Third time lucky?
Sunday sees Falcons attempt to win the GFSN Cup Final for the third time, after two previous defeats on penalties. Ahead of his final game as club manager, Kev recalls the heartache of 2013 and looks ahead to a rematch against Mersey Marauders...
Three years ago, Falcons went into the GFSN Cup Final with Mersey Marauders aiming to atone for the penalty shoot-out heartache of 2011, when we lost to Newcastle Panthers after a thrilling 4-4 draw over 120 minutes.
Aiming to claim not only our first Cup triumph but with it the double, having convincingly sealed the GFSN League Division 1 title, sadly history was to cruelly repeat itself under the floodlights at Hyde FC in south Manchester.
Having cruised past Cardiff Dragons in the opening round, the tough Scottish duo of Saltire Thistle and Edinburgh Hotscots had been seen off in the quarter-final and semi-final respectively. The unknown quantity of the Merseysiders awaited on the big day - their own up and coming reputation fuelled by an unbeaten season as they stormed to the Division 2 title.
We boasted a strong squad, despite missing regulars Bignell and Kehoe for the big game. The latter, then the team manager, could not have failed to be impressed with the start made by his troops, as we asserted authority early on and flew into a two goal lead with me and Jared upfront claiming one apiece.
A lack of concentration from a free kick towards the end of the first period gave Mersey a chance to claw their way back, and the clinical finish to halve the deficit was soon followed up by an equaliser. Again, we only had ourselves to blame as a defensive mix-up saw the 2-0 lead wiped out.
Rather than repeating our impressive start to the opening period, disaster struck as Marauders took a 3-2 lead at the start of the second half – quite some turnaround. What followed for the remainder of the tie was as if written by the Cup Final scriptwriters themselves.
Falcons reorganised to counter Mersey’s superiority in the middle of the park and fought back to create numerous unconverted chances. Mersey themselves continued to look dangerous and, with tiring legs, the next goal was going to be crucial. It was Falcons who grabbed it: Ben uncharacteristically shot from fully 25 yards, the keeper spilled it and Spencer pounced just in time to level the scores at 3-3.
To both sides’ credit, each continued to push and push, with the game becoming more rather than less physical as the clock ticked on and bodies ached more. The remainder of the second period and the whole of extra time passed without further addition to the score, despite a number of desperately close calls at either end.
Onto penalties again, and this time it looked as though fortune would be with us, as Oliver’s heroics in goal saw Jared presented with the chance to win the Cup. Sadly, his effort missed the target as he lost his footing. Two penalties later, Mersey were celebrating victory as we saw the cup silverware evade us in the cruellest way for the second time in three years.
This time around, we have again made our way through to the final the hard way. Either side of a fairly routine win over Leftfooters in the quarter-final, a very tough 3-2 opening round win at Yorkshire Terriers was secured with a late James Nolan winner adding to Eoin’s brace, while the semi-final pitted us against a strong Stonewall outfit. After a goalless, nearly chanceless 120 minutes as both sides cancelled each other out, finally Falcons came out on top of a shoot-out. Four clinical penalties, coupled with a Stonewall miss and 2 saves from Conal saw Falcons through.
For their part, Mersey have overcome Village Manchester and Soho FC to claim their place in the showpiece.
We go into the final having pulled off a fairly remarkable escape from relegation over the latter part of the GFSN League season. After four straight defeats, a pair of 2-0 victories over Nottingham Lions and Saltire Thistle saw us retain our ever-present Division 1 status thanks to two results elsewhere in the division going our way.
We hope the footballing gods will still be smiling on Falcons come Sunday!