The year proved both a toast to the past and an insight to the future for Illawarra sport. We farewelled some greats but welcomed some bright, new faces. It was a year full of thrilling finishes, crushing defeats and special moments that will be remembered for years to come.
ILLAWARRA FOOTBALL HOMELESS AGAIN
He who giveth can taketh away.
In August we were sure the West Dapto ‘‘Home of Football’’ would be on this list but, to the despair of football fans throughout the Illawarra, it’s become a more infamous than inspiring inclusion.
The dream included a $14 million facility with numerous football fields, futsal courts and an academy that could maybe - just maybe - one day house an A-League side.
The dream, however, was left in tatters on December 6 when Football South Coast was dealt the cruelest of double blows.
In the space of 24 hours FSC found out that the newly elected Coalition government was ripping a Laborpromised $7.4 million in federal funding off the table and that there application for $7.8 million from the $100 million Illawarra Infrastructure Fund was unsuccessful.
It leaves football in the Illawarra homeless again and may yet prove the death knell for the region’s future A-League prospects.
GLEN SAVILLE CALLS IT A DAY
A True champion’s heart never gives up but sometimes his body just can’t go on.
That was the case for Wollongong Hawks legend Glen Saville after a knee injury cut short his fi nal NBL season.
Saville called time on his career on January 30 after 19 seasons, 18 of them with his beloved Hawks, and 563 NBL games ranking fourth on the all-time list. His 523 games for the Hawks is a record unlikely ever to be matched.
The games ledger is one of 10 categories he tops at Wollongong including points (6865) and rebounds (4041). Perhaps, most importantly, Sav was finals MVP en route to the Hawks’ first and only NBL title in 2001.
Fittingly, Saville had his iconic No 12 singlet retired in 2009 after what many thought was the Hawks’ last game. Luckily, he ended up playing many more games for the Hawks.
PORT KEMBLA’S SWEET 16
On the back of a Golden Boot-winning 22-goal season from star striker Nuno Pires, the Zebras went on a remarkable 16-game winning streak to shoot to the top of the Illawarra Premier League in 2013.
The streak included a few walkovers - a memorable 12-0 thrashing of Coniston - but was mostly built on the Zebras’ uncanny knack of fi nding the match-winner late in games; the mark of a true champion side.
On the back of 16 straight, Port were unbackable favourites heading into the IPL fi nals but were upset 1-0 by Bulli in the major semi-fi nal bringing the streak to an end.
It was a timely wake-up call for the league leaders, who capped a memorable season with a 3-1 victory over Bulli in the grand fi nal two weeks later.
LEAGUE GRAND FINALS GO DOWN TO THE WIRE
When Collegians took out this year’s Coal League grand final against Helensburgh 29-28 we thought we’d have to wait years before we saw another grand final like it.
As it turned out we only had to wait a few weeks to see one that matched it.
With the sides level after roughly 79 minutes and 30 seconds, Collegians five-eighth Sam Duggan wrote himself into the Coal League history books with a 40-metre field goal that broke the deadlock and delivered the premiership to Collies.
Only a matter of weeks later, Gerringong Lions halfback Brad Davidson engineered his own fairytale by landing a desperate field goal with only seconds remaining to lock the Group Seven decider with Warilla at 13 apiece. Davidson followed it up minutes later with the goldenpoint match-winner to snatch victory.
EXIT THE DRAGON
Dragon stalwarts Matt Cooper, Nathan Fien and Michael ‘Horse’ Weyman were given a winning send-off in Wollongong in round 26 with a 19-10 victory over the New Zealand Warriors.
For Jamie Soward the split was far less amicable. A missed penalty goal to take the round-12 game against the Bulldogs into golden point was his last act as a Dragon, proving football isn’t always fair.
The Dragons did perhaps find the man who will lead them out of the doldrums in enigmatic former problem child Josh Dugan.
