It has taken 32-years and eight heartbreaking defeats but Bulli finally have their hands back on the Illawarra Premier League Grand Final trophy after a dramatic 3-2 victory over rivals Wollongong United. Marcus Beattie and Harry Callahan kicked Bulli out to a 2-0 lead at the break before United fought back to be level with only two minutes remaining. The match was poised for extra time but in the third minute of added on time, Bulli skipper Guy Knight nodded home the winner.
Both sides would have a couple of jabs at each other in the opening stages of the match. The best fell United's way in the 11th minute when Nathan Elasi squared a ball to Daisuke Yuzawa who scuffed his shot into the Bulli defender Kenji Takahashi who was tightly marking his countryman.
Bulli were the superior side in the final 20 minutes of the first half, a period which was kicked off by Beattie's goal in the 27th minute. A smart interchange of passing led to Beattie running through on goal before sliding the ball into the bottom left corner - his first goal since his League Championship winning strike on the final day of the season.
In the 30th minute, Ben McDonald had space down the left channel before getting a shot away that found the side netting and two minutes later Tobin Zoomers forced Sam Nastic into a scrambling save after a thunderous drive from 20 metres out.
Bulli would double their advantage six minutes before the break via Guy Knight's corner which found David Abel who headed it back to Callahan to nod home from close range.
The second half began in a lively fashion with Yuzawa breaking into the right of the box a minute in only for his goalbound shot to be intercepted by the retreating Scott Best. In the 48th minute, there was another inspiring block, this time from a United defender, with Mark Every deflecting Beattie’s close-range effort out for a corner.
The significance of Every's intervention was amplified four minutes later when his side pulled a goal back. Yuzawa was involved again with the wideman swinging in a cross from deep which was met by Kazuto Kushida who headed the ball into the back of the net from just outside the six-yard box.
Bulli seemed keen to shut up shop with forwards Ben McDonald and Mitchell Del Turco being substituted for more defensively minded operators.
United had extra zip in their attacks but apart from a loping Ben Brooks' header midway through the half, they struggled to get shots on target.
With McDonald and Del Turco off the park - as well as Dylan Lewis who was absent through injury - there seemed to be a lack of presence in Bulli's final third in the final half an hour so it came as little surprise that their two biggest chances came from corner kicks. In the 76th minute, Ryan Emerton blazed a shot over the bar from close range after Knight directed Callahan's corner towards him and five minutes later David Abel's header was cleared off the line by Kushida.
In the final five minutes of the 90, United managed to work the ball into the nercy Bulli box and in the 88th minute, the equaliser came. Kushida whipped in a ball from the left which picked out Elasi at the near post who flicked the ball over Kuwata and inside the far post. In the 90th minute, United came within a whisker of stealing the match when Brooks had another header which forced Kuwata to tip the ball wide of the top left corner.
The match seemed set to spill into extra time, however, with less than a minute remaining Bulli scored a remarkable winner though Knight - the captain and reigning George Naylor Medalist. Callahan knocked in a lofted corner which found Knight at the far post after a flick on and he nodded the ball past Nastic to cause raucous celebrations amongst the Bulli faithful who only had to wait another few seconds to hear the full-time whistle.
The victory comes 364 days after Bulli suffered a penalty shootout defeat to Port Kembla in the 2017 decider which left coach Matt Bailey lost for words. Once again, he struggled to put the match into words but this time due to entirely different emotions.
"It is indescribable," Bailey said.
“The feeling in the group is absolutely amazing, the joy and the overwhelming excitement with 30-seconds to go just demonstrated what it means to this playing group and to this club,” Bailey said.
Bailey felt a number of players put in commendable displays, however, he believed Scott Chipperfield Medalist Harry Callahan delivered a performance beyond his years.
“[Harry] was fantastic today," Bailey said.
"He got battered from pillar to post and kept getting up and going again. It just shows the maturity of the boy at 19-years of age to have such a dominating game."
On the losing end of the match was Wollongong United who had produced three of their best performances of the season in the preceding three weeks just to make the Grand Final. Coach Jeff Allport admits it is a tough defeat to take given he believed his side were in the box seat to win the match given the second half momentum swing, however, he sportingly acknowledged the achievements of the opposition.
“It is gut-wrenching," Allport said.
"I feel for the players, the second half performance was outstanding, they willed themselves back into the game and I am very proud of them for that,” Allport said.
“At two all we had the momentum, we had everything going for us and I genuinely thought we were going to go on a get [the win].”
“I am just thinking of the boys in the shed, they gave everything they had today and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
“As sad as I am about what has happened for us, I am happy for [Bulli], they can get that monkey off their back and get on with it. They have had two very good seasons under Matt Bailey and today put the icing on the cake for them."
Sunday 23 September 2018 @ Win Stadium
Bulli - 3 (BEATTIE 27’, CALLAHAN 39’, KNIGHT 90+3’)
Wollongong United - 2 (KUSHIDA 53’, ELASI 88’)
Scott Chipperfield Medal - Harry CALLAHAN
Bulli - Yuya KUWATA, David ABEL, Scott BEST, Kyle JACKSON, Kenji TAKAHASHI, Tobin ZOOMERS, Guy KNIGHT, Harry CALLAHAN, Mitchell DEL TURCO, Marcus BEATTIE, Ben MCDONALD
Subs - Baeden KLUDASS, Sam DAVIS, Blake HEWSON, Ryan EMERTON, Nik MICESKI
Coach - Matt BAILEY
Wollongong United - Sam NASTIC, Matt BRENNAN, Mark EVERY, Ben BROOKS, Hayden MORTON, Jake LEIGHTON, Sam MUNRO, Kazuto KUSHIDA, Cody WALLER, Nathan ELASI, Daisuke YUZAWA
Subs - Ben WUNSCH, Jackson BROOKS, Zac MCLAREN, Kenta AZECHI, Matt GORDON
Coach - Jeff ALLPORT
Referee - Nick RYAN
Assistant Referees - Blake HERBERT and Liam WEBB
Fourth Official - Bobby MAZEVSKI
Report by Dylan Arvela, on Twitter @dylanarvela
Photo by Pedro Garcia
Last Modified on 24/09/2018 22:04