Gutsy Byron Bay Rams win back to back Grand Finals
THIS IS the best win ever was the jubilant cry of Rams' Premier Division Coach, Damon Bell when the whistle blew after 110 minutes of frenetic, heart-stopping Grand Final football at Crozier Fields in Lismore.
Despite being the only side to defeat pointscore champions, Richmond Rovers during the 2018 season, the Apex Rams went into Saturday's Grand Final as underdogs. The late withdrawal of two of the season's leading lights, Chris Broadley and Matt Pike, lengthened the odds against the Byron boys even further.
The Rams lost many of their key players after winning the coveted 'triple' - Anzac Cup, Pointscore Championship and Grand Final in 2017 and many expected 2018 to be a year for rebuilding the Byron squad.
Instead Coach Bell and Manager Vlad Knaus, managed to mould a die-hard group of Rams veterans, up and coming youth and a few new faces into a tough, cohesive and winning squad.
The Grand Final game kicked off in late afternoon light with both sides edgy and raring to go. In the opening moments, a rare miscalculation saw Rovers' keeper Chris Jones,caught with the ball by a hard charging Jono Pierce and the rebound from his aborted clearance put Pierce in front of an open net for an easy tap in.
The early goal rattled the Lismore side, fired up the Rams and set the scene for an epic battle. For the next 107 minutes the game raged from end to end, with Rovers pressing hard and Byron responding with relentless and dangerous counter attacks. Jono Pierce, Alex Kempnich, Ethan Archer and Kare Isaac hammered the Rovers goal but were unable to beat Keeper Jones.
Twenty five minutes in, a lofting ball was parried back to the Rovers attack who managed to return the volley over keeper Pierce Essery and into the Byron net to equalise.
The thrilling contest remained deadlocked at 1-1 into the break. The second half delivered more of the same but with even greater intensity. The hectic pace continued, with more strident attacks and valiant defending from both sides.
The full-time whistle blew with the score stuck at 1-1 and the players began stretching tired legs and preparing for extra time.
The Rams began to look the stronger side in extra time, with frequent attacks on the Rovers goals and the midfield continuing to push forward.
Five minutes into the first half of extra time and Rams attackers had the Rovers goal under seige. A ball was laid back to the feet of Jono Pierce and his perfect 25 metre screamer was unstoppable. The Rams took a 2-1 lead.
As fatigue and frustration took their toll, patience and tempers grew shorter and the match became a little scrappy. Herick Schuenemann received a red card for a particularly nasty tackle leaving Byron to hold onto their lead with ten men. The ensuing melee was quickly settled and the end-to-end football raged on through the final ten minutes. Despite some 'last ditch-effort' attacks from Rovers and some exuberant urging from the very vocal crowd, the Rams fought on to take the 2018 Grand Final two goals to one.
It was an extraordinary and gutsy performance from the entire Byron squad and its coaching team.
Two goals and the Terry Greedy Medal for man-of-the-match crowned a magnificent season for Jonathan Pierce and the back-to-back Grand Final wins are a credit to Damon Bell, the Rams coaching team and the players.