This is a long one ;) This was my weekend. :)
The October long weekend saw the first ever Aussie Indoor Sports Association's New South Wales State Mixed Indoor Soccer Championships. Held in conjunction with the State Mens Championships in Orange NSW.
For the uninitiated, Mixed Indoor Soccer is 6 a side, where you must have at least 2 females on the field at all times. If you only have 1 female then you can only have 4 males on the field (ie you play one person short). The size of the field is roughly the same size as a basketball court, with a goal about 2.5m across and 2m high. There is a small zone in front of the goal about 8 metres in diameter (4 metres in front of the goal - a semi circle) in which the goal keeper must stay and no one else may enter. You also cannot kick the ball above a 2 metre height.
My team, Eglinton, competes at the Bathurst Indoor Sports Stadium and was 'invited' to enter the Championships after we dominated the last regular season and lost in the final in 3rd extra time. So we put together a team comprising of our standard Eglinton team, plus a couple of extra friends who were players from other teams. I am the main Goal Keeper of the team.
So, on Saturday we trekked off to Orange (about 50mins drive west of Bathurst) to see how we'd go - we had no idea who was going to be there or how we'd go against other teams. It turned out there were only 5 other teams that accepted the invitation (from 9 branches in the state); 1 from Bathurst (us), 1 from Goulburn, 2 from Orange and 2 from Woollindilly (south of Sydney - where the first branch was set up).
The competition started mid afternoon to allow the teams from further away to travel up. We were given the rules and draws and each team was given a practise round. Our practise round was against the Orange team 'Strength & Honour'. They were short a couple of their girls, so we reamed them 6-0, they didn't really test us and we found the extra space good to move and score from. We watched all but one of the other teams play and realised that it will be a tough weekend.
Our first and only comeptition match of the day then came around at 5.30pm (yes it was late. The matches went till after 10pm). We played the other Orange team 'Sumthin Decent' which featured the owner of the centre that the comeptition was being held at. They started well, and we were forced to jump to our normal game mode straight away, caught us napping as it were. The centre owner was a pretty cocky player, trying to use cool moves and made a tricky shot at goal with his right foot coming around behind is left leg, but I saw it coming and was all over it.
Eglinton struck home first, with a couple of quick goals, before Sumthin Decent scored and I made a half hearted attempt at saving it. Eglinton knocked home a third to make the final score 3-1. A good start. :)
We soon realised that we had the toughest draw of the competition. Despite getting an early mark the day before, we quickly saw that we paid for it this day. We had to play our remaining 4 competition games in the one day. Two hours of fast hard indoor soccer is a lot harder than 2 games of outdoor soccer. Luckily we had some breaks between games, but by the end of the day we were really stuffed.
Our second competition game was the first one of the morning and the sparrowfart time of 8.30am. We were fresh (albeit a bit tired) and raring to go. It was against the Goulburn team of 'FAJ's' (no idea what it stood for). From the practise match, we ascertained that this would be the team that would give us the most trouble - and we weren't far from the mark. It was an incredibly fast game, and quite physical too. FAJ's main striker threatened on many occassions but kept getting frustrated by our main defender and captain. We scored once in the first half and again in the second half to win the match 2-0. I was pretty chumped with myself to keep a clean sheet against who we thought were our toughest competition.
Our second game of the day was about an hour later, so we didn't feel too bad getting back in the ring. This match was against a Woollindilly team called 'Bite Me', who we'd discovered upon arrival had been thumped in their first two games on Saturday night for a goal difference of -9. This gave us a good confidence boost to get possibly our third win of the competition. We didn't disappoint - winning 3-1. We had now 3 wins from 3 starts, putting us on top of the ladder so far. By now we were starting to tire out. Our main striker is in his 40s and was starting to really ache, but we had 2 games to go.
This was the turning point of the day, we were tired from already two games of soccer, and were playing 'The Alcos' from Wollindilly, a team who'd only played one so far that day. Our players were unable to keep up with the faster and fitter Alcos. Frustration started to creep into the Eglinton game and as I mistakenly passed the ball to an Alcos player, muttered a swearword in frustration, but was caught by the referee. The indescretion cost me a yellow card which is a 2 minute sin bin in this game. The following penalty to the Alcos scored and we were looking down the barrell of our first loss. The Alcos were a lot more physical than the FAJs were and it was taking a toll on our players. One of our girls copped a headbutt to the nose and needed to be substituted. We tied the game up, but then the Alcos scored through a brilliant cross pass to a waiting attacker which I couldn't cover in time. We lost the game 1-2. Results from other games still meant that we held first place, but the game closed to nothing as we held it on goal difference only.
