Round one of Champion of Champions kicked off at venues throughout NSW on Sunday and seven teams from the Canterbury District made the road trip to Dubbo.
The prestigious tournament pits the best from each association in a battle for supremacy and it turned into a big day for the Sydney boys in the bush, who won all seven games in the U-12s to All Age.
The country teams weren’t disgraced, however, with the U-13 South Dubbo Wanderers Force pushing their more fancied rivals – Hurlstone Park – all the way.
Both sides had goals ruled off side and, with the scores still deadlocked at 0-0 after extra time, it came down to the dreaded shootout with the visitors taking the victory 4-2 on penalties.
Hurlstone had the running of the midfield but the Force, carrying a number of injuries into the match, were courageous under pressure with centre back Will Piras marshalling a resolute defence in their first real test of the year after cruising through the season undefeated.
Proud coach, Craig Moore, admitted his side was pumped for the clash.
“Last week was the Grand Final and I think they were more worried about today’s game,” Moore said.
“For the last two weeks they’ve been all focused about today.
“It’s massive for these boys (and girl) to be able to play against a Sydney team. Chances are very few and far between unless you’re an elite player.
“So for the kids here to be able to line-up against this team – they were stoked. The other team was just better on the day.”
In fact it was a memorable day on a number of fronts for midfielder Jake Settree. The game of his life just happened to fall on his 13th birthday.
“It was probably the first time we’ve been pressured all year,” Jake said. “It went to a penalty shootout and I missed (the penalty) on my birthday.
“(But) it was probably one of the best games we played all year. We knew they would probably be pretty good and I think we did well.”
Hurlstone had set themselves three goals at the start of the season: win the premiership, take out the grand final and have a good run in the Champion of Champions.
By Sunday they had achieved two of those milestones and were on their way to getting the third.
Hurlstone coach David Cromer was full of praise for the home side.
“They’re like a lot of country teams – they’re big and strong and fast, and these guys were particularly fast,” Cromer.
“That was a good country side. They have all the physical attributes and some kids with some fantastic feet.”
Conditions were difficult, but the Sydney side kept their nerve to take the win and progress to the next round.
“I’ve had a couple of teams come through this tournament before and it’s always fun,” Cromer said.
“It’s great for kids to come out, especially to country areas and interact with the other teams.
“Hurlstone Park has a definite football philosophy of keeping the ball on the ground, passing it and retaining possession.
“It was a tough pitch out there though, hard and very bouncy and difficult to control the ball.”
On another pitch the Balmain U-12s secured a 5-0 victory over the SASS Strikers (Meteors) – with both teams overcoming some big obstacles on the day.
Balmain were a ‘man’ down with an outfielder in goals, while the local team was fielding a young line-up with a number of the players yet to celebrate their 11th birthday.
Coach Noel McGrath said his Meteors burned bright despite the loss. “It was a tough day, they did a good job though,” McGrath said.
“I liked the way they stayed in the game and kept their heads up and kept fighting for the ball.”
Balmain coach Roy Da Silva said he was pleased to see his side step up after being hit by a number of pre-match injuries.
“We played like a team, passed the ball and helped each other,” he said.
Of course it wouldn’t be Champion of Champions without a “next big thing” discovery and six-year-old Kieran Vernon seemed to fit the bill.
The Wellington Blue Dragons player told FourFourTwo he scored a whopping “ten hundred” goals during the season and fancied himself as a future Socceroo.
But it was tough work staying on the sidelines to watch his older brother play when there was footballing royalty in action on the far pitch.
His mother Renay explaining: “He told me he wanted to go over there and watch the team in blue and white play because, he says, ‘they’re Argentina you know’.”
For the full results of round one go to Football NSW.