Battles lines were drawn for the first time in the 2022 Steeline Limestone Coast Football Association season on Sunday and it was the home team which took home the silverware.
The preseason cup was shortened from the usual multi-week affair to a huge one-day carnival where all teams gathered at Casadio Park, but none could topple International.
Those still waking up Sunday morning were brought to life by the intense Inter-Apollo rivalry, which kicked off proceedings.
Still stinging from the preliminary final loss to the blue and white last year, Inter made a statement in the first on-pitch assignment of 2022.
Apollo struggled to keep up with the black and blue, who controlled the first 40-minute contest to run out winners by the comfortable margin of 4-1.
It was a grand way to start the campaign for Inter with the usual suspects of Matt Bueti, Christian Cella, Erike Irakoze and Tyler Michelan building enough confidence to turn the team into a winning machine again.
The side then edged out a valiant Naracoorte outfit 2-1 before smashing Millicent 7-0 and completing the day with a pivotal 1-0 win over reigning premier Centrals, which was enough to take out the cup.
The only hiccup along the way was a 0-0 draw against Blue Lake, which appeared to take a giant stride during the summer.
But Naracoorte turned the most heads showing the greatest amount of improvement to jump ahead of Apollo and Centrals to finish the day in an outstanding second place.
Despite being unable to overcome the likes of Centrals and Inter, the yellow and black made sure their more fancied opponents earnt the tight wins.
A small mistake in defence opened up an opportunity for Alex Hill to slide into an open net, but the Lions were not able to score for the rest of the game as the new-look Naracoorte team tightened up and enjoyed plenty of possession.
The yellow and black were also impressive against Inter pushing the eventual winners all the way in a 2-1 contest.
David Clifford’s team then reaped the rewards of its hard work by dominating its remaining fixtures to establish itself as a dark horse for the premiership season.
Edging out last year’s grand finalist Apollo was the crowning moment for runners-up, which also knocked over Blue Lake by one goal, while a big win over Millicent completed the day.
The likes of Alfred Nokia and Tanga were not afraid to get amongst the action and with more senior squad members to come in, things are looking promising at Naracoorte.
The Rangers were another to showcase some improvement and they were fast out of the gate against Millicent, taking only two minutes to score thanks to Mee Reh Htoo, who finished the chance with a flourish from point-blank range.
Instant success inspired Blue Lake to mix it with the big boys and its more confident brand of football passed the test.
The team which finished bottom last year managed to share the honours with both Centrals and International across a pair of hard-fought affairs.
However, Blue Lake struggled to sustain its quality at the back end of the day and ran out of legs against Naracoorte and Apollo.
Reigning premier Centrals started strong in its first appearance under the guidance of Brodey Koop.
The 1-0 win over Naracoorte was followed by a two-goal triumph over Millicent with Lewis March and Riley Johnston providing plenty of pace on either wing.
But the Lions could not put away Blue Lake or Apollo and ended the day disappointed when a Bueti free kick gave Inter the winning edge in the clash of the titans.
Apollo also finished with two wins and losses after a hard-fought day which will provide coach James Stephenson with plenty of talking points.
After battling to find its best in the opener against Inter, the blue and white had some fun against Millicent scoring five goals, but battled for consistency losing to Naracoorte.
However, Apollo ended on a high sharing the honours in a tight grand final rematch with Centrals before emerging on top against Blue Lake.
Millicent battled all day, losing each game and failed to register a goal, but will learn a lot from the carnival to be better prepared for round 1.
Inter captain Christian Cella said winning the preseason carnival was the perfect start to the season with the team’s rotations being important.
“We have been working hard over the preseason and were looking forward to seeing how we can compete against the other teams,” he said.
“Our coach Vlada (Gajic) came in very prepared and had all the teams set out for the day from the get-go to give everyone 90 minutes.
“It was pretty tiring at the end because each game was very frantic and all go.
“It allowed everyone to blow out the cobwebs and gave us confidence in our depth.
“We and the other teams were probably not at full strength being preseason, but we took a lot out of it and enjoyed it.”
After getting a glimpse of their rivals, teams will now head back to the training track and prepare for the premiership season to kick off on Sunday, May 1.