It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the autumn of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way (Garnsey, David – “A Tale of Two Seasons”)

Football can be, and so often is, a cruel game.  For every Leicester City fairy tale, there is a dashed Tottenham Hotspur dream.  Against exciting Icelandic success, there is almost inevitable devastating English failure and whereas the NSFA U15 division 2 experience can take you to the even carpets of Charles Bean Oval and Blackman Oval, you can also find yourself navigating the potholes and wallaby tracks at Ku-ring-gai High School.

It was perhaps no surprise, then, that the under 15As, whose 2016 season was for so long characterised by optimism and hope, ultimately felt unfulfilled and were left to reflect on what could have been when the major prize just eluded them.  But this was in reality not “the winter of our discontent”. For the squad of 16, the coach and the manager, it was simultaneously a thrilling and agonising ride (even on Gala Day when they drew 0-0 in the Group Final and lost 0-1 on corners) but always a reminder of why we love football and why our lives would just never be the same without it.

After 11 rounds, the Tigers were joint leaders of the competition and no opponent had a winning record against them except Lane Cove, who, having just been relegated from division 1, managed to eke out a somewhat lucky 1-0 win on a dull day at Turramurra Oval, a venue that was to haunt the team for the rest of the season.

Along the way, they had put 6 goals past the eventual champions, North Sydney Boys’ High School, stormed back from 0-4 down to draw 4-4 with a strong Lindfield team, enjoyed a pulsating 4-2 victory away from home against the division’s other force, Chatswood Rangers, and lowered Lindfield’s colours again at Charles Bean in what was the team’s most complete performance of the year.  What was most heartening was that the success was the product of enterprising team football and self-belief, featuring a determined back four, a midfield quartet with great vision and a versatile gang of forwards, forming a group that, like the Plain-Belly Sneetches, really had no stars.

Coach Mark Bendall did some odd things: he regularly played the squad’s fastest forward and leading goal-scorer, Sairaag Satish, as goal-keeper (he is a very talented goalie), he allowed Oscar Sims to miss games to play Australian Rules Football, he entertained Will Schroder’s tactical ideas, he gave Harley Rock free rein with the half-time oranges and, having somehow originally selected five Knox boys in the squad, he controversially agreed to add another for the second half of the season.  The latter decision proved, however, to be a masterstroke, as Harry Borbilas troubled all defenders with his strength and power, scored 9 goals and, with Nick Bendall also regularly finding the net after an uncharacteristic drought, added another dimension to the team’s offensive threat down the stretch.

Remarkably, it all seemed to work.  In the end, just two errors of judgement against NSBHS at Turramurra Oval in round 12 turned a deserved 2-1 lead into an unfortunate 2-3 defeat and it was that six-point turnaround that decided the competition.  Put simply, a victory in that game together with the win and the draw that Wahroonga secured in the final two rounds would have seen the trophy safely nestling at Karuah.  

Without any fear of contradiction, I can state unequivocally that none of the other teams in the division were either as consistent in performance – the 1-9 defeat at the hands of Chatswood in round 2 when half of the team looked like extras from “The Walking Dead” (except that they lacked any bite whatsoever) was the only time when they were outplayed and proved to be entirely anomalous - and none matched the evenness of talent across the park that the Tigers had.

It should not be forgotten that the core of this team (Nick Bendall, Raul Chauhan, Nick Garnsey, Cameron Lorking, Kasra Parsanejad, Harley Rock, Armin Safaie, Sairaag Satish, Will Schroder and Tom Zani) were members of last year’s under 14As who finished last in division 2 but their continued development and growing chemistry and the addition of the imposing Harry Borbilas, the skill, pace and competitiveness of Sam Burrows, the calm efficiency and crossing skills of Owen Shaw, the instinctiveness and unpredictability of Eshaan Khan, the toughness and composure of Oscar Sims and the courageous goal-keeping of Conor Mansfield forged a unit that would now not be out of place in division 1, which is quite a transformation for those who endured a winless season in 2015 - the “epoch of incredulity” indeed.

Continually distracted and infuriating in pre-match warm-ups, this was a group that knew how to focus on the contest, played with an uncommon sense of fun, supported each other enthusiastically, were never in doubt about their ability to prevail and were certainly never intimidated.  Indeed, their aggression, led by Schroder and Rock and complemented by Zani’s extraordinary tackling, was feared by, and visibly psychologically affected, even their most talented opponents. That they could, and probably should, have won the division is no doubt disappointing but the swallowing of such a bitter pill should act as a spur once 2017 rolls around.

A big thank you to Arvin Rezadoust, Kyle Visage and Daniel Mooney from the 15Bs and Chris Bendall from the 13As who filled in at various times in our hours of need, the tireless assistance of Club Secretary, Anita Strickland, and for the valued support of the players’ families. 

Results – 6 wins, 5 draws and 3 losses – 23 pts (3rd in division 2 on goal difference)

Plus 2 wins and a draw in official friendly matches

Team (with number of games played, not including Gala Day): Armin Safaie (14), Cameron Lorking (12), Conor Mansfield (6), Eshaan Khan (13), Harley Rock (10), Harry Borbilas (11), Kasra Parsanejad (15), Nicholas Bendall (16), Nicholas Garnsey (16), Oscar Sims (14), Owen Shaw (15), Raul Chauhan (12), Sairaag Satish (17), Sam Burrows (17), Tom Zani (16), Will Schroder (15).

Goalscorers (not including Gala Day)

Harry Borbilas 9, Sairaag Satish 9, Nicholas Bendall 5, Sam Burrows 4, Will Schroder 4, Nicholas Garnsey 3, Oscar Sims 3, Cameron Lorking 3, Eshaan Khan 3, Kasra Parsanejad 2.  

David Garnsey (manager)