Sydney arrived at the 2021 NSW Over 50's with confidence and a squad with much promise and ability. Sadly, their performance didn't match the anticipation and they were disappointed with their 5th place finish.
With 9 A Division teams, the draw was based around a 9 team random draw. Sydney drew last years beaten finalist, Parkes along with the highly regarded Far North Coast team. This combined with Tamworth and Illawarra meant Sydney had their work cut out for them if they were going to make the final four and secure a playoff spot.
As Sydney was one of the teams forced to travel a long distance this championship, they were in Grafton on Thursday night. As a result they were drawn an early start, playing Tamworth at 8AM. As expected, Tamworth were resolute in their desire for a good showing and defended valiantly. The wind was taken out of Sydney's sails after being denied what they felt should have been a penalty stroke and then going behind just before half-time when Warren Baker scored a field goal. Regrouping after half time, Sydney drew level with a Stuart Farquharson field goal. The statistics show Sydney dominated the match but they were unable to score enough goals to claim all three points.
Sydney's second match was against the talented Far North Coast team. After a last-minute draw in the same championships in 2020, FNC were going to be a tough prospect. With a squad including a former Kookaburra and a long time Queensland Blades representative, Sydney struggled to contain their counter-attacking style. It only took 12 minutes before the Sydney defence was penetrated and not surprisingly Grant Smith was the scorer. Fighting hard, Sydney equalised with a field goal from Mark Greaves. Leaving Grant Smith unmarked proved dangerous near the end of the first half and Sydney went into half time trailing 2-1.
Four minutes after half-time, Evan Watson restored parity, only to have Grant Smith complete his hat-trick a minute later. Andrew Newton crashed home a goal to level it up again, and in the 40th minute Kamal Naqvi gave Sydney the lead for the first time. Unfortunately, Chris Clarke grabbed an equaliser to complete the scoring and have the game finish 4-4 in a highly entertaining contest.
Starting day two with only 2 points from a possible 6, Sydney's match up against last years beaten finalist Parkes was a daunting prospect. The match was complicated by a 7 minute "pause" owing to the need to get an ambulance on the pitch to medivac a player from the previous match. It was incredibly frustrating for both teams, but as always, player safety takes precedence and we wish the injured Illawarra player a speedy recovery.
Sydney were always chasing the game, and at full-time found themselves on the wrong side of a 3-2 score line.
With a place in the playoffs still a slim mathematical chance, the match against Illawarra was a must win. Taking the lead mid way through the first half, Illawarra lead for much of the match until a brace of goals from Kamal Naqvi gave Sydney their much sort after win. Unfortunately, results did not go their way and Sydney surrendered the title they won in 2019 and 2020, finishing fifth.
After the semi-final match ups were completed, the final came down to Far North Coast vs Newcastle. Far North Coast unleashed all their weapons and ran away with the final, finishing 7-2 winners in a match that included a spectacular penalty stroke save by Peter Ryan.
At the conclusion of the final, the state teams were announced and can be found here.
Congratulations to the Grafton Hockey Association for laying on an excellent championships and fantastic weather for the three days. The volunteers and officials did the region proud and I am sure many participants look forward to returning to Grafton for future championships.
Note: The video shown below was produced by Teaj Sian. Great work Teaj!