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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 10 September 2016
SPORT 26 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 10 SEPTEMBER 2016 Rejuvenated South Melbourne wary of Cannons firepower in championship decider DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Oakleigh Cannons skipper John Honos (L) and South Melbourne counterpart Michael Eager will both be hoping to lift the championship trophy at the end of Sunday’s NPL 1 Grand Final. PHOTO: KOSTAS DEVES. 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. Kingston City and St Albans Saints battle it out for NPL2 Championship on the undercard 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 frail- ties 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-onone opportunity which he dispatched easily to score what proved the matchwinner. 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. Northcote City teen striker joins Cahill and Fornaroli at Melbourne City The cloud of Northcote City's relegation season has a silver lining for striker Braedyn Crowley, who has joined A-League club Melbourne City on a scholarship, where he'll be an understudy to such talent as Golden Boot winner Bruno Fornaroli and Socceroos all-time high- est scorer Tim Cahill. The 19-year-old North Queenslander joined Northcote after the club's dreadful start to the season when it had difficulty finding the net. His arrival brought with it goals − 13 in 19 matches − and helped give Northcote a fighting chance of survival until the last game of the season. Speaking on the Melbourne City website, Crowley was excited by the opportunity of training and learning from some of the best forwards in the country. "It's unbelievable, it's a dream come true to sign with a club like this," he said. "To train with players like Tim Cahill and Bruno Fornaroli, it's definitely up there. I'm going to learn so much from them and hopefully I can improve my game." He says his decision to come to Melbourne to join an NPL club earlier this sea- son has been well worth it. The exposure in Melbourne and his goal-scoring feats with Northcote have earned him another shot at the ALeague. He was previously at Newcastle Jets in the 2015-2016 season, where he made nine appearances and one start. "My dad told me we might have to step back a bit to step forward," he said. "I went to Melbourne and played in the NPL. A few people told me stepping out of the A-League system was dangerous. I was confident if I went down there and did my thing, I would secure a move like this."
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