THE Atherton Eagles second division side clinched a grand final berth last Friday night after a tense battle with the Mareeba Bulls.
The local derby lived up to its name as both teams went goal for goal before a dramatic penalty shoot out saw the home team win 4-3 on penalties after finishing the match 3-3 in extra time.
The cold conditions failed to dampen the boisterous home and away supporters and it was the Bulls that struck first in the 29th minute when Christian Mukadi made the most of an Eagles defensive error to put the away side 1 up at the break.
The home crowd lifted the Eagles and soon saw them equalise through Bryce Cummings, it was short lived though as five minutes later Rhys Pozzebon put the Bulls ahead for a second time.
With one foot in the final the bulls thought they were home but with ten minutes remaining in normal time and extra time looming, Patrick Jackson silenced the away crowd to make it 2-2.
Everyone on the pitch was giving their all with some players beginning to cramp up and tempers began to flare. After a scramble in the penalty area which saw the Bulls goal keeper Dmytro Sinelnyk injured, the divisions top goal scorer and one of Atherton’s elite players Scott Rawlings was sent off.
Mareeba’s Ross Malfitana was also sent off for retaliation, both players had received yellow cards earlier and the match referee had no choice but to send both off.
With both teams down to 10 men the match resumed with a vengeance in the first phase of extra time with the Eagles mustering the energy to score and go ahead for the first time.
With players dropping like flies it was difficult to see how many players were on the pitch.
It looked like Atherton had done enough, but it was not to be as Robert Prizmic struck in the 120th minute to give both teams a good breather and gather their thoughts and bodies to see who was physically able to take penalties.
Atherton came out on top in the enduring shootout to book a spot in the Grand Final against Douglas United this Friday night at Endeavour Park.
Both teams played a memorable semi that resembled a grand final and there would have been a lot of sore bodies come Sunday morning. But one can’t help but feel for Scott Rawlings who will miss the grand occasion through suspension.