In keeping with what has been a thoroughly unpredictable campaign in the PlayStation®4 NPL NSW Men’s U20’s competition, Leichhardt Oval will host two sides for whom a Grand Final meeting would have appeared near unthinkable at various stages throughout the year.
Although it will come as little surprise to see Premiers and competition frontrunners Manly United competing for their second trophy of the campaign, the emergence of Sydney Olympic holds true as one of the surprises of the season, making the 2016 Grand Final a hugely intriguing affair.
The Blues secured their seventh win in a row against Bonnyrigg White Eagles in last weekend’s preliminary final in Edensor Park, a match that has seen Olympic’s late season resurrection come full circle.
Close to two months earlier, John Theodoropoulos’ Olympic side found themselves in tenth position after falling to the White Eagles 2-1 at Bonnyrigg Sports Club.
Olympic would go on to claim all twelve points from their final four games, pipping reigning champions Blacktown City, Wollongong Wolves and Hakoah Sydney City East into fifth position.
The prevailing emotion is still one of surprise for the former Canterbury-Marrickville product who says he is finally reaping the rewards of consistency.
“We knew then it would have to be a massive run to make something of the season.
“We said we just need to take it one game at a time, we’ve done that every single week since then and it’s got us to the Grand Final”
“I’m not surprised because of the calibre of players that we’ve got are good enough to be at the Grand Final and win it, I strongly believe that.”
It won’t be easy for Olympic to maintain their incredible run of form – not especially against a Manly side who have played with the intensity of champions consistently throughout the year, and who have an array of formidable attacking weapons across a talented squad.
“Manly have some really fast players, they are so quick on the counter-attack especially – they’re clinical too”, says Theodoropoulos.
“Their front three are very good, the two sixes in the middle of the park work really hard and get the ball to their wide men.
“But we’re doing a lot of things right at the moment, we’re moving the ball quickly and finding space – we need to continue doing these things right and we won’t be focussing too much on what they can do.
A former long-serving manager at Stanmore Hawks, Theodoropoulos took the reins of Olympic in mid-May, where the Blues were languishing at the foot of the table with just seven registered U20’s players available.
Prior to his arrival, Olympic were outgunned 4-3 by Manly United in the second weekend of the season before the Belmore outfit delivered one of the surprise results of the campaign by beating the Premiers by the same score line in the reverse fixture at Cromer Park.
Manly manager Andrew Christiansen says there’s coincidence the two grand-finalists have played their part in a pair of seven goal thrillers over the course of the regular season, but expects a much sterner contest on Sunday.
“We both play attacking football and both have goalscoring threats up top, Olympic have several threats out wide and we’re exactly the same”, says Christiansen.
“I think that’s a good thing to not have to rely on one person each week to score all your goals – it makes you harder to contain and places a little bit less pressure on each player.
“The Grand Final might be a bit different because Grand Finals are typically nervy and low scoring games but I think there’ll be plenty of chances.”
Christiansen stands to claim a sensational premiership and championship double in what has been an outstanding debut season in top level management.
Formerly on the books of Manly until a slew of knee reconstructions cut his playing career short at the age of 20, Christiansen says the camaraderie between his young squad and faith in his ideals have led the charge towards the double.
“I consider myself lucky that the whole squad bought into what I was trying to get from them.
“The boys are all best mates and I think that’s an underestimated asset.
“They all fight for each other and play for each other and that’s not a coincidence, it’s something that Manly as a club try to do.”
Sunday 11th September
Manly United v Sydney Olympic
12:30pm kick off
Purchase tickets to the Grand Final of the PlayStation 4 NPL NSW Men’s
-By Jacob Windon