In an entrée to winter, the men of Castlemaine Goldfields F.C. took on last season’s champions Ballarat in cold, rain, wind and even some patches of sunshine at Trekardo Park, Ballarat, last weekend.
The young Division 1 team played a cracking first half to be level at one goal apiece until a somewhat controversial goal a minute before half time gave Ballarat a 2-1 lead at the break.
Centre-back Steven “Rhino” Marsh led the way with his strength and fearless heading.
Young right back Ben Adams and winger Taro Muller had combined slickly down the right flank, both running hard and tackling tenaciously, while Conner Bethune and Tristan Van Pagee Anderson were creative on the left flank.
Defensive midfielder Angus Maclauran had started the match like a firecracker, hustling, harrying and using his strength, speed and skill to win the ball, find space and bring teammates into the game.
And his midfield sidekick, Jono Burris, was at his hard-working best as the Mainers combined admirably to knock Ballarat off balance, resulting in the odd sight of the ‘Rat keeper slicing a panicked clearance kick into his own net.
Maine goalkeeper Brendan Connelly, who made some top-notch acrobatic saves in the first half, swapped positions with striker Gabe Gianni for the second half and immediately went on some exhilarating runs up front that challenged the Ballarat defenders and threatened their goal.
But the goals came at the other end, the first from a zinging long-range shot through a crowded penalty area after only a few minutes of the half, the second two minutes later after a free kick, and finally, a third that left Ballarat 5-1 winners.
The scoreline did Castlemaine an injustice: a 2-1 loss would have been a fairer indication of the evenness of the match, as coach Terry Attwood pointed out as he congratulated his players afterwards.
The huddle of Maine supporters agreed with him. It has been a delight to watch exciting first-year players such as Gabe Lillington, Ben Adams and Sunday Lam combine with the “old heads” and returnees such as Conner Bethune to create a team with zest and commitment.
A quick, skillful and well-organised Ballarat had Castlemaine backs to the wall from early on in their match.
With hard-running Aiden Windle plying his tough tackling trade through midfield alongside doughty Dean Nendick, and the poise of captain Jim Kourkoulakos, Doryan Gowty, Aaran Shooter and Nathaniel Muller in defence, Castlemaine held out the opposition for long periods.
But injury and weariness blew the 0-4 half time score out to 0-9 as goals came quickly for Ballarat late in the second half despite the valiant effort and many saves of Maine keeper Kane Parker.
The energy and enthusiasm of Sam Doolan was a welcome addition to the team as he enjoyed his first outing for the season.