It was a massive day for the minnow club Daylesford and Hepburn United Soccer Club, with the seniors winning the Division 1 League and Cup Double, with an epic extra time 2-1 win over North United Soccer Club.
The Under 12s Girls and Under 13s Open also battled their hearts out in their grand finals, but fell short with narrow losses.
The pre-game hype could not have been much bigger for the club, with the league title already won, and the midweek passing of club founder Martin Szokolai setting an emotional scene. The squad welcomed the return of Dylan Nulty from injury and Claude Aryton from international duty, with some heartache decisions to be made on the starting lineup. Praise goes to Abdel Bennani and Josh Butler on brilliant seasons and their commitment, but they missed the Cup Final lineup.
Hiroshi Masuda led out the squad as captain, with his son at his side, and again showed leadership and skillful poise in a tough first half. The game started in a frenzy, with Daylesford hitting the cross bar in the first five minutes through the ever-impressive Owen Turbitt, from another brilliant Masuda corner. This has been a feature of the Saints' season - excellent delivery of corners from Masuda to the big guy timbers in the box.
An early goal wasn't to be for Daylesford, with North managing a cracking strike and run from Jack Gaffney at the other end. North's physical presence and desire for the ball was causing trouble for Daylesford, with the aid of a strong first half wind. James Milesi, Jordy Barnes, Lachlan Torquati and Dylan Nulty did a stellar job in defence, cutting out most attacks and through balls from North, ensuring the half team lead did not blow-out. Midfield was an epic battle and was a hard-fought encounter, with Daniel Mrowiec and Masuda copping plenty of hard tackles and winning plenty of the ball under extreme pressure. Mrowiec and Masuda have been the perfect pairing since mid-season, with both players winning balls and smashing tackles all game and were outstanding on the day.
Josh Duffy was lively down the wing, whipping in some terrific runs and useful balls until a collision left him with a suspected fractured wrist and an early end to his game. Duffy has been incredible all season and his skills were dearly missed as the game wore on. This brought on Claude Aryton, and along with the ever solid and reliable Bear Hackenburger, he played an excellent game in the middle.
Daylesford went into the half-time break 1-0 down and were looking for answers to a mostly flat and uncharacteristic half. Yes, the wind was difficult, but the usual pin-point passing was not a feature and panic was creeping in. If not for Masuda and Mrowiec in the midfield winning dozens of tackles, and Barnes and Nulty at the back, North United may have extended their lead. In particular it was Masuda in the first 30 minutes that held the surge of North back, intercepting a barrage of runs and passes from the youthful North attacks.
The half time speech was everything and the wake up the Saints needed. It was coach Dragi Koleski, and captain Masuda who lightened up the room, with a passionate plea to the players for 45 minutes of heartfelt football. "This is it, 45 minutes left of the whole season. For all our fans here tonight, for Marton, for you, lets play, switch on."
The second half started with North still defending well and playing some nice football, but a lift in tempo from Daylesford was starting to pay dividends. Dylan Nulty switched to the wing, Ivan Carter to left back, and the dangerous Jack Nulty up front for more firepower. Masuda was back on after a brief rest after some big hits from North, and took another cracking corner, straight to Dylan Nulty's head-foot, who scored a soaring header into the top corner. 1-1 with 15 minutes to go, and just what Daylesford needed.
The midfield started to takeover, with Aryton, Mrowiec and Masuda all on fire, and creating more time and chances as North slowed. The defence was cutting out everything, with a near perfect game from Jordy Barnes, who time and and time again cut out certain goals from North. Milesi was outstanding all night, and along with Barnes, Torquati and Carter, were rarely beaten.
The forward line was starting to fire, with Owen Turbitt and the rock-solid style master Adam Sadler starting to create havoc and headaches for North, both battling well all day. It was Jack Nulty who earned the praise, winning everything up front and tackling like a big game needed.
Extra time was needed to separate the two teams, after full time 1-1 scoreline. Daylesford took the momentum into extra time, and scored through Owen Turbitt against the wind. It was the third game in a row that Turbitt has scored the winner, after a relatively quiet game and solid marking. 2-1 to the Saints and gusto on board, with 20 minutes remaining.
A final is never easy and requires a mountain of skill, and some luck, but Daylesford lost their captain and best on ground to that moment, Masuda, to a second yellow card and subsequent red card. Masuda had put everything on line all day, including his body and a mountain of mostly top-class tackles, and was battered and bruised from a tough encounter. Daylesford managed to hold on with 10 men for the last 20 minutes, to win 2-1 in extra time. It was Brendan Connally, Saints' trusty safe hands, who also saved the day, with a string of perfect high class saves and fingertip classics, to deny North a winner.
It takes a squad of champions to win the League and Cup double, and the depth off the bench proved the determining force for Daylesford on the day. It also takes a supreme coach and captain, which Daylesford had both, to win a final and come from behind. Koleski and Masuda can hold their heads up high, after decades of no glory in Division 1, the drought has finally broken.
Score: 2-1. Best: Masuda, Mrowiec, J.Nulty, D.Nulty, Barnes, Milesi
It was a tough day for the Under 13s versus Vikings in the Cup Final. After winning the league title a few weeks ago, and losing one game all season, such an even final game was decided by a single wonder goal. Daylesford had some chances to score and did a great job all day in creating possession and solid team play. In the end, time ran out for the Saints, who came close to scoring but were denied by a strong Vikings defence. The team can be proud they won the League award and were the best team all year, except in the Cup Final. Score: 1-0. Best: Team effort
Under 12s Girls
The game was a tough ask to beat the top team Ballarat City, who were older and taller than their Daylesford opponents. The girls did very well to score a great goal (Ellah Carpenter), but lost 3-1. Daylesford put together some magic football, and proved they can match it with City, but not for 90 minutes on this day. They went down fighting to the best competitor in the league, who only lost one game all year and that was to Daylesford. The season has been a huge success - their first year in the competition - and they have won over fans on and off the pitch. It has been a huge improvement and a great development year. The club is very proud of the girls and parents involved in this team. Watch out next year BDSA.
Score: 3-1. Best: Team Effort.