THE gruelling 22 round Shoalhaven Football regular season wrapped up at the weekend, with just four teams – Bomaderry, Gerringong, Culburra and Huskisson-Vincentia – remaining in the hunt for the Bolden Blackmore Shield in 2018.
But before we turn our attentions to South Nowra’s Ison Park for the next three weekends, I think it’s important we highlight the performances of players and coaches alike, during the regular season – by handing out my 2018 award winners.
Firstly, I’ll start by naming my 2018 first grade team of the year, starting from the back.
Between the sticks is Bomaderry’s Scott Fagerlund, who picks himself.
The shot-stopper was a massive part of Bomaderry’s run into round six of the FFA Cup, where they would eventually lose 4-nil to Gladesville Hornsby Football Association Spirit FC.
But in local action, Fagerlund has helped the Tigers concede the least amount of goals (17) for the season.
During that stretch, he kept seven clean sheets, as well as having 10 games where he only let one goal into his net.
In front of him, my four defenders are Culburra’s Kasey Kulcsar, Gerriongong’s Nick Astin, Huskisson-Vincentia’s Lewis Archibald and Bomaderry’s Dave Hampton.
Kulcsar is arguably the competition’s top defender, presenting a physical presence at the back, that not many can replicate in the competition.
Astin is a jack of all trades in the Breakers’ back four, playing a number of positions this season, due to injuries – excelling in whatever role Jadon Lavington puts him in.
Archibald, who is also one of my nominees for best first year player, joined the Seagulls from Wreck Bay this season and hasn’t missed a beat.
After representing the Australian Indigenous side in New Zealand earlier in the year, the centre-half has made a seamless adjustment from third grade to first grade.
Finally, the way Hampton provides width and an attacking threat from the back is a large reason why Bomaderry have remained undefeated (17 wins and three draws) this season.
His speed, penetration with the ball and crossing ability has made the job of his attackers a whole lot easier.
Now that my back five is set, playing a 4-3-3 formation, my three midfielders are Huskisson-Vincentia’s Alex Boardman, Gerringong’s Jake Packham and Culburra’s Mitch Blundell.
Boardman and Blundell are both players that control the midfield, with their ball winning ability as well as their creative nature.
Packham offers an attacking threat from the middle of the park, shown by his 14 goals this season for the Breakers.
All three have been vital cogs in helping their respective sides finish in the top four – and will no doubt have an influence if their team goes all the way in 2018.
Finally, my three attackers nearly pick themselves, with it being hard not to reward the goal scoring exploits of Bomaderry duo Jordan Haddow and Brendan Kellett, as well as Gerringong’s Kane [as my esteemed colleague Robert Crawford calls him ‘The Big Show’] Rowe.
The two Tigers lead the competition with 25 and 23 goals respectively, having scored 48 of their team’s 83 goals in 2018.
Rowe has made huge strides in 2018, finding the back of the net 16 times for the Breakers and creating a number of chances for their team mates this year.
With my starting 11 set, it’s now time to turn my attention to my five substitutes.
My bench goalkeeper is Culburra’s Tom Matthews, who is just behind Fagerlund in the race for the region’s top shot-stopper.
On numerous occasions, Matthews’ reflexes and athleticism has kept his Cougars’ side in matches they had no business of being in – exhibit A was August 18s 3-all draw with Bomaderry at Culburra Oval, where his freakish saves secured his side an important point.
Rounding out my bench are midfielders Zane Wilson (Milton-Ulladulla), Sam Swan (Manyana) and Zac Hawker (Huskisson-Vincentia) and forward Connor MacQueen (St Georges Basin).
Wilson, who took out the 2017 player of the year award, had another solid season for the Panthers in 2018, scoring eight goals and constantly proved a handful for defenders, week in, week out.
Hawker just edges out his brother Josh for a spot in my side, with him being that little bit more vital to the Seagulls side, especially going forward.
Swan also just edged out a team mate of his, Mitch Veitch, for a spot in the 16 – with the former dominating the middle of the park most weeks, which saw the Wanderers finish just outside the final in fifth.
Finally, is the powerful MacQueen, who has been without a doubt the Dragons top player this season.
With 14 goal from his 19 games next to his name, MacQueen nearly single handedly kept the Basin in the hunt for finals.
- Scott Fagerlund (Bomaderry)
- Nick Astin (Gerringong)
- Kasey Kulcsar (Culburra)
- Lewis Archibald (Huskisson-Vincentia)
- Dave Hampton (Bomaderry)
- Alex Boardman (Huskisson-Vincentia)
- Jake Packham (Gerringong)
- Mitch Blundell (Culburra)
- Jordan Haddow (Bomaderry)
- Kane Rowe (Gerringong)
- Brendan Kellett (Bomaderry)
- Tom Matthews (Culburra)
- Zane Wilson (Milton-Ulladulla)
- Zac Hawker (Huskisson-Vincentia)
- Sam Swan (Manyana)
- Connor MacQueen (St Georges Basin)
Not to be outdone, I also wanted to acknowledge a number of other individuals who have stood out in 2018 – starting with Bomaderry’s Nathan Aldridge, who is my coach of the year.
Since he rejoined the Tigers club at the start of 2017, Aldridge has turned the 2016 wooden spooners into a powerhouse – winning 35 games, drawing four and only losing three in two seasons.
Not to mention his coaching masterclass helped the Tigers reach round six of the FFA Cup this season, the furthest a Shoalhaven Football has ever progressed.
While Aldridge is a runaway winner for the coach of the year prize, Shoalhaven United’s Alex Dicker deserves a special mention for the way he has turned the Bears club around.
Last year, United struggled for consistency and direction but ever since Dicker has taken over, the club has started playing a free-flowing, attacking brand of football.
While it took his troops a while to adjust to his new system, only recording two wins in the first half of the season, the Bears showed vast improvement in the back end of the season, chalking up twice as many wins with a squad that has half of their players under the age of 18.
If Dicker and the current squad stick together, a finals appearance in 2019 isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
My second last award is the best first year player, which goes to United’s Tim Bagnall.
Although he played two first grade games off the bench a couple of years ago as a 16-year-old, 2018 marks Bagnall’s first real season in the top grade – an he hasn’t missed a beat, dominating in the middle of the park for the Bears all year.
He just edges out the likes of Lewis Archibald, who I mentioned earlier and Culburra’s Jayden Kelly, who is a fullback of the future for the Cougars.
Finally, my most improved player of the year goes to Basin’s Tyrone Nye-Williams.
He has developed into one of Paul Cubbo’s most important players in Dragons’ colours and has been rock solid in defence all season long.
As for a player of the year, you could pick any one of the guys in the starting line-up.
That wraps up my awards for 2018 – now let’s sit back and enjoy the upcoming finals series, which is sure to have a number of twists and turns along the way.