Our last game of the day, to be played against the team we played in our practise match, Strength & Honour. They had the rest of their players now and had also only played two games so far that day, while this was our fourth. We were missing our main striker, saving himself for the finals the next day, plus we were, putting it bluntly, stuffed. Strength & Honour were a lot younger than us, all of them under 20 years of age would be an accurate guess. Before we realised, we were down 2-0. I had made many saves, but couldn't stop them all, especially whilst recovering from the flu and having played 3 games already. In the second half we switched on and fought back hard, as is the custom with our team, forced it back to 2-3, but we were beaten by the clock and some brilliant saves by the Strength & Honour goal keeper.
We finished the rounds in third place, after leading after 3. FAJ's finished first with 3 wins, 1 draw and 1 loss. Strength & Honour finished 2nd with that win over us the day before with the same points but 2nd on goal difference. We finished third with 3 wins and 2 losses, with The Alcos finishing 4th with 2 wins, 2 draws and 1 loss. They were the top 4 teams in the finals. We were over the moon just to make the finals, but the best was yet to come.
The first Semi Final was between first and fourth, FAJ's v Alcos. Incidently the teams had met first thing that morning to finish the round robin off with a draw. This time, however, the Alcos won convincingly 5-3. FAJ's looked visibly defeated, after finishing first were knocked out by the fourth placed team. Alcos were through to the Final. The second Semi Final was between second and third, Strength & Honour v Eglinton. Strength & Honour had the wood over us having beat us the night before but we'd been in pressure cooker situations before in the finals of our local competition that got us here in the first place.
The second semi final between Strength & Honour and us. We were fresh, yet to play, so it would be a different story this time against the young guns that finished second. The game was very tight, possession evenly matched. Eglinton scored first mid way through the first half, through an awesome free kick that snuck through the defensive wall. Shortly after, however, I let an absolute sitter through. The ball burst through my fingers as I bent down to pick up a shot. There the score stayed. 1-1 at full time. This meant sudden death extra time. A 3 minute period with 6 players on each team. If there is no score after 3 minutes, then both team lose a player and play another 3 minutes. Then another player comes off both teams. This continues until it is 2 on 2 then you just keep playing till someone scores. There are no substitutions either, so you pick your final 6 at the first extra time. In a surpise move, Eglinton captain Greg Hodder (our over 40yo striker) decided to rest me to save me for the final (I was pretty stuffed at the time). It paid off, after about a minute, Greg had broken through the defensive line and fired a shot in at the corner and scored. We had won 2-1. Who would have believed it. We had made the final.
As the Mixed competition was tied with the Mens competition, there was starting to get a bit of a crowd around for the final (at least 100 people), so the atmosphere for the final was pretty cool. I was really really nervous, but I knew from the Grandfinal of our last local competition, these sorts of matches bring the best out of me, so I tried to ignore the nerves.
The game against the Alcos was an absolute corker. Really fast, tense and physical - not violent, but both teams put their bodies on the line. It was the final after all.
It was 0-0 at half time, and both myself and the other keeper were pulling off great saves to keep their teams in the game. The second half followed pretty much the same script, until with 6 minutes to go, Matt Tree put one in for us. 1-0 to Eglinton!
But it wasn't over yet. Then my worst nightmare happened. One of our defenders stepped in the goal area which results in a penalty spot kick. My track record with spots is attrocious, I hadn't saved one to date. This time, I just concentrated on the ball and tried to follow were it went and hope to get in the way of it. However, the fact that it is only 3-4 metres away and the kicker usually belts it with such force it's hard to do so. The next few moments were the most tense of the game. The best chance for The Alcos to tie the game and possibly get in front with 4 minutes to go. Luckily, he nailed it straight at me, I punched it away into the path of an Alcos player jumping on the rebound. His shot got passed me, but rebounded off the post to another Alcos player, but they skied the ball into the roof net which gave us a free kick. I just had to keep them out for 2 more minutes, and I did. We won 1-0!
To cap it off I was awarded Best Goal Keeper of the competition. Each Goal Keeper in each game is given a rating out of 5, the winner at the end of the competition is the keeper with the highest average. I shared it with the keeper from the Alcos which is fair enough.
Well, to cap it all off:
Best. Weekend. EVAR!