“SIMPLY brilliant” was how Warrnambool Rangers coach Luke Mackenlay described his side’s thrilling grand final victory on Saturday night.
The Rangers clinched their 3-2 victory over the Sebastopol Vikings in the final minutes of the game under lights in the Ballarat and District Soccer Association grand final at Ballarat.
Mackenlay said the Rangers were keen to redeem last year’s grand final loss and it was their strong determination and fighting spirit that got them across the line.
“No one likes the feeling of losing a grand final and no one wants to feel it twice — that was what was driving us,” Mackenlay said.
He said there was jubilation as the final whistle sounded.
“This is the best performance the club has had in the senior men’s division since we joined the Ballarat league in 2005,” Mackenlay said yesterday.
“That year we finished fourth on the ladder and won the grand final.
“This year we finished second and went on to win the premiership.
“It’s a great reward for the club, our sponsors and for this group of players who have been giving it their all for the past three years.”
Mackenlay said the Rangers went into the game knowing they had to hit the Vikings hard early on.
“We wanted to keep them from scoring in the first half, and knew if we went hard at them we would tire them,” Mackenlay said.
“The last five minutes of the half were tense — they were attacking hard and peppering the goals.
“We managed to hold them off and went into half-time 0-0, which gave us confidence that the plan was working.”
Mackenlay said the game opened up for both teams in the second half.
The first score of the game went to the Vikings in the first 10 minutes.
“Five minutes later we secured the equaliser with a cross to Leigh Hunter, who went into the box and showed a lot of courage in a 50/50 challenge with their goal keeper,” Mackenlay said.
A penalty 20 minutes into the second half led the Vikings to their second goal.
Mackenlay said their keeper got a finger on the ball but just couldn’t keep it out of the net.
He said a change to the line-up late in the half turned the game for the Rangers.
“Zeb McCarthy was taken from the field after taking a hit to the head, so I moved Lee Sharples up front and subbed Xavier Lesock onto the ground,” Mackenlay said.
“Lee got away with the ball and scored a beautiful goal, that took the score back to 2-2 with about 10 minutes to go.”
Mackenlay said that with about three minutes left on the clock, Lesock scored the winning goal.
“He got a toe to the ball in the box and put it into the corner and finished it off nicely,” Mackenlay said.
“We just shut the game down and wouldn’t let them near the ball.”
The Rangers’ Dylan Johnstone was named most valuable player for the finals.
Mackenlay said the MVP was well deserved.
“He changed the game last week and did the same this week,” Mackenlay said yesterday.
“For a 17-year-old to play with that maturity and with such a strong work ethic, that was the difference.”