Oakleigh Cannons Football Club will be hoping that Sunday’s NPL 1 grand final against South Melbourne will be a case of third time lucky for the club, which is still chasing its maiden grand final victory at the top level of football in the state.
Two successive VPL grand final appearances in 2011 and 2012 saw the club lose to Green Gully and South Eastern neighbours Dandenong Thunder.
On Sunday the Cannons will make a third attempt at a grand final victory against a team which is going into back-to-back grand finals −South Melbourne.
To get to where they are, the Cannons have defied many pundits who predicted a struggle for survival under newly-appointed joint coaches Peter Tsolakis and Con Tangalakis, who declared from the outset that the season would be about rebuilding and consolidation.
Now, after a run of good form which has taken them past Green Gully and reigning champions Bentleigh Greens, they have marched into a grand final showdown against South Melbourne, a team aiming to create history of its own by winning a 10th title at the top tier of state football.
Although South coach Chris Taylor has said during the week that the Cannons will be a difficult opponent for his team on Sunday, many consider South a warm favourite to make up for their grand final loss last season after finishing above Oakleigh in the league. Aside from that, the team has the home-ground advantage in front of which should be a vocal, partisan home crowd, and it goes into the match with a full squad and the same starting 11 it’s had in recent games.
In its two finals matches it appears to have sorted out some of the defensive frailties which saw it lose a few matches in July. Kris Konstantinidis has teamed up well with Luke Adams in the heart of defence, and together with defensive midfielder Matt Foschini, they have helped South concede just the
once in their two finals matches.
South will benefit from not having the fixture congestion that took a toll on last year’s side, something that reigning champion Bentleigh Greens have had to contend with this year. Commenting on SEN radio midweek, coach Taylor said: “We had a similar role reversal last year, but the schedule catches up with you, when you’re part time footballers. We train three nights a week but we’ve got school teachers, accountants, labourers; it takes its toll. I think we played 40 games last year and Bentleigh’s in a similar position this year, so it’s going to be a tough road for them. Watching their game on the weekend, they looked very jaded. But take nothing away from Oakleigh. They are the form side at the moment. They deserve to be in the grand final and they’re going to be a very difficult opponent.”
In some ways, Sunday’s grand final is a final few would’ve predicted before the semis. Instead of the top two teams in the home and away season meeting, it’s third versus fourth playing off.
“The final system is there for a reason, and arguably ourselves and Oakleigh are the two form teams and that’s why we’re in the final,” South Skipper Michael Eager commented midweek.
“Oakleigh have been very good. I saw them play on Sunday and they really deserved their win. If it wasn’t for a great goal-keeping display by Bentleigh, they could’ve won by more. They’re a very good team and we’ll have to be at our very best to match them.”
What Oakleigh demonstrated on Sunday in the semi-final win at Bentleigh was the potency of its counter-attacking football. It has the pace and quality in the front third to capitalise on swift counter attacks.
South’s dramatic win against the Bergers at Olympic Village hinged on two decisive moments, including a needless Reuben Way dismissal which left the Bergers a man down for the second half. That was followed by a defensive mix up which allowed South striker Milos Lujic a one-on- one opportunity which he dispatched easily to score what proved the match winner.
Oakleigh and South’s league meetings this season have produced a win apiece, with South winning the first meeting 4-1 at Lakeside, and the Cannons defeating a 10-man South 4-3 at Jack Edwards in their most recent encounter.
“I don’t think anything’s changed over the last month,” Cannons skipper and keeper John Honos said midweek.
“I think we’ve found fantasic form. I think our momentum is brilliant. We’ve just been doing what we’ve been doing every week, week in and week out. Just looking at each game separately and that’s what we’re going to do with the final too. Definitely these opportunities don’t come along every day. South Melbourne is a club with a rich history, a past champion. We’re definitely coming in as the underdog, but on the day it’s a final and anything can happen. May the best team win.”
In the curtain-raiser to Sunday’s NPL 1 grand final, the two NPL 2 sides which clinched promotion to the NPL 1 for next season, Kingston City and St Albans Saints, will meet to determine the overall NPL 2 champion.
Kick off is at 2.00 pm, with the NPL 1 grand final kicking off at 5.30 pm.