APIA Leichhardt were crowned 2023 Premiers of the National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s competition with a 2-1 win over St George City in front of a healthy crowd at their spiritual home, Lambert Park on Sunday.
It was actually APIA Leichhardt back in 1987, under the guidance of the legendary Rale Rasic, that were crowned Premiers in the old National Soccer League’s only ever first-past-the-post title.
Thirty-six years later, the modern APIA Leichhardt, under the guidance of rookie coach Franco Parisi, have equalled the feat of the legendary 1987 team and it occurred too at the same venue – Lambert Park in Leichhardt where the sign still proudly reads The Home of Football in Australia and in front of a bumper crowd for the occasion.
This was APIA’s day but take nothing away from a gallant St George City who, as a newly promoted club, have taken the league by storm with their magnificent play throughout 2023 with a fifth place finish and full credit to the squad guided superbly by Mirko Jurilj.
The game itself was a truly fitting way to end the season. After a high-tempo start the first opportunity arrived in the 12th minute when a free-kick from just outside the box by Jason Romero sailed narrowly over the crossbar.
A few minute later another free-kick to APIA from an almost identical position was taken by Michael Kouta but he couldn’t get his left-foot attempt past St George’s Jack Kenny.
It was ‘keeper Kenny who was then instrumental in the opening goal of the encounter. His long ball forward to Franco Maya in the 22nd minute saw his teammate gallop towards goal and keep his cool before slotting the ball under goalkeeper Ivan Necevski.
In the 25th minute APIA Leichhardt should really have equalised when Romero fed a great ball to Jack Armson who in turn forced a wonderful save from Kenny.
However, from the ensuing corner APIA Leichhardt did indeed equalise. The corner reached Joshua Symons who with wonderful header hit the back of the net.
St George City were reduced to ten players when Dominic Cox received his marching orders in the 31st minute for a second yellow card after an aggressive challenge on Armson, having received his first yellow a quarter of an hour earlier and the visitors were forced to play for an hour with a numerical disadvantage.
In the 43rd minute a long corner by Armson reached Adrian Ucchino outside the box and the APIA captain, with a tremendous long drive, forced Kenny into another great save to turn the ball away for a corner.
In stoppage time though at the end of the first half APIA deservedly scored again. Armson received a lovely ball and then made his way forward before finding Sean Symons on the edge of the box and, like his brother previously, he slotted home perfectly to give the Leichhardt-based team the lead.
The first half still wasn’t over as Jack Stewart did some lovely work on the right flank before unleashing a rocket that hit the crossbar and it certainly could have been APIA’s third there and then.
To the reprieve of all and sundry referee Kurt Ams’ whistle to signal the end of the amazing first stanza of play came shortly afterwards as both teams drew breath at the break.
The first opportunity of the second half belonged to in APIA in the 55th minute when an Armson corner reached Dakota Askew who danced around Marley Peterson before firing into the side netting.
A few minutes later Maya went down in the box under the challenge of Paul Galimi but referee Arms waved play on, despite the visitors’ request for a penalty.
In the 68th minute a long-range volley by Pedro Ferrari wasn’t that far off the target in what could been an audacious goal for St George City.
In the 71st minute APIA responded: Romero did some excellent work in the box to find Rory Jordan who blasted the ball onto the post.
In the 82nd minute Jordan brought out the best in goalkeeper Kenny who was forced to save down low in two attempts to prevent APIA going further ahead.
In stoppage time Maya for St George City blasted a powerful left-footed shot from just outside box over the crossbar in the last real hurrah for the encounter.
Post-game APIA Leichhardt coach Franco Parisi couldn’t have been prouder of his team this season.
“It started a long time ago with this group of players and to achieve what we have is amazing,” he said.
“We talked about it last November and here we are at the end of August where we can celebrate.
“It was about every session we had as a group, every talk we had as a group and it was all for this moment. Thankfully too we have the bonus of the Australia Cup match on Wednesday with this special group of players.
“I am superb super-proud of this team but behind the scenes there are a lot of good people who do a lot of good things for this club. We can now celebrate and enjoy this moment.”
His counterpart Mirko Jurilj of St George City was also praiseworthy of his team for a great season.
“It has been a very good season,” he said. “The boys put in a good effort throughout the season as I am pretty demanding, so they know about it during the year but it has been a very effort overall.”
APIA LEICHHARDT 2 (J. Symons 26’, S. Symons 45’+2)
ST GEORGE CITY 1 (Maya 22’)
Sunday 27th August 2023
Lambert Park Leichhardt
Referee: Kurt Ams
Assistant Referees: Luke Chapman and Arinath Gobinath
Fourth Official: Hayden Michlmayr
APIA LEICHHARDT: 1. Ivan Necevski, 3. Paul Galimi, 4. Joshua Symons (15. Themba Muata-Marlow 46’), 7. Jack Stewart (17. Rory Jordan 46’), 9. Jason Romero (30. Alex Denmead 72’), 14. Jack Armson, 16. Sean Symons (6. Anthony Sparacino 62’), 18. Adrian Uccchino (38. Yianni Nicolaou 62’), 21. Michael Kouta, 23. Dakota Askew, 98. Franco Farinella.
Substitutes not used: 12. Anthony Bouzanis.
Yellow Cards: Ucchino 43’, Askew 67’, Sparacino 86’
Red Cards: Nil
ST GEORGE CITY: 12. Jack Kenny, 2. Pedro Ferrari, 3. Daniel Alessi, 4. Brendan Hooper, 8. Dominic Cox, 11. Kosta Petratos, 14. Dean Pelekanos, 23. Franco Maya, 24. Alex Kyriacou (7. Nathan Roberts 77’), 70 Maki Petratos (10. Paolo Mitry 82’), 99.Matthew Keremelevski (9. Marley Peterson 42’).
Substitutes not used: 16. Mohammed Khamis, 25. Andrew Vlahadamis, 61. Jayden Pham
Yellow Cards: Cox 16’, Peterson 42’
Red Cards: Cox 31’
3 – Jack Armson (AL)
2 – Dakota Askew (AL)
1 – Jack Kenny (StG)
By National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s reporter Joe Russo