Souths put in an Olympian effort
THE Classic League men's hockey grand final proved to be a microcosm of the regular season.
Like all season, nothing separated Stingers and Souths in the decider.
But like all season Souths found a way to win.
And just like last season it was Souths' midfielder Dean Butler who was the difference.
The former Olympian, once regarded as the best midfielder in the world, scored from two second-half penalty corner drag flicks as they won 2-0.
It followed his player-of-the match performance in last season’s decider when they beat Saints 3-2.
It was another tight battle this season; the sides each had a corner and one genuine chance in the first half.
Forward Justin Betts ensured the crowd were entertained when he struck one out of the air that hit the crossbar late in the first half.
But neither team could get the ball over the line and it was left to the most-credentialled man on the paddock to break the deadlock.
His first flick beat the keeper with speed, while their next corner deflected off the post man's shin and trickled over the line for a devastating second.
Despite raid after raid in the last 20 minutes, Stingers were unable to get on the board.
Butler, a gold medallist in Athens, battled illness all week and was visibly sick on the night of the game, but he battled out the high-quality decider without a complaint.
He and skipper Todd Gill were outstanding for Souths, while player-of-the-match Lewis Short was devastating in the engine room for Stingers.
The fact that he was awarded the gong was symbolic of the tight battle – Stingers had more than enough chances to either gain a lead or reduce one.
"We were quietly worried about the threat of them; we knew it was going to be a close one and we knew we needed to weather the storm," Souths' premiership winner Garry Tippet said.
Tippet, who has worked religiously on his fitness to be in career-best shape, said it was no fluke they were able to keep Stingers scoreless.
"We looked really hard at how they were playing and stuck to our plan," Tippet said.
"This premiership didn’t happen by accident; we all worked really hard all season and everyone pushed each other."
Tippet paid special mention to 40-year-old forward Brendan Comer, who was the only Souths player to contest all games this season.
"He and I are the oldest in the side but Brendan works so hard and it's a deserved result," he said.
Stingers captain Rod Taylor was disappointed but proud.
"I'm happy how we controlled the game, every component was good, but we just couldn't get that goal," he said.
"We couldn't get the reward from all that hard work we did in build-up. But you've got to put goals in the box."
Meanwhile, it was another Souths and Saints women's grand final.
And surprise, surprise another extra time finish.
But unlike last year, it was Saints who got the spoils, reversing their gut-wrenching overtime defeat of last season.
Both times have been like an atom split all season and it was the same again on Saturday, with extra time required when they were locked 1-1 at fulltime.
Thankfully, unlike last season, it did not take another 40 minutes to find a winner.
It was Saints' striker Kath Messer, who had earlier scored their equaliser from a deflected corner, who found the net again to clinch the premiership.
"When it went to extra time we thought here we go again, but it didn't go that way," Messer said.
"To win like that was pretty satisfying after last season, it feels pretty good."
It looked like another Souths premiership earlier though, when they were able to repel the pressure Saints applied and reply with a goal to lead 1-0 at half time.
It was young gun Portia Bombardieri who intercepted a pass in her own half and ran 75m before sneaking it past the keeper to notch a superb goal.
From then on Souths' keeper Kiona Jones was sensational, keeping her team in the lead with a series of classy saves.
But Messer finally evened the score after a swell of Saints' possession, thanks mainly to the hard work of midfielder and captain Rhylee Pendrigh and former Hockeyroo Carmel Barkurski.
Messer was the hero in the first period of extra time, netting the decisive goal before running towards the Saints’ fan base and leaping in the air.
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Trophies: Souths bagged lots of trophies when they defeated close rivals Stingers in the Classic League men's grand final on Saturday. Picture: TOM LEE
Joyful time: The Saints women's team and supporters celebrate their grand final victory. Picture: TOM LEE