the tempo another notch, their sustained efforts almost realised success in the final minute. With 40 seconds left on the clock, the game ended with some controversy when Day received a long ball and raced across the Central circle. As he did so, he beat Central’s advancing goalkeeper Luke Black, but his shot on goal appeared to miss as he lost his balance and rolled to the turf. From the Checks’ supporters’ perspective in the grandstand, the gasps of consternation were accompanied by the adamant judgement that he had been subjected to a nudge from behind by a Central defender. Umpire Mumberson was of a different opinion and awarded a restart for Central from the top of the circle. Day would have nothing of this interpretation and protested vehemently that he had been pushed. His vitriolic remonstration met the ire of Mumberson who ended Day’s season prematurely, dismissing him with a yellow card.

After the restart, intent on preserving their crucial lead, Central wound down the remaining seconds on the clock and qualified to defend their premiership next week against Goulburn. Interestingly, many of the Goulburn squad had made the trip down the highway and took an avid interest in the tactics of both teams from the stands. Whether they learned enough to prevail next week, only time will tell.


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