The final whistle in Saturday’s minor semi-final couldn’t come quick enough for Demon Knights coach Evan Quaife, or the fourth official.
His side clinging to a 2-1 lead over Oxley Vale Attunga, Quaife was like a kid asking “are we there yet?” in what was a tense final few minutes.
“I asked the fourth official every minute for the last 10 minutes I think how long to go,” he said, joking that it was lucky there was some medical attendants on the sideline for him.
The Mushies had a couple of shots in the last couple of minutes but DK held on to advance to a preliminary final showdown with East Armidale.
Three goals in a 10 minute period in the first half defined the clash.
Naran Singh finished off a counter after DK keeper Luke Birmingham had saved a Mushies corner and quickly launched the ball up field to link up with Singh, to give them the Armidale side the lead 13 minutes in.
Mitchell O’Keefe levelled for the Mushies not long after but DK hit straight back, Reese Habchi pouncing on a loose ball after some messy work at the back from a stretched Mushies defence.
After losing two of their last three games, and drawing the other - incidentally to OVA - to slip to fourth, Quaife had spoken heading in about his side needing to play with more intensity and desire.
He couldn’t have been much happier with what they delivered on Saturday in what he thought was a good allround performance.
“I thought defensively we were really solid, looked dangerous up front and passed the ball pretty well.
“We maintained a fair bit of possession,” Quaife said.
“We probably deserved to win, in saying that it was a close even game.”
They had the bye in the final round, and Quaife believes that probably helped them.
It enabled them to refocus a little bit, he said, and rediscover the desire and intensity that had been missing throughout the last round.
He said the Mushies were dangerous throughout the game, and if it wasn’t for Birmingham it could have been a different story.
He was “good in goals” for them.
Quaife was also impressed with teenager Lachie Williamson.
“I thought Lachie Williamson at left wing back was really good for us. Sam Constance, Connor McGregor in the middle of the field, I thought were good,” he said.
But they didn’t have a poor player.
The first time the Mushies won’t feature in the grand final for at least five years, coach Tim Coates was understandably disappointed but proud of the how his “patched up” side dug in.
“At the start of the season I said I’d be happy to make the finals and we made the finals,” he said.
He said DK were “too good” for them but by the same token felt the game was certainly there for the taking.
“We had five or six chances we could have converted,” he said.
They had a couple of good chances from headers off corners that just missed the goal.
Birmingham on another occasion got a lucky touch on a shot across the face of goal from Brendan Fergie that just bobbled past the goal.
But both teams were in the same boat, Coates said, DK spraying a couple of good opportunities.
He said there were “no superstars” for his team with everyone just doing their job.
The Mushies reserve grade is still alive though after upsetting North Armidale 2-1.
FIRST GRADE: Demon Knights 2 (Naran Singh, Reese Habchi gls) d Oxley Vale Attunga 1 (Mitchell O’Keefe gl).
RESERVE GRADE: Oxley Vale Attunga 2 (Nash Tapp, Chris Fenton gls) d NORTH ARMIDALE 1 (Anthony Green gl).