Sutherland are the kings of Sydney for the seventh time after edging out Moorebank-Liverpool 3-2 in a dramatic Sydney Hockey Association premier league one grand final on Saturday night.
The premiership, the club’s seventh first grade championship overall and first since back to back titles in 2011-12, topped off a rollercoaster season for Sutherland after it had looked doubtful they would even reach the finals, sitting seventh midway through the campaign.
But coaches Peter Tait and Jay Holley knew the team they had assembled. Sutherland went on to win their final six regular season games to charge into the finals before a comfortable qualifying final victory over Briars set up last week’s epic extra-time preliminary final win over Ryde.
The grand final at Sydney Olympic Park seemed to sum up Sutherland’s season – and their players. Down 2-1 at half-time against the minor premiers and premiership winners from three of the last four seasons, a team Sutherland hadn’t beaten since 2012. The team who had beaten Sutho in last year’s grand final.
But Sutho refused to quit. Matt Bennett, the best and fairest in the final, dragged Sutherland level from a ball into the circle from Shayne Smith. Then with 11 minutes remaining Kieran Govers, who had scored Sutho’s opener, found Bennett with a superb pass for the striker to produce an incredible tomahawk finish to hand Sutherland the lead.
It was a lead Sutho wouldn’t surrender thanks to a typically resolute defensive effort led by goalkeeper Nathan Akroyd.
Tait, who coached the club to their 2011 and 2012 triumphs and also won two premierships as a player, told the Leader the achievement hadn’t yet sunk in.
“The guys were amazing. At the back end they just put in for each other. They were unbelievable,” he said.
“We knew if we could stay close enough with them we could get it done. It wasn’t a great first half but the second half we started executing a lot better. Even when it was 3-2 we kept creating decent opportunities. Our defence was unbelievable. They didn’t have a short corner against us in the second half.
“It took us a bit of time but we always knew we were building and getting better each week. Even off the field guys had challenges and all that did was bring everyone closer together. We were a tight group and we knew they’d fight for each other.
“It was a great team effort. I couldn’t be more proud of them. There was definitely some pain and hurt from the year before. It has been a long time between drinks for some of them.”
No longer than for Govers. The Australian representative lost the 2005 grand final with Sutherland before heading off on his international career. The return of the Olympian and 2014 World Cup gold medal-winner as well as Luke Noblett from overseas helped Sutherland recover from their slow start to the season.
“It’s huge for the club,” Tait said.
“Our supporters, our families… words can’t really describe it. We had a good crowd out there. Saturday night, 6pm at Sydney Olympic Park isn’t the most pleasant place to be watching sport. Having those people there meant a lot.
“We’ve got good juniors coming through. Something like this gives you a lot of momentum with a lot of things. We’re about to have our turf replaced at Sylvania [Hockey Park] and we don’t get a lot of help. We’ve been a successful club for a long time.
“It’s hard to win one of these obviously. You need a number of things to go your way. Talent, hard work and that bit of luck at the right time.”