It was South Hobart who ended their season on a high, downing the Champions Devonport 2-0, to claim the final trophy on offer for the year. I’ll take a look back on that before offering some final reflections on the season that was.
South Hobart Turn The Tables on Strikers
South Hobart turned the tables on the Devonport Strikers and walked away with a 2-0 victory in Saturday’s final at Valley Road as goals from Castaneda and Lakoseljac delivered them Finals Series success.
Devonport came close to taking the lead inside the opening ten minutes when Brody Denehey smashed a volley from outside the box, but Nicholas O’Connell responded with a fine save, getting up and getting a strong right glove on it to keep it out in style.
Five minutes later and South Hobart took he lead, as Eduardo Castaneda curled in an Olimpico goal from the corner, lobbing Keegan Smith and catching the Strikers’ defence out. A spectacular eye-catching goal to be sure, but one that the Strikers certainly should’ve dealt with.
Devonport looked to mount an immediate riposte, as Luke Bennett began to loom as a major threat, just as he did in the Lakoseljac Cup final with some mazy runs. But for all their time in attack, the Strikers were largely restricted to a series of shots from outside the box, which they couldn’t keep under the bar. It meant South headed into the sheds with a 1-0 lead.
Shortly after the restart, South doubled their advantage, as Morton and Fidra combined wide on the right before Fidra fed it into an unmarked Bradley Lakoseljac in the box. The South midfielder couldn’t believe the time and space he was afforded and he took full advantage, placing his shot past Smith and into the back of the net to make it 2-0.
South were content to protect the lead for much of the second half, as the Strikers huffed and puffed but struggled to create anything meaningful in the final third, as the South defence, led superbly by Jacob Lancaster, kept them at bay as the game wound to its conclusion.
Nicholas O’Connell would then shut the door on any hopes of a late Strikers rally as he produced a stunning save in the 81st minute to keep out Brody Denehey’s goal-bound free kick. Denehey got his effort over the wall and it was seemingly about to dip under the bar and in before O’Connell flung himself across to make an absolutely incredible stop to get up and keep it out.
The Strikers would continue to probe away in the dying moments of the game, but couldn’t find a way through the defence or past the outstanding O’Connell.
The final whistle rang out and confirmed South Hobart as the Finals Series victors, finishing their season on a high and getting one over their modern rivals, who had previously vanquished them in both the Summer Cup and Lakoseljac Cup finals earlier in the year. South started the season a little too slowly to feature in the title race in a meaningful way, but the second half of the season was highly impressive and with some more early season consistency next year, they will fancy themselves to push for the title in 2023.
For Devonport, whilst defeated on the day and missing the chance for a clean sweep of the 2023 silverware, the Strikers will content themselves with the League/Cup double they achieved this season, winning the two biggest prizes on offer in what was another extraordinary campaign from Tom Ballantyne’s men.
Final Thoughts and Awards Ballot
So with that the 2023 season is in the book and the offseason is upon us. I’ll end this final wash-up for the season as I do every season, with my own personal awards ballot, summing up how I saw things and taking a look back at some of the moments of the season.
Player of the Season
5th Alfred Hess
The Lions’ player/coach was probably the best player in the competition over the final two months, coming home like an absolute steam train as he led from the front and helped inspire his side to an eight-game winning run to end the campaign. He offered drive from the middle and was heavily involved in the goals by either scoring or setting them up. The leadership he offered was first-rate and helped turn the Lions’ season around after it appeared to be drifting away.
4th Charles Bidwell
An absolute terrier in the Devonport Strikers’ midfield, Bidwell often set the tone with his no-nonsense approach and ability to get stuck in and win the ball back for his side. His work with the ball was solid too, providing a strong range of passing but it was the protection he offered his defence and willingness to press the opposition that really stood out in Bidwell’s role. He was vital to how his side functioned this season and routinely negated the opposition’s dangerous midfielders.
3rd Jackson Gardner
The Canadian gloveman was simply outstanding for the Glenorchy Knights this season, drawing favourable comparisons to his compatriot and former NPL TAS luminary Niko Giantsopoulos in the process. The Knights won numerous matches 1-0 this season that could easily have gone the other way had it not been for the performances of Gardner. Some of his saves were absolutely breathtaking and he stole several points for his side with superb individual displays. As good a shot-stopper as the NPL Tasmania has seen and a simply shining season.
2nd Roberto Fernandez Garrido
The mercurial Spaniard picked up where he left off in 2022, putting together another incredible season for the Strikers, leading the line and firing them to the league title. After scoring 27 times in 2022, he went one better by scoring 28 this time around to claim the Golden Boot once again. His class on the ball, intelligent movement in the penalty area and lethal finishing ability makes him one of the best strikers the league has ever seen. An enormous part of why Devonport are once again the Champions.
1st Nicholas Morton
The South Hobart skipper has long been a star man of the NPL Tasmania, but in 2023 he reached new heights, compiling his best ever season by scoring 22 goals, playing primarily as a striker, but also spending time in midfield. His dribbling skills, strength on the ball and penchant for the spectacular were all front and centre this year as he found new levels of consistency and helped lead his side to a second placed finish. A showman on the pitch, Morton was pure box office in 2023 and the best player in the competition in my estimation.
Rising Star – Toby Simeoni
Leading the line at senior level at the age of just 19 years is an extremely tough ask, but Simeoni was a strong target for his Launceston City side this season as he became a regular starter at this level. He provided a strong frame and physical presence up top for his Launceston City side this year, scoring six times in the process and looks a player of considerable promise as part of an exciting young brigade City are building in the final third.
Coach of the Year – Tom Ballantyne
Another dominant campaign from the Strikers under the stewardship of Ballantyne, compiling an 18-1-2 record en route to defending their league title. Did he have the best squad at his disposal? He probably did, but that’s still no guarantee of success and we saw that other sides were certainly capable of challenging the Strikers this year, yet none could get near the consistency of the Strikers, who finished 15 points clear on top, which is a significant margin and enough for me to give Ballantyne the nod, though Alfred Hess came with a late charge the way he had the Lions playing in the final 8 weeks.
Match of the Season– Round 20 – Kingborough 4-3 Devonport
The title race may have been over, but there was still plenty to play for as the Lions and Strikers met at Lightwood Park in the penultimate Round. The Strikers entered the game riding a 7-match winning streak, and the Lions had won their past six; it set the stage for an intriguing match and did it ever deliver. The Lions trailed 3-1 with 15 minutes to play, before rallying to take a 4-3 lead in the 94th minute of the game. Devonport then almost levelled with Azizi making a big save to ensure it remained the Lions’ day, as they made it 7 in a row in the most dramatic of matches.
Moment of the Season – Garrido Shows His Class
The prior Kingborough Lions v Devonport match at Lightwood Park in Round 13 was another game that sticks in the mind, mainly for one particular moment. The week prior the Strikers had finally been felled by South Hobart, losing 3-1 at Valley Road and with the game locked at 0-0 at 77 minutes it appeared they might be about to drop points in consecutive weeks and inject some life into the title race. Enter the Spaniard, Roberto Fernandez Garrido, who brought down a lobbed ball with the silkiest of first touches, before lobbing the keeper with his second touch. It was a goal of sheer quality and ensured the Strikers remained firmly on track to defend their crown. From there they wouldn’t look back, not dropping another point ’til they had wrapped up the title.
So there we have it and that brings an end to my reporting on the local game for 2023. It’s been a pleasure covering the McDonald’s NPL once again this year and thank you all for reading; hopefully, I have offered some value or insight along the journey. Enjoy your Summer breaks.