Woonona celebrated one of the greatest moments in their 131-year history on Sunday afternoon in claiming their first-ever Illawarra Premier League title.

The Sharks did everything required of them, defeating South Coast United 3-0 but they looked to have fallen just short with Wollongong United scoring an 88th-minute equaliser against Coniston to move a point clear at the top. 

However, in a last day full of drama, Coniston scored a 98th-minute winner which lifted Woonona into the lead on goal difference and upon hearing the news, Ocean Park erupted with waves of joy swaying across fans and players alike.

South Coast had arrived at Woonona needing three points to avoid finishing last and they looked the better side early on.

In the ninth minute, talismanic forward Ricky Bertakis set up Kieran Brodnik with a lobbed pass with the latter attempting to chip the goalkeeper only to be denied by the crossbar.

After this bright start, United were dealt a major blow when Bertakis limped off injured in the 23rd minute and came close to compounding their woes five minutes later when they turned over the ball when playing out from the back which allowed Cameron Besgrove to fire off a shot on target which forced a diving save from Jason Bleakley.

Following this nearly-fatal error, the first half remained in a stalemate with neither side allowing the other to create any promising chances.

Six minutes into the second period, Woonona nearly cost themselves a goal when playing out from the back when Thomas Burke kicked the ball straight into the oncoming Nick Roufogalis, who the ball deflected off just wide of the post.

However, the Sharks soon clicked into gear and scored the opener in the 57th minute courtesy of Jesse French. Following a driven shot from range, the striker’s predatory instincts arose pouncing on Bleakley’s parried save and duly placed the ball into the back of the net.

Along the lines of the adage, one brings two, Woonona scored again four minutes later through Besgrove who ran onto a ball that was cut across the box and was initially missed by one of his teammates with an air swing before being hammered into the back of the net. 

Woonona thought they had their third in the 67th minute when Damien Grew found the back of the net only for it to be pulled back for the Sharks foul just before the youngster got his shot away.

With 15 minutes remaining, Woonona came close to costing themselves the league title with another error playing out from the back. This time though, goalkeeper Jair Fernandez would come to the rescue saving Jamie Wakeling’s shot in a one-on-one encounter. 

The 80th minute welcomed a moment that will be recalled at Ocean Park for years to come with Woonona scoring the crucial third. Brendan Pattman picked the ball up on the edge of the box and drilled a shot into the United defence, the ball rebounded back to him before he struck a perfect half-volley into the back of the net before being swarmed by his teammates.

With ten minutes until full time, there was a complete range of emotions on show amongst the fans as they swayed between excitement, pride and anxiety. However, when the news spread that Wollongong United had equalised against Coniston there was a sense that their league title dream was all but over.

Alas, after seven minutes of waiting, clinging onto the slightest glimmer of hope, the news came across that Coniston had scored the latest of stoppage-time winners. No superlatives can truly describe the moment as the fans and players learnt of their fairytale victory.

After the match, Woonona coach Dan McGoldrick praised his team and expressed his pure delight.

“I just burst into tears when I heard the result that Cono had got their last goal, it is a dream come true for me,” McGoldrick exclaimed.

“The key elements for it all are teamwork, we play for each other, there are no absolute superstars except for our Japanese man [Tomohiro Ishii]; and consistent performance, the difference between our good and our bad has been very narrow while last year it was up and down.”

“I’m old school, I believe winning the league championship is the most important thing, I would love to win the grand final, but this is the peak of my coaching career.”

As for South Coast, they finish a disappointing 2020 at the foot of the table, although they will be spared playing in the District League next season with promotion and relegation scrapped for this campaign.

Full post-match interview with Dan McGoldrick:

Woonona: 3 (Jesse French 57’, Cameron Besgrove 61’, Brendan Pattman 80’)

South Coast United: 0

Woonona: 1. FERNANDEZ Jair, 2. LOPEZ Jeremy, 3. BURKE Thomas, 4. REGAN-WILLIAMS Taro, 5. ISHII Tomohiro, 6. TOOHEY Luke, 7. PATTMAN Brendan, 8. BESGROVE Cameron, 9. FRENCH Jesse, 10. GAUDIOSI Robbie, 11. GREW Damien.

Substitutes: 12. MCCALL Eden, 13. SMITH Cooper, 14. CHILTON Liam, 15. SWEENEY Hayden, 20. CHURCHWARD Jack.

South Coast United: 1. BLEAKLEY Jason, 2. MENA Dylan, 3. YOUSSEF Peter, 4. VALIC Greg, 5. FRKOVIC Brooklan, 8. HAWKER Zac, 11. BERTAKIS Ricky,16. BOVA Andrew, 17. HMDA Kolan, 23. BRODNIK Keiran, 30. ROUFOGALIS Nick.

Substitutes: 9. WAKELING Jamie, 22. AHMAD Usamah, 40. ANIC Antoni, 12. WARREN Jordan, 21. VALIC David.

Date: 4 October 2020 

Venue: Ocean Park

Referee: Caleb Blanch

Assistant Referees: Bryce Dreghorn and Helmut Lux

Report and photo by Nic Wilson, on Twitter @_nicwilson
Match Photo: Noel Wynn

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