A combination of greater tactical nous and superior fitness allowed the Byron Bay Rams to seal the double of pointscore champions and premiers on Saturday night at Oakes Oval. They came from behind to snatch a 2-1 victory in extra time against Richmond Rovers.
Rovers captain/coach Tim Sheridan played his cards early, swapping midfielder Chris Matthews with livewire striker Ben Cassagrande. The switch had the double effect of stymying Byrons fleet footed flanker, Eden Robinson, and opening up the Byron defence to the might of Matthews. The plan worked early on, with Rovers Aaron Heffernan running onto a beautifully weighted ball from Chris Matthews, rounding the keeper and slotting the ball into an empty net. It was to be the only goal of the first half, but Rovers did rattle both the cross bar and the post with two tremendous shots, one a free kick from Russell Dent and the other a searing strike from Matthews from the edge of the box.
Byrons coach Peter Ware took stock of Rovers changes at half time and pushed forward primary play maker Bruce Morhaus. The Rams were almost instantly rewarded for this when, in the first five minutes after the break, Eden Robinson, rather than trying to out-pace Cassagrande, put in a long diagonal cross for Morhaus to head home.
This threw the ball firmly back into Sheridans court as the last thing he wanted was for the game to go into extra time. After all, Byron are a smaller, fitter team and his lumbering giants were already tired. So he brought himself on, but rather than the wandering libero he has been playing he put himself up front. It didnt work. He didnt have the pace to turn his markers and before the full time whistle he had already subbed himself off again. It was a strange episode in the young coachs career. Local afficionados were perplexed as to why he didnt play himself as a libero/sweeper and push Scott Coster forward to a sliding stopper, but I digress.
Byron Bay continued to dominate the second half and had the better of the chances but they went to full time locked at 1-all. Extra time was again dominated by Byron as Rovers grew more and more exhausted by the relentless pace of the match and by the insertion of an extra set of fresh legs for the Rams.
The winning goal fell to young striker Tom Ruhl after sub Keith Irish Wizard Ryan got around some weary Rovers defence to the bye line and crossed to an unmarked Ruhl at the far post, where he finished from close range.
It was an historic victory for Byron Bay, who achieved their long-cherished ambition of the premiership double.
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