A Grand Final is always a special occasion. It throws up incidents and moments that will be forever replayed in the minds of the participants, and on the screens, whether big or small, for years to come. Add in a derby and it becomes even bigger.
Pit two of the biggest rivals in the city together, with a shared ancestry, and it becomes monumental. And that is what we have for the 2023 edition. Canberra Croatia, the red machine, the trophy collectors, up against the noisy neighbours, the League Champions, the O’Connor Knights.
These two may well be rivals, but theirs is a family affair. Two clubs of Croatian heritage who share more in common than not, whose membership straddles players and administrators who have donned both badges. For ninety minutes, maybe more, they will lock horns with no holds barred, no quarter given, to emerge afterwards to enjoy the occasion further.
O’Connor are now on a fifteen-match unbeaten run having won fourteen and drawn one. Canberra Croatia have scored eighteen goals in their last four NPL matches and a mind-boggling 32 in the last eight. The Knights have the stingiest defence, their opponents the most prolific attack.
Something needs to give. But what? Poll any number of participants, or keen observers of the local game and you would find persuasive arguments made for both parties. The Knights have a goalscoring star in Aisosa Ihegie and wing wonders in Niko Kresic and Phakedi Manda. Croatia responds with the enigmatic Stephen Domenici, the power of Lukman Ahmed-Shaibu and the guile of Franc Greco.
The League Champions boasts of a midfield including the silk-smooth Micheal Adams, the metronomic Daniel Roberts, and the experienced Regan Walsh. The Australia Cup Qualifying winners send forth the dynamic Micheal Piccolo, the intelligent Daniel Colbertaldo, and the fearsome Ryan Keir.
Both will point to defensive units of some repute. For Lachlan Fields and Connor Bill, read Daniel Subasic and Daniel Sparrow. From marauding full-backs Harrison Palic and James Driscoll the Knights attack in numbers, ditto Croatia with Marco Gayer and Tony Spaseski.
Maybe the difference will be in goal? But who would you pick? The agile, athletic up-and-comer in Seb Arranz, or the proven match-winning brilliance of Sam Brown. The supporting cast, those who may be starting, or given an opportunity to impact off the bench are equally impressive.
So, what to expect. Noise. Passion. Colour. A Canberra rivalry like no other. A game that sets the pulses racing and the heart rate soaring. And all in the big dance itself. This will be a game to go down in Canberra folklore.
Saturday 23 September
O’Connor Knights v Canberra Croatia (Deakin Stadium, 19:00)
Saturday 23 September
Canberra Croatia v Monaro Panthers (Deakin Stadium, 13:00)
ADMISSION – covers all four Grand Finals
Concessions: Gold Coin
Official Program: $2