Double for Lions
By PAUL CHAMBERS
COFFS Lions added the major premiership to their minor premiership at the International Stadium on Saturday night, winning a tight contest 2-1.
A penalty awarded to, and converted by, Lions striker Ben Mackay just before half-time proved to be the deciding goal of the game.
Sawtell mounted a strong challenge in the second half, but a gutsy defensive performance by the whole Coffs team just about saw them home despite some late scares.
Ben Mackay had an interesting night.
Booked early on, he scored the winning goal and then got himself sent off in the second half for a second bookable offence for retaliating when he had been clattered from behind by Garry Phillips.
The sending off left his team mates down to ten men for the final 20 minutes and it nearly cost them dearly.
Some desperate defending and some desperate finishing by the Scorpions stopped them from grabbing an equaliser and taking the game into extra time.
After the excitement of the Women's final and the lengthy delay in the kick off time the game had a subdued start.
The hour long delay at the start meant the players' warm up had to be completed twice before the game finally got underway, and this seemed to have a negative effect on both teams.
Add to this the weather, which saw heavy rain for nearly the whole game, and the players took their time to get into their stride.
Coffs managed to settle into their tempo quicker than their opponents and made the most of this by scoring the opening goal of the game.
15 minutes in and Ryan Turner stroked home the first goal with a sweetly struck shot from outside the box.
The Lions took a strong grip on the game for the rest of the first half and it was 35 minutes before Sawtell had their first real chance.
Then came the penalty to Mackay, and hopes of a Sawtell revival seemed to be dashed.
If Sawtell were going to make a game of it they had to come out firing in the second half, and to their credit they did.
Finally finding some rhythm and timing with their passing game allowed them to create some indecision in the Lions defence and score a crucial goal to get them back in the match.
Luke France was the goalscorer, smashing a rebound into the roof of the net after a scramble in the Lions' box and a save from the keeper which could only be parried into France's path.
For the rest of the game the result was in the balance.
The Scorpions pushed forward trying to take advantage of their extra man.
The Lions got bodies behind the ball, scrapped for possession and tried to catch Sawtell on the break.
Both teams had opportunities to score, but couldn't quite manage it.
The Lions, like true champions, held firm to ensure a memorable night for players and spectators alike.
Dion Ball was a happy Coffs captain after the game.
"It has been a great year for us and this finishes it off nicely," he said.
"I would like to thank our supporters and all the people connected with the club. The players were great today, Sawtell really stuck it to us but we fought well all night and stopped them scoring in that second half.
"We deserved to win." he finished.
Coach John Ross was also very happy.
"Wow! That was a grand final and a half wasn't it. My heart is still in my throat after the tension of that second half," he said.
"We always have great games against Sawtell and tonight was another classic, the wet made it hard with the ground getting very slippy but both sides still tried to play football.
"My guys have had a great year, winning the Minor Premiership and now the Major Premiership and they really deserve it.
"They are a great bunch of blokes to coach, they are keen, enthusiastic, work hard and are now Champions," he added.