Just days after losing one of their own, Apollo dug deep to overcome arch-rival International in a classic Limestone Coast Football Association Senior Men’s encounter as the heavens opened at Casadio Park on Sunday.
Players always push the extra mile in every encounter between Inter and Apollo and the latest battle for the Michielan Brothers Cup was a classic, having everything from skill, goals, excitement, rain and a touch of controversy.
After a taxing 90 minutes in freezing conditions, Apollo made amends for its opening round defeat and held on to score an emotional 3-2 win.
Elsewhere things were a lot tamer with Gambier Centrals continuing their winning form to surge to the top of the ladder in Naracoorte.
The Lions showed some class by scoring heavily against the yellow and black, winning 5-1 with Cam Saint the star.
Blue Lake also had no dramas overcoming Millicent away from home.
Tristan Guess was in hot form as the Rangers cruised to a 5-0 triumph with ease.
But it was a different story at Casadio Park where Inter and Apollo clashed for the first time since their thrilling season opener, with the rematch just as exciting and following a similar script.
The blue and white came out hard from kick off – fuelled by emotion from the defeat and recent events — in the fight for the Michielan Brothers Cup.
Despite battling atrociously freezing and muddy conditions, Apollo found a way to play its style of soccer with clean and direct passing around the pitch.
After 20 tough minutes, the visitors broke the deadlock through a clean strike from Say Wah to silence the home crowd stationed in their latest vantage point underneath the brand new change rooms.
The breakthrough sparked even more energy into Apollo as the side immediately mounted another counter-attack.
This time Shar Nay Than was at the end of the play and he stayed composed to nail a second goal in quick time.
Suddenly Inter was on the verge of its first defeat of the 2022 season and looked to its key players to respond.
But Apollo kept pressing hard with its well-executed style and pushed for a third goal, however, young International goalkeeper Ka Nay Di Baw dug his heels into the mud and stood firm.
His fighting efforts in the goals kept the visitors lead to 2-0 and ensured the hosts remained in the game at half time.
Just like the previous clash, International regrouped and showed its class in the second half by going on an all-out attack to try and save the game.
The undermanned hosts turned the game on its head by controlling most of the play but they could not finish their opportunities.
However, things changed in the 59th minute when the contest went into overdrive.
A well-worked corner kick created the perfect scoring chance for International and after multiple attempts, Golden Boot Matthew Bueti had the magic touch and found the back of the net.
With Inter and Bueti believing in another comeback, the subzero temperatures dissolved due to the rising heat on the pitch.
The hosts were giving it everything in hope for history to repeat, but this time Apollo managed to swing just as hard.
The visitors found an opening on the eastern wing and Shar Nay was at it again, sneaking the ball just past the keeper and the goal line to open a pivotal two-goal advantage.
But even with less than 10 minutes on the clock, the game was not over and International made sure things got even more tense with another huge play.
When Bueti is charging at full steam, little can stop him and he saw an opportunity from the right corner of the penalty box.
Bueti stormed through two defenders and blazed the ball past the keeper to score a much-needed goal.
Unfortunately, the joy of the goal was quickly soured when the celebrations went wrong.
Tempers were at an all-time high and many spot fires started sparking around the pitch, while key Inter player Sam Bueti was forced off for receiving a second yellow card.
Despite only having 10 men, International kept pushing, but could not stop Apollo from holding on and regaining some bragging rights.
At various stages there was a sense of deja vu from round 1, but this time the blue and white stayed strong to record a fitting win.
Apollo coach Jamie Stephenson said he hoped it could give this boys belief going forward.
“Inter is always a strong team and even when we were 2-0 up at half time, we knew it was going to be a hard result because they always fight,” he said.
“But we stuck at it and took our chances.
“There were no secrets to the first half, it was just a plan we had been working on.
“When it gets rough, you need to keep playing with integrity and we knew if we played our style of soccer we can beat anyone in the league.
“Now we have a taste for it, hopefully we can keep it going.”
Despite all the success, there was a sombre feeling around Casadio Park with players sporing black armbands for a former Apollo player, which is why Stephenson said it was an emotional win for many reasons.
“It was a proud day, but soccer is second because one of our young boys passed away on Friday,” he said.
“Soccer does not matter, its all about mental health and getting men, women, boys and girls talking.”