Apollo has announced itself as a contender for the 2021 Steeline Limestone Coast Football Association Premiership Cup after knocking over the preseason champions in enemy territory on Sunday.
The winter weather did hold the players back from putting on a show in the opening round of the season and Apollo sent the biggest statement at MGA Park.
Just one week after Gambier Centrals stormed to a huge Steeline Cup victory over Inter, it was sent crashing back down to Earth after 2-1 defeat to the blue and white.
Apollo coach James Stephenson was thrilled with his team’s performance and said it opened up big possibilities for 2021.
“We know you do not win a premiership in the first round of the year, but we are absolutely thriving and jelling as a unit,” he said.
“We still have a lot of work to do, but there is a different mentality and belief from our boys this year, so Inter and Centrals lookout, we are going to give you a red-hot crack.” With both teams looking to start the season on the front foot, a fast pace was set from the opening whistle.
Each team created chances and had their moments, but neither could gain the upper hand as numerous one-on-one battles entertained the crowd.
Apollo defender Adam Walker had the tough task of keeping Lions’ striker Sam Shoemark quiet, while Thomas Inglis tried to keep up with Broc Linden.
In the middle Christian Fleetwood and Cameron Saint teamed up for the home team against Jack Donehue Tobbei Kennett.
Eventually the bubble was burst by the visitors when Say Say Wah found some space in the box and snuck his strike past Centrals’ goalkeeper Steven Hughes.
The breakthrough gave Apollo many reasons to celebrate at half time, but Stephenson said he expected the Lions to roar back into the fight, which proved to be the case.
“We were evenly matched, so it had been a great battle, but I did say to my boys at half time (Centrals) are going to come out hard for the first 10 or 15 minutes, so hold them at bay and take the ball at the feet and do not go long,” he said.
“But unfortunately, we could not do that because of the pressure they put on us after half time.” The reinvigorated Lions pressed hard when play resumed and controlled the ball in their forward half.
After 20 minutes of unrelenting pressure, Apollo’s defence could not resist Linden, who defeated goalkeeper James Kipping from a tight angle.
However, the equalizer did not deter the visitors as they rallied with the game on the line and answered back minutes later.
With the intensity lifted and full time 10 minutes away, both sides went on the attack searching for the win.
Linden almost pulled the Lions back into the contest, but hit the crossbar, while Apollo also had its chances to extend its lead.
Stephenson said it was a great team performance, but paid extra credit to his defensive line, which stood tall under constant fire.
“The whole team played really well and consistent throughout the game,” he said.
“Say Wah and MJ (Sar Hay Moo) were great up top, but in my eyes Adam Walker was absolutely fantastic.
“He has been amazing this year and kept Sam Shoemark at bay for the whole game, which was incredible for us.” The victory is a reverse of the recent Steeline Cup semi-final, also played at MGA Park where the Lions prevailed 2-0.
Despite Apollo’s preseason ending early, Stephenson said he drew confidence from how his new-look side performed in the defeat.
“We were pretty confident going into the game because we really competed in the semi-final,” he said.
“With seven new A Grade players it was always going to take time to gel the team, but it was the vision of where we wanted to go.
“Centrals has a pretty good nucleus, but the loss was mainly down to our mistakes than them scoring good goals.
“So we fixed up our communication, lines and formation and tried not to concede.
“Luckily for us, Centrals probably had a bit of a hangover period after their victory last weekend, but it was a great game and we were deserving winners.” Apollo’s next opponent Millicent also started its season on a high note with a commanding performance away from home.
Travelling to Malseed Park, Millicent did not give hosts Blue Lake United a sniff and moved the ball rapidly towards goal with Julian Izzo and Issac Version key players.
Matthew Gregetic was in brutal form and kicked two goals before half time.
The visitors continued to create chances in the second half and Izzo thought he scored the third major when he struck the crossbar and deflected behind the goalkeeper.
However, the ball did not go into the back of the net and returned to field of play.
Millicent believed it was a goal, but the referee called play on in a situation where goal-line technology would have been very handy.
After a few tense moments on the pitch, Millicent won comfortably 2-0.
International kicked off its premiership defence with a high-scoring win on the road in Naracoorte.
The home side managed to find the back of the net twice, but those strikes were not enough to stop Inter from doubling its score.
Matthew Bueti found his mojo with two goals, while Christian Cella and Connor Prior also scored.
The Steeline Limestone Coast Football Association Premiership Cup skips the long weekend and will return on Sunday, June 20.