The 2022 Steeline Limestone Coast Football Association senior men’s premiership season kicked off with a bang on Sunday as teams resumed rivalries across the Blue Lake city.
The heat was turned up to the max at Webb Street where Apollo and International went head-to-head in the show-stopping clash of the weekend.
There was no love lost after Apollo upstaged Inter in last year’s preliminary final and the black and blue were out for revenge.
Meanwhile, the blue and white were determined to prove that big win was no fluke and enjoy the bragging rights for an extended period for once and James Stephenson’s men started with plenty of hunger.
With the youthful exuberance of Say Wah, Reuben van Eyk and Skay Per, Apollo pressed hard early and put International on the back foot instantly.
The home crowd was up and about as their team threatened the goals on numerous occasions with attacking football.
An International team missing a few big names struggled to connect and string passes together which opened the door for Apollo.
Despite being under relentless pressure, Ka Nay Di Baw, who was wearing the gloves for the first time at the top level stayed strong and managed to keep the shots away from the net.
But eventually Apollo’s push was too much and Say Wah sent the hosts into the lead after nailing a penalty.
The blue and white kept the foot down and tried to extend its lead, but Ka Nay with the assistance defenders Tyler Michielan and Lachlan Charlton repelled everything that came their way.
Their efforts importantly ensured the score remained 1-0 at half time to keep International in the game.
Boasting a team with so many match-winners who have got the job done over the years, Inter could never be discounted and they returned to the pitch a different proposition.
This time it was the black and blue doing the attacking and Apollo’s defenders were on the back foot.
The hosts were able to create a chance on the rare occasion with one Robert Nagy flick hitting the post and was centimetres away from doubling the lead.
However, the vast majority of play was exclusively in Inter’s offensive half with the likes of Ricky McRobert and Christian Cella doing the hard work in the midfield.
The experienced International outfit worked away at the Apollo defence and eventually pushed its opponents to the edge in the last 20 minutes to break the game open and the visitors had the perfect man to capitalise.
Matthew Bueti always knows where the goals are and manufactured the equaliser to ignite his Inter teammates.
The star striker only needed another three minutes to send his team into the lead in sensational style after scoring from a corner to send the black and blue fans into a frenzy.
After Apollo’s lead vanished in the blink of an eye and with the big crowd at full voice, the air was tense and the players tempers were at breaking point with a couple of spot fires surfacing around the pitch.
A penalty awarded to Inter after So Chree Htoo and Erike Irakoze got tangled up gave the long-time rivals even more to argue about, but those screams were soon silenced when Bueti easily converted the free to complete his hat-trick.
After snatching a 3-1 victory from the jaws of defeat on an eventful afternoon, International coach Vlada Gajic paid credit to his team’s fighting abilities.
“Apollo is a good team, so we really had to dig deep to get the win,” he said.
“We had a few players out with COVID which was no excuse and Apollo pressed us at the beginning.
“But you have to play a full 90 minutes and the more we move the ball quickly, the more teams will struggle.
“Matthew did a great job, but he was part of a team of players who moved the ball around nicely.
“It is always good to get the premiership points to start a long season.”
After a competitive showing at the preseason carnival, Naracoorte was expected to give reigning premier Gambier Centrals a little scare at MGA Park.
But the Lions took control early and made full use of the strong breeze blowing towards the Bruce Morale end.
New coach Brodey Koop made an immediate impact with an impressive long-range, while a smart backwards header by Jake Blackwell gave Central some breathing space before the big break.
Naracoorte’s hopes were dented by a knee injury to Gregory Tanga and – despite the best efforts of Muhammad Haidar and Andrew Munro – the visitors could not mount a fightback.
Centrals wrapped up a comfortable 4-0 win with Blackwell and Sam Shoemark doubling the lead in the second half to start the title defence in style.
Blue Lake could be one of the big improvers in 2022 and made a statement by smashing Millicent 9-1.
The zippy Rangers outfit was busy creating chances within seconds of kick off and Meereh Htoo opened the floodgates with a header before the 10-minute mark.
It was the start of a Blue Lake exhibition as Lay Bae Htoo completed a hat-trick, while Jack Latham and Jacob Phillips also scored on multiple occasions to push the hosts to the 9-1 thumping.
On a tough afternoon for Millicent, Isaac Veron was able to get his team onto the scoreboard.