Social media, often the professional athlete’s kryptonite, saw Dugan’s Canberra Raiders contract torn up and also saw the Broncos pull a big money deal off the table.
The troubles, however, appear far behind the 23-year-old, who seemingly has a mortgage on the Blues No 1 jersey and is now the linchpin of the Dragons attack.
CAMDEN RAMS END 18-YEAR DROUGHT
They’re resilient people out Camden way but the resilience of rugby fans was strongly tested by a premiership drought that stretched back 18 years.
In fact, the Rams had not tasted fi nals football for 15 years before they stepped up this year.
Despite strong performances throughout the regular season, there was still a question mark over how the Rams would handle the big day against defending premiers Avondale.
The doubts proved unfounded as the Rams took the match 20- 10.
Rams captain Gavin Holder who, despite boasting a wardrobe stacked with NSW Country jumpers, had never tasted fi nals football with his beloved Rams, summed it up best: “Dreams do come true’’.
THOUSANDS ATTEND A-LEAGUE FRIENDLY
Wollongong football fans have long pined for an A-League franchise and on September 14 the dream became a reality; for one night at least.
More than 6500 people turned up to WIN Stadium to witness the Newcastle Jets spoil Sydney FC’s Wollongong party with a 1-0 victory.
Despite the action on the park, the biggest cheer of the night was undoubtedly reserved for Sydney FC’s Italian superstar Alessandro Del Piero, who was presented to the crowd before kick-off; even if it was in joggers rather than boots.
The WIN Stadium atmosphere won rave reviews from both sides and led Jets captain and proud Bulli product Ruben Zadkovich to declare afterwards: ‘‘This area should have an A-League side, it’s as simple as that.’’
DRIVING THEM BATTY
Graeme Batty and his willow have been the dominant force in Illawarra Cricket in recent years but perhaps the Keira skipper’s most dominant performance occurred on November 9.
Batty blasted 32 boundaries and three sixes en route to a match-winning 217 runs against Wollongong at Keira Oval. Batty’s 217 was the highest score by a Lions player in any grade in the club’s 152-year history and the highest score in Illawarra fi rst grade since Taun Stanham’s 235 for University in a one-dayer in November 2010.
It also knocked off Chris Sheppard’s 213 made for Balgownie in the 2009-10 season.
SOUTH COAST GIRLS ON TOP OF THE WORLD
South Coast pair Sally Fitzgibbons [Gerroa] and Tyler Wright [Culburra] are the best of friends but Hawaiian world champion Carissa Moore was grateful in 2013 that the friendship didn’t extend to the water.
Moore led the ASP women’s tour for the bulk of the season with Wright nipping at her heels in search of her maiden world title. Ironically, tragically, poetically whatever you wish to call it, close friend Fitzgibbons’ late-season form surge would snuff her dream.
Fitzgibbons took out the penultimate event of the year, the Roxy Pro France, beating Wright in the fi nal to deny her the tour lead.
Wright was still in the hunt for the world crown heading into the fi nal event in Portugal, just 200 points behind Moore, until Fitzgibbons again brought her undone, knocking her out in the quarter-fi nal stage.
Both will be well in the hunt for the world crown next year.
KITTYHAWKS BREAK THROUGH
The Illawarra Kittyhawks broke through for a maiden Waratah League title on September 1, stunning the previously undefeated league leaders Hornsby Spiders 62-54 in a grand final upset.
The scores were locked at 45 apiece going into the fi nal quarter and remained that way at 49-49 with fi ve minutes to play before a surge of 10 unanswered points propelled the Kittyhawks to the title.
The win atoned for two close losses to the Spiders during the regular season and followed another upset win over the Bankstown Bruins in the semi-final.
Coach Cheryl Lowe, who was named coach of the year for orchestrating the upset, summed it up best.
‘‘We were the underdogs but you just can’t underestimate the girls from the Gong.’’
What would you add to the list? Tell us in the comments below.