Bears leave best to last to clinch title
HOCKEY: With a proud smile across his face, injured Village Green City Bears captain Liam Ellis lifted the Grafton Hockey Association Premier League trophy high alongside winning coach Rick Sampson.
It was a bittersweet moment for the young leader, who would have done anything to be out on the field with his teammates during their 2-0 grand final win over Royals.
But an ACL strain in the final round of the regular season had left him confined to cheering on his side and barking orders from the dugout.
"I would have loved to be out there, but I could not be prouder of the way the boys performed,” Ellis said.
"We couldn't have done it without Rick Sampson; he has worked tirelessly with us this year, he has put us through our paces and we have finally executed it when it mattered most.
"I think it was the best effort we have put in all season. We have done it tough this year, we have rarely had a full side on the park, but when it came to this game it all came together.”
The Bears were led by a brilliant effort from mid-season acquisition Elliott Speed, with the NSW junior representative causing chaos for the Royals left-edge defenders. He set up a first half goal and almost created several more in what was one of the best individual efforts in a grand final in recent memory.
Bears goalkeeper Toby Power also stood up when needed most, ensuring his side kept a clean sheet in the decider.
A brace of goals to rising star Eli Fahey were the only thing to separate the two sides after what was a end-to-end tussle.
While he was still coming to terms with losing the grand final, Royals captain Nathan Skeels said his players could hold their heads high.
"We got together after the game and we said we had a great season,” he said.
"We have ticked a lot of boxes this season. We got to the semi-finals of the North Coast competition which we have never done before, we beat a few Lismore teams that we never have before and we ran everyone close this season.
"For us, the grand final loss does hurt, but we have had a great season. We didn't play our best game, but we did not fall apart out there.
"We pride ourselves on having a real good team go. We are all in it together and I think that shows on the field.”
The win for City Bears also avenged 12 months of heartache after their loss to Barbs in the decider last season.