Lions forced to dig deep
CHAMPIONS pull themselves off the canvas when they are down and that is exactly what Coffs United managed to down several times in one of the greatest matches ever seen on the Coffs Coast.
A large crowd was on hand at Maclean St to witness the Lions win after looking like they had been beaten on several occasions by an Urunga team that was well-drilled and committed.
The match followed a recurring pattern. After Coffs United scored an early goal, Urunga quickly took the lead, only to see the Lions equalise every time.
By full-time the match was locked at 3-3 and another 30 minutes was needed. Extra time, however, was a different story.
In a plot strangely similar to the grand final the Lions played against Boambee three years ago, Coffs United hung in there against an opposition that hit the lead and pounced when injury forced a key player off the field, to take victory late in extra time.
In the grand final of 2008, it was the injury to Troy Fowler that opened the door for Coffs to hit back. On Saturday it was Ben Dooley's misfortune that was the turning point.
In another irony, Dooley was removed from the field of play by an ambulance for the second time in two trips to Maclean St.
He, at least, will be glad not to be playing there again this year.
Three weeks ago, Dooley was stretchered from the pitch after a mistimed tackle from Ben Mackay, which ended with Mackay earning a red card and Dooley saw red flashing lights. This time, however, Dooley pretty much did it to himself.
Leaping for a header, the Raiders' midfielder found himself upside down on top of a Coffs player's back and hit the ground, injuring his neck. Dooley did not move from the moment he landed and about 25 minutes of sunlight was lost as he was transported to hospital.
The next day, Dooley was up and about. "I had a CT scan at the hospital and it shows no serious damage, so that's a relief," Dooley said while sampling the delights of the Urunga food and wine festival.
"I'm still a bit sore but I should be right for next week."
Even though Urunga hit the lead through a penalty in the first period of extra time, the momentum of the match had begun to swing the way of the reigning premier.
If there's one thing you can say about the Lions it's that they never give up.
It's a powerful force in any side and, just like the grand final against Boambee, a team that looked beaten all afternoon came home strong, with two goals in the second period of extra time to claim victory.
Had anyone watched just the extra-time periods, they would have seen a dominant Lions team but for the first 90 minutes Urunga totally stretched them and opened them up regularly.
The fans will be anticipating a grand final rematch even at this point. To get there, however, the Raiders must back up and knock over Boambee, which proved too strong against Orara Valley Dingoes.
The classic clash against the Lions doesn't mean Urunga will easily account for Boambee in this Sunday's grand final qualifier.