FIVE goals in 20 minutes – Souths’ strong finish against St Pat’s on Saturday saw it storm into the men’s Premier League Hockey grand final.
Souths finished the preliminary final at Bob Roach Field – the first between the Bathurst rivals in eight years – with a 6-1 win to advance to the decider alongside Lithgow Panthers.
While Souths had enjoyed a glut of attacking chances in the opening half, St Pat’s goalkeeper Taylor Newton had been superb to deny the two blues on all but one occasion.
When Tyler Willott put the Saints back on level terms as he slapped the ball in from a penalty corner play, it looked as if a tight finish would play out.
In the end it was anything but tight.
Souths was back in front within the space of 60 seconds and from there rolled on to end the bid of the minor premiership winning Saints.
“That’s what broke their back. They thought they were back in the game, it was close, it could have gone either way,” Souths coach Ray Winwood-Smith said.
“But Bryce Hitchcock did a great dive to score that goal and that put them on the back foot and gave us momentum. As soon as the boys got that momentum, they lifted and lifted and lifted.”
Naturally disappointed to have fallen short of a grand final appearance, Pat’s coach Shane Conroy felt the final scoreline was not a true indication of the match.
“We got it back to 1-all and we had our opportunities, but they got one against the run of play then Luke [Thorncraft] got hit and it went from there,” he said.
“I don’t think the score did the game justice. When it got to 3-1 we changed our structure and pushed a few guys higher and they got us on the counter a couple of times.
“I think Nick McEwan was probably the difference, when they moved him up front he caused us problems and showed his quality, that’s why he’s in the AHL [Australian Hockey League] squad.”
Having taken the first grand final qualifier against Lithgow Panthers all the way to a penalty shoot-out, St Pat’s enjoyed the first real chance of Saturday’s preliminary final.
The blue and whites earned a penalty corner on 12 minutes, but the attempt went high and wide.
After that it was Souths who enjoyed a majority of the chances and had the Saints scrambling in defence.
Newton toiled to keep his rivals out, at one stage making three blocks off McEwan and Keiran Gentles in the same play, while Thorncraft cleared another attempt off the line.
Finally, three minutes out from half-time, Souths took the lead as Gentles tucked the ball in on the left post from a penalty corner play he worked with Daniel Carter.
Souths continued to create chances early in the second half, but the Saints soon began to build pressure of their own.
With 21 minutes remaining Willott slotted in from the right from a penalty corner to put his side back in the contest.
However, Hitchcock came up with a quick reply and when Thorncraft was struck on the hand defending a penalty corner and forced from the field with suspected broken fingers, it was another blow for the Saints.
Cole made a comeback even tougher when he found the mark with 15 minutes left following a strong run from Gentles.
As the game drew inside the final 10 minutes, Souths earned its fifth penalty corner of the match and from it game goal number four for the two blues as McEwan deflected Matt Johnston’s strike in.
Burke added another while Cole iced the win 57 seconds from time when his reverse stick attempt found the mark.
Pat’s had a late penalty corner chance, but Jack Bright made a stick save on the line to block Tobbie Muldoon’s effort.
“The first half was an arm wrestle as we expected it to be, there wasn’t much in it. We were 1-0 up at half-time, but the first five minutes of the second half I think set the tone for the rest of the game,” Winwood-Smith said.
“The boys found a bit of space and we moved the ball exceptionally well in that half. That last 12 minutes was probably some of the best hockey I’ve seen them play this year.
“We went through a very rigid warm-up process, we were together from 9am this morning. Team talk, processes, short corners – it just got everyone in the right frame of mind and everyone was just super focused.
“Our best form of defence is attack. In attack I don’t know how many shots at goal we had and how may saves their keeper made. Rudgey [John Rudge] only made four saves for the whole game and at one stage they were up to 14 saves.”
While Souths will now do battle with Panthers for premiership honours, Conroy feels the future is looking bright for his Saints.
“We sort of reflected on things after the game and we’ve got six guys who have never played semi-final hockey before, so gaining that type of experience will help the guys,” he said. “You look at all the juniors who have stepped up for us, at the start of the year if you said we were going to finish in the top three I probably would’ve laughed to be honest.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys who are training with us as well, so next year is looking very promising.”