THE Limestone Coast Football Association season draws to a close this weekend, with the 2018 grand finals to be played at Casadio Park on Sunday.
All four Mount Gambier based clubs are represented and some close matches can be expected.
But the most anticipated clash is undoubtedly the last of the day, when Gambier Centrals and International fight it out in the A Grade decider.
“I suspect probably the best game we have seen for about 10 years,” LCFA chief executive officer Eric Nieto said.
“It will be a clash of the titans.”
Inter finished as minor premiers, but an upset win for Centrals in the qualifying final tightened the competition up even further.
Now the black and blue will have a chance to redeem themselves, while for the Lions it will be a matter of reclaiming premiership glory, while also preventing Inter from back-to-back titles.
GAMBIER Centrals will take to Casadio Park with fresh legs on Sunday when it faces reigning premiers International in the Limestone Coast soccer grand final.
The Lions defeated Inter in the qualifying final two short weeks ago to secure the first place in the decider and with it came a week’s rest.
For Centrals coach Nathan Fleetwood, he said the team is excited to have the chance to play on the big stage and looks forward to the encounter.
“It has been a good year for us,” he said.
“We are really excited by the opportunity on Sunday and can’t wait to get out there and play.
“I think it is fitting, it is the two best teams for the year in the grand final in my opinion.
“We are really excited by it.”
Centrals will carry the confidence provided by its 2-1 victory over Inter in the previous meeting, but Fleetwood is under no illusions it will be an easy game on the league heavyweight’s home ground on Sunday.
“It (the qualifying final) was a really tough game and we are expecting another tough game on Sunday,” he said.
“We are expecting a very tough and probably physical encounter.
“But we will be ready for that and we will try to stick to our plan.
“Hopefully we can come out on top.”
Fleetwood said the main focus will be to remain calm and composed and not allow the occasion get in the way of performance.
The week off for Centrals and the home-ground advantage for Inter somewhat balance each other out and Fleetwood knows it will be no easy task to claim the premiership for either club.
“The team is really up for it and the week off helped with any little niggles.”
“I guess the home field is definitely an advantage for Inter.
“We will go in as the underdogs and we are going to give it a good crack.
“I think it will be close.”
As is often the case with grand finals, Fleetwood believes “it will come down to those little moments” throughout the game.
In his first year in the Limestone Coast and as coach of Centrals’ A Grade, Fleetwood said he has enjoyed the experience.
Making the grand final is just the sweetener on his time in Mount Gambier so far.
“I have enjoyed it thoroughly and I am proud of what we have been able to achieve,” Fleetwood said.
“But at the same time, no one remembers losing grand finals, so we want to make sure we get over the line.
“Centrals as a club has made me and my family feel very welcome.
“We feel like we are one big family.
“That is something we have tried to work on throughout the year, to be a close-knit unit and I think we are.”
Fleetwood made that point clear all season, rarely picking out individuals, but instead reflecting on the team performance.
He retains this view heading into Sunday’s match.
“I think in a grand final it is not about individuals, it is about a team,” Fleetwood said.
“There are obviously leaders – I think Cam Saint our captain will lead by example.
“We have individuals all over that can do damage, but I think it will be a collective effort which will win it.”
However, Centrals has no shortage of capable players who can step up and win their areas of the game.
Fleetwood himself will be eager to make an impact in front of goals, while Lewis March and Calen Sheedy will provide constant forward pressure.
Through the middle the likes of Henry Shoemark – who excelled in the qualifying final – and Saint will both be dangerous.
The Lions’ backline is also strong and will work hard to resist the Inter attack.
“We need to focus as a team on what our game plan is and make sure we execute it,” Fleetwood said.
“I think we know Inter and they know us quite well, so I don’t think there is going to be any surprises.”
INTERNATIONAL will be out for redemption when it takes on Gambier Centrals in the Limestone Coast soccer A Grade grand final at Casadio Park on Sunday.
Still licking its wounds from the previous meeting – which saw Centrals progress straight to the decider with a 2-1 qualifying-final victory – Inter bounced back with a solid 4-1 win over Blue Lake in the preliminary last week.
That booked it a rematch against its rival and spectators can expect another close contest in the final game of the A Grade season.
The black and blue will fight for a back-to-back title, while it will be their fourth cup in a row when the Belgiorno Cup is included in the tally.
Coach Gareth Von Duve could not be prouder of the team, especially looking back on the turn around since the 2016 soccer season.
“For us as a club, to miss out on everything in 2016 and then bounce back the way we did last season, the boys deserve to have the reward for the work they have put in over the last two years,” he said.
“In saying that, what Centrals have done in the off-season and the work they have done with (Nathan) Fleetwood, they are in the same boat.
“They want to win it just as much as we do.”
Inter finished as minor premiers with an undefeated record in the normal season, but previous meetings with Centrals have all been close.
After the qualifying final, the two sides sit with a win each and a draw, leaving it anyone’s guess who will take home the prestigious Limestone Coast soccer title on Sunday.
“I think both sides are at relatively full strength,” Von Duve said.
“We have lost a few with season-ending injuries and still have a few injury clouds at the moment.
“But I think we are in the best position we can be with everyone available.
“I don’t expect it to be a blowout either way, maybe one goal here or there, or even extra time.
“Penalties would not be out of the question.
“I think we are pretty evenly matched.”
Von Duve said the team is aware of where it needs to improve from the qualifying final, but gave credit to the way Centrals came out firing in that clash.
“We can say we played bad, but Centrals won that game,” he said.
“They pressured us right from the start and really stopped our flow in the game.”
Another high intensity battle can be expected on Sunday and whichever team hits hardest early will hold the advantage at the final whistle.
Injuries have threatened Inter all year, but it has been able to rely on up-coming talented juniors to bolster the ranks when needed.
Von Duve said it is possible these juniors will take to the field again in the big game.
“If I feel they will be able to make a change, we will definitely use them,” he said.
These players include the likes of Connor Prior, Austin Rossi, Caleb Casey and Kaleb Gentile, while young-gun Tyler Michielan will unfortunately watch from the sidelines with a broken arm.
But the main focus will be on the starting players and how they can make an impact on the big stage in high-pressure situations.
Matt Bueti was in fine form last week to bang through four goals and will hope to have another influence in Sunday’s grand final.
However, Von Duve said he does not need to score to make a difference.
“He does a lot of work off the ball that results in goals as well,” he said.
“We have the likes of Josh Grubb, Christian Cella, Skayper Johnson and Ricky (McRobert) who have sort of fitted into different roles.
“If they can capitalise on those moments (created by Bueti), then Matt has done his job.”
Dan Bronca will be a focus in the backline, while Von Duve believes players like Chris Fallas will be eager to prove their worth in the big dance at Casadio Park.
He also said captain Christian Cella will be out to make an impact for the full match, after a quiet game against Centrals last time around.
“All the guys are ready to go, it just depends on how we go on game day,” Von Duve said.
Despite its results so far, Inter has had far from an easy season.
Off the field there has been several circumstances which have affected the team on a personal level.
One in particular saw Von Duve himself required to step down as coach temporarily due to health concerns.
“I had to step away for a bit mid-season and that sort of disrupted us a little bit,” he said.
“Thankfully Travis (McDonald) and Michael (Prior) were able to step up and really help us out.
“I could not be more proud of the boys.
“Not many clubs have to go through what we have gone through this season.
“That’s just on a personal note, with myself and then we have had a few players who have lost family members throughout the year.
“To continue playing football the way we did, the boys deserve a lot of credit for that.
“Whatever happens Sunday whether we win or lose, we will be proud of the season we put together.”