Australia Cup - Inverell and South Armidale to battle it out for a spot in Round 5

Northern NSW Football’s Australia Cup draw for the Preliminary Rounds Four and Five were conducted earlier this week, with the two Northern Inland teams still standing in the final eight of the Northern Conference drawn to play against each other.

A blockbuster knockout match is in store today at the Inverell Sporting Complex when the 2023 Namoi Premier League champions Inverell FC host the 2023 Northern Inland Premier League champions South Armidale United FC.

Both sides advanced to Round Four following dominant victories against fellow Northern Inland clubs at Doody Park last Saturday as they piled on 15 goals between them. Inverell, who will play in the Northern Inland Premier League in 2024, defeated Demon Knights 7-2 before South Armidale downed local rivals East Armidale FC 8-1.

There were two other Northern Inland Premier League clubs in action during Round Three. The 2023 Minor Premiers Oxley Vale Attunga went down 4-3 against Alstonville FC at Gipps Street after leading 3-1 at half-time, while Moore Creek FC lost 3-1 against Northern Storm at Korora Oval in Coffs Harbour.

The other Round Four matches this weekend will see Alstonville FC challenge Urunga FC, Northern Storm FC take on Coffs Coast Tigers FC, and Port Saints FC meet Goonellabah FC.

The winner of the Inverell and South Armidale clash will progress to Round Five the following weekend where they will host either Goonellabah or Port Saints for the chance to become one of the final two teams in the Northern Conference, both of which will advance to take on the teams from the Southern Conference, which includes the National Premier League and Hit 106.9 Northern League One sides.

That opportunity is one that is exciting for both of the Northern Inland clubs, however, their focus remains solely on this Saturday’s clash.

South Armidale United have a new coach this year after Adam Ramage replaced premiership-winning gaffer Eamon Hynes, who has stepped back into a support role so he can focus more on playing. Ramage was the club’s reserve grade coach last year and guided them to fourth place on the ladder and into the preliminary final, and he is off to a positive start with the first team in 2024 following a 3-2 win over Coffs City United FC in Coffs Harbour prior last Saturday’s 8-1 win against East Armidale.

South Armidale president Joe Campbell said that Ramage has guided the side well so far, especially after losing several grand final heroes from the 2023 championship-winning team.

“Adam’s been excellent,” he said.

“It’s been a bit tough. We did lose a lot of players at the end of last season. A few guys who won the premiership thought it was time to step back and hand it over to the young guys, which is good in a way because we have a lot of young talent in our club, and it’s good to see them coming through.

“That’s been a challenge for Adam to face, but as we can see from the results, he’s got them going well.”

Campbell said that the club were expecting a tough match from a fit and clinical Inverell side that turned a 2-1 half-time lead in Round Three on Saturday into a dominant 7-2 win.

“They looked pretty good. They’re young and they’re fit and they’ve been training since November, which is big for this region,” Campbell said.

“They have a lot of pace and it’s going to be a challenge to keep their fast men out of the game.”

Inverell’s coach Damien Schutz was always confident heading into his side’s Round Three clash against Demon Knights that his players were fitter and sharper than this time last year when they went down 2-1 at home against Woolgoolga United to crash out of the Cup. They certainly proved him right as they produced a sensational second-half effort, during which they outscored Demon Knights five goals to one after entering the break with a 2-1 lead.

Schutz said he was hoping to see a lot of the same this Saturday against the team that he believes is the benchmark of Northern Inland.

“The boys done well. Probably didn’t play to their full potential, which is a good thing in a way though because they won quite convincingly in the end,” Schutz said.

“We went down 1-0 early but the boys never put their heads down and we went into half-time 2-1 up. The fitness the boys showed in the last 20-30 minutes of the game got us home. We were the fitter out of us and DK. The big thing too was our subs went on and made an impact. I thought they made a difference.

“I’d like to see a bit more communication up front. We had a lot of opportunities in the first half, and they weren’t capitalised on. Communication is the big thing we need to keep working on, and the more we improve on that, the better we’ll be.

“We’re looking forward to the game. It’s going to be a very good test for us. I told the boys at training, we’re playing the Premier League champions, so no matter what the result is, we’ll know what we need to work on for the upcoming season. I think it’s lucky that we did draw them for that reason.

“South Armidale are a very young and structured side. They held possession of the ball well (on Saturday against East Armidale) and they have a couple of handy strikers up front. Their backs communicated well too.

“They always have been the benchmark. Even when we played in the UNE comp, they were up there. They have had a few player changes, but they still looked strong as ever on Saturday.”

Today’s match will get underway at 2:30PM at the Inverell Sporting Complex.