Story & photo Dogwhistle
The Byron Bay Park Hotel Rams came away from this year’s grand finals disappointed but far from despondent.
Damon Bell and his coaching team have achieved the very rare feat of taking both premier division and reserve grade teams through to the grand finals two years in succession.
The premier division team swept all before it in what were sometimes devastating displays of fast, fluid, precision football. The Rams were undefeated for most of the season with rivals only getting a look-in after the point-score championship was in the Byron bag.
With a shock 8-0 drubbing of second placed Rovers early in the season and a decisive 4-1 win over them in the semis, the Premier Rams went into the grand final against the Lismore squad as firm favourites.
The reserve grade team found its form at the tail end of the season, just scraping into the final five and battling its way to the grand final through three heroic semi final performances.
On the big day, the underdog Rams Reserves fought hard against a strong Rovers side and had the upper hand for much of the first half. The Byron boys could not quite find the net, however, and a fightback from Rovers bagged two goals and the major premiership title.
The premier division event saw similar problems goal-scoring for the Rams, with countless attacks on the Rovers’ goal failing to bear fruit. Dangerous counter attacks, a Rover’s trademark, were just as relentless and the Byron back line had its work cut out keeping them at bay.
Rams attacker Connor Cannon put Byron in the scoreboard early, with a powerful header off a brilliant cross from Michael Kelly.
The Rams held on to their 1-0 lead and maintained their fast paced attack for the remainder of the match but,mdespite outstanding performances from Herick Schuenemann, Barry Woods and the amazing Kazuhiro Tsukamoto, the Rams took no more goals. Byron striker James Tomlinson fought a dogged battle with the Rovers defence, creating many chances but failing to beat the keeper.
A Rovers goal in the dying minutes forced the match into extra time and, after twenty minutes of intense struggle failed to break the deadlock, the exhausted combatants were forced to a penalty shootout.
In a tense and excruciating spectacle, all 22 players – including keepers – had to take their best shots before Rovers managed to squeak through to victory.
A disappointing finish for Damon Bell’s Rams but they have proven themselves throughout the season to be THE top squad in the competition with some epic performances from all members. Special mention to Kazuhiro Tsukamoto, Herick Schuenemann, ‘Tommo’ Tomlinson, Jonathan Pierce, Nick Baker, Connor Cannon, Barry Woods, and Jimmy and Shaun Packham for their herculean efforts throughout the season.