So it all came down to the final day – after 20 rounds of hard fought football, Ashburton needed to grab at least a point from its final game of the season against Old Xaverians to clinch its first ever senior FFV championship. And adding extra spice to the day, Ashy’s Reserve team were also looking for their own success, needing to win their last game of the season to secure the league Runner’s Up title. In front of a packed Eastern Lions ground (courtesy of our Council handing the ground back to the cricketers), the Greens’ day got off to a flyer when the Ressies started strongly, creating a host chances and looking the more likely team to score. Cometh the hour and cometh the man – well, in this case Barney Campbell – who turned out to be Johnny on the Spot by scoring the vital opening goal. Seaton Mundy was buzzing up front, getting a steady supply of ball from the likes of Tom Robinson and Pat Lanteri, while Ruben Crawford-Rust, Steely the Salmon and skipper Andy Karvounaris held firm at the back. Despite the ascendency, it took some brilliance from Nicky Bucello in goals to deliver the Runners-Up title, when he first saved a penalty and then expertly denied a late one-on-one attack to preserve Ashy’s lead. In the end the one goal buffer was all that was needed for Ashy to secure the Reserves Runner’s Up title and ensure Coach Fernando was rewarded for his efforts to build an excellent squad of bright young talent over the past few years. With the stage now set, it was the turn of Ashy’s Seniors to do the business against an Old Xav’s team who are well regarded for their attacking football. Sure enough - and in typical Ashy style – Old Xavs got off to flyer, creating a host of chances and securing a number of free-kicks on the edge of the box that had to be scrambled away. Having withstood the initial onslaught, Ashy got back to playing nice football with the likes of Callum McCaskie and Lawrence Harding providing plenty of drive out of the middle. Indeed, a quick ball played out of defence had Ari Karanicolas skipping clear of the Old Xavs defence only to slip at the last moment and be denied a clear shot at goal. Ashy continued to press and probe for openings, yet it took until the 36th minute before Ashy found the opener. They say big game players like nothing more than a big stage to perform their magic on and this was certainly the case for Ashy’s Kurt ‘The Wolf’ Crnic, who was by now imposing himself all over the pitch before he rose majestically over a packed defence to power in a header to get Ashy’s first. Having got the opener Ashy started to relax and more opportunities eventuated, with Ari coming close to adding a second when his well hit shot from inside the box was somehow turned away by the Old Xavs keeper. 1-0 at the break. As expected, Old Xavs came out firing in the second half, however the Ashy defence was resolute, with skipper Campbell Woollacott being an absolute monster in the centre of defence. Ashy keeper Michael Savoulidis was also superb, continually coming out to claim high balls, before inevitably being taken out by an overly enthusiastic forward. Ashy by now was playing on the break, with the excellent Stevie Patterson continuing to create chances for the Ashy forwards, but still the all-important second goal wouldn’t come. As 90 minutes clicked past, the Ashy defence clamped down and nothing looked like breaching the wall. That was all to change in the last minute of extra time however, when Old Xavs were rewarded with yet another free kick on the edge of the box for a bit of extra theatre. Sure enough, the whipped in cross was nodded home, meaning champagne corks were being urgently jammed back in bottles. Despite the collective groans from the sideline, seconds after the re-start the ref blew the whistle to end a tough contest and a remarkable season for the Greens. After 21 hard fought rounds, Ashy had won the club’s first ever FFV senior title since being formed in 1979. In the end, Ashy won the league by one point, amassing 47 points over the season, with 15 wins and two draws, and a plus 30 goal difference. Sadly, Ashy farewelled two of its finest when Zocky Tudor and Aris Karincolas announced their retirements, finishing with the sweetest of victories, and no doubt big hangovers. We look forward to seeing the boys on the sidelines in the years to come. Thanks must go to the coaching staff for their tireless efforts during the year including Tony Amato, Costi Puscasu, Nick Rossios and Rob Nicovski. Recognition must also go to the likes of club stalwarts Andrew Dodds and Jim Karvounaris for their passion and commitment to the cause, as well as the Ashburton United Board who supported the senior team’s vision and title aspirations. The biggest thank you has to go to the club’s supporters who have stuck by the Greens through thick and thin, including the Masters for keeping the beers sales ticking over and of course our secret weapon, the Ashy Rat Pack. It hasn’t always been easy writing this year’s match reports, as there were some gut wrenching moments to report on, however I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Your humble scribe is now taking some leave and signing off for the year, but I’m already looking forward to reporting all the action next year when Ashy kicks off its season in Division 3 South East. For now, congratulations to everyone at Ashy for an incredible year.
Text: Paul Crisp