City lads outdo themselves for win in honour of late teammate
GRAFTON City's 2-1 win over Nambucca in the North Coast Football 2nd Division grand final was more than just a game of football for the squad.
It was the culmination of one of the most emotional years the players will endure.
Luke Weatherley was a gifted footballer who played for City, but more than that he was great mates with everyone in the team.
That was until his life was tragically cut short one Saturday afternoon in late May after a motorcycle crash. The grief-stricken squad banded together, and dedicated their season to their fallen mate.
"It has been a special year on the field," City coach Tony Blanch said.
"Luke lost his life in a bike accident on Rushforth Road earlier this year. The boys played on but dedicated the whole season to him."
City now end their 2013 with three premierships in their trophy cabinet, after claiming the local minor and major titles.
They entered Saturday's game as the clear underdogs, with Nambucca going through most of their local competition untroubled.
An early penalty saw striker Steve Smith's name appear on the scoresheet for the first time in more than a month, before Nambucca nabbed an equaliser just five minutes later.
"He missed the penalty the first time but scored off a deflection," Blanch said.
"The ref actually brought it back because players had crossed the line early. He didn't make any mistake with his second shot."
The combatants traded blows with neither side able to land a knockout punch, but all that changed in the 85th minute when Keith Grant struck.
City heroically defended the remaining five minutes to secure the NCF 2nd Division premiership, with Blanch over the moon about his team's success.
"Nambucca dominated the whole second half. Their structure was much better but we scrambled really well," Blanch said.
"Craig Phelps (midfielder) went off with an injury after 15 minutes so Hoan Nguyen had to play at centre mid.
"He actually did really well. He created a bit of space and a few opportunities for our guys to attack the goal."
Blanch reserved the biggest compliments for Lee Stutt and Jimmy Connor, two players he said "worked their guts off".
"Lee was a standout - I'd say he was our man of the match," Blanch said.
"He busted his guts in defence and never stopped trying.
"Jimmy was the same. He's still got the flu but it didn't stop him running around all day."
The win means City have the right to challenge cross-town rivals Westlawn Tigers for a spot in the premier division.
While their decision has not officially been made to the NCF, Blanch said his team would most likely remain in 2nd Division.
"It probably won't happen," Blanch said.
"It'd be a good game to have as a fundraiser but I don't think the players want to move up."