Grand Final Preview
MAITLAND FC VS. EDGEWORTH EAGLES FC
SUNDAY 15TH SEPTEMBER, 3:00PM, MAGIC PARK
Ladder: Maitland 1st (43 points); Edgeworth 3rd (38 points)
Head-to-head: Maitland FC 2 def. Edgeworth FC 1 – Round 7; Edgeworth FC 3 def. Maitland FC 1– Round 18
Road to the Grand Final: Maitland FC def. Broadmeadow Magic FC 3-3 on aggregate (2-1 on away goals), Edgeworth FC def. Lambton Jaffas FC 5-1 on aggregate
Well, what a Grand Final we have in store. The two sides who battled it out for the Premiership right up to the final matchday of the regular season will once again go toe-to-toe, as the Premiers Maitland feature in their first-ever top-tier Grand Final against an Edgeworth side who have been there for the past five years.
While the Eagles spent most their season either on or around the top of the table, the Magpies pulled off a tremendous run of form in the back half of the year to fly into the Premiership spot in the last few rounds and winning the trophy for the first time in their history.
Just five years ago, Maitland were plying their trade in the second division and in a few, short years, have rocketed themselves onto the league’s biggest stage.
Although they only just snuck through scoring a late stoppage-time goal to progress on the away goals rule in the Semi-Final over Broadmeadow, the Magpies’ last loss in the league came all the way back in July nine games ago, when they were defeated by – you guessed it – Edgeworth, their Grand Final opponents.
They did manage to defeat the Eagles earlier in the year following two stoppage-time goals and if their opponents aren’t focused and alert for the full 90 minutes this time around, the Magpies may just make them pay.
Edgeworth once again set the benchmark for the rest of the competition to aim for in 2019 despite the multitude of unavailable players they accrued over the season to achieve what few clubs have done before – qualify for five straight Grand Finals.
Having lost in the big dance the last two seasons, the Eagles will be focused to once again have their name etched on the Grand Final Winners trophy and welcome back two of their veteran stars, Josh Evans and Daniel McBreen, to lead around what is a rather young line-up in comparison to their opponents.
They ran through their Semi-Final opponents Lambton with a 5-1 aggregate win and have a great record when playing at Magic Park with an undefeated streak that spans back to 2012 and includes two Grand Final wins and 13 goals in their past four games there.
While most of the Edgeworth side have accumulated much familiarity with the Grand Final over the past few years, the Magpies also have a wealth of experienced stars and numerous big names who have contested major matches in the league and beyond.
The Eagles earned a 3-1 victory against Maitland in their most recent match, but with this match being played at a neutral venue, neither will go in as out-and-out favourites, setting up one of the most fascinating Grand Final encounters in recent years between our two 2019 FFA Cup Round of 32 participants.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
A man who has been pivotal to the club’s success in the second half of the year has been their new mid-season signing, Nick Cowburn, who joined the club from the Hyundai A-League Newcastle Jets. Playing in an attacking midfield role, Cowburn hasn’t taken long to find his feet in the Magpies squad and has managed to not only use his great passing and dribbling skills to create goals but has been scoring them himself too.
Further back the pitch, young central defender Zach Thomas, has been one of the breakout stars of the competition in 2019 and will again be looked upon for his strength, speed and terrific ability to defuse goal-scoring chances in the defensive department to keep out an Edgeworth team that managed 49 goals over the course of the year.
It would be amiss to not also mention the expertise that has often come the Maitland substitute’s bench this season, as Matt Thompson, Alex Read and Sean Pratt all add a bright spark to the field and have proven to be able to turn the tide in their favour late in a game when they arrive.
The Eagles have missed many of their usual stars in 2019, but one name who has constantly shone and lead the team around has been that of Pat Wheeler. While he usually features as a solid defensive player, he is also sound with the ball at his feet and passing it into dangerous areas and may feature as a holding midfielder in the big game.
Young, creative midfielders Keanu Moore and Aden Gardner have both been exceptional this season and often play a key part in most of the goals scored by their team. If they both are able to produce a stellar performance, the Maitland defence may be powerless in stopping the offensive onslaught.
While Edgeworth frequently look to dominate the midfield, their wide backs, Josh Rose and Tyson Jackson, have also been integral when going forward and have created numerous goals with their crossing and overlapping runs.
WHAT THE COACHES SAID:
Mick Bolch – Maitland FC
“It’s a brilliant achievement for the club.
“The best team all year wins the Premiership and the boys have won that, this is just the icing on the cake.
“It’s a credit to the group and the club. It’s really put ourselves as one of the top clubs in Northern NSW.
“Edgy is going to be very tough. They’ve got plenty of experience.
“It’s a very tactical game against Zaney [Damian]. He’ll change a few things up. Realistically, they’re the best side in the comp, not including ourselves, but they have been, for a few years.
“I think the boys will hold themselves in good stead on the day. We’ve got plenty of experience there. Most of the boys have already featured in a Grand Final and we’ve got experience like Thommo [Matt Thompson], the Thornton boys [Carl and Liam], Woodsy [Joel], the Swans [Matt and Andrew] and Trotty [Matt], they’ll control the emotions and the temperate of the young boys on the day.
“The boys all know their roles and what they have to do, so we’ll just continue with what we do and see how we go.
“It means everything to myself and the players. It’s the big day and everyone remembers the big day. You don’t just want to be part of it, you want to win.”
Damian Zane – Edgeworth Eagles
“It’s a feather in the cap for the players and it’s a great achievement for the club.
“I think it’s really hard after you’ve won the Premiership to back it up. I know myself because we haven’t won the Premiership this year, I’m a lot hungrier for success in the Grand Final now.
“It’s been a pretty surreal ride. Credit has to go to the players and the level that they continue to reach each season. It’s so consistent. This year has been a tough year but those standards that they players set have shone through and guys come in and do a job and we don’t drop off too far so it’s a credit to them really.
“I thought last year some of the boys, you could see, we’re quite nervous. I say to the boys, ‘I used to get nervous to do tests at school because I never did the hard work’… They’ve done all the hard work, so I think a few of those younger guys would have learnt their lesson to not play their game before the kick-off.
“We’ve got a good mix now but and I’m confident we can get a better result.
“There’s always little adjustments depending on the opposition and their strengths and weaknesses, but the general basis of our game won’t change too much.
“We’ll try to target a few certain areas of their weaker spots, but you don’t get to a Grand Final with massive weaknesses. They’re only little things.
“It really does come down to who shows up on the day.”
Key: In the two encounters between Edgeworth and Maitland this year, both games’ results have been decided in the latter stages of the game. If the game is still within touching distance for either team heading into the conclusion, look for the substitutes’ contribution to potentially be the catalyst and decider for who comes out on top and with the Championship trophy.