Fantastic turnaround: Pride juniors rise from last to finals
FOOTBALL: From last to a major threat in this year's state league finals, Western Pride's under-16 boys side have shown what commitment and sticking together can achieve.
One of Pride's most exciting junior teams tackles Gold Coast United in Sunday's National Premier Leagues elimination final, having finished the regular fixture series in fourth.
Coach Darryl Kitching was delighted how his group of players improved from the previous under-15 season to qualify for Sunday's final full of confidence.
"They have worked extremely hard as a team,'' Kitching said, especially pleased how the loyal Pride juniors combined with the club's newcomers throughout the season.
The Pride boys won 18 games, only losing eight this year.
Pride finished one spot ahead of Sunday's opponents from the Gold Coast (15 wins, one draw and 10 losses).
But what pleased Kitching most was their final round effort where they beat higher placed teams Brisbane Roar 4-0 and Brisbane City 3-1.
That came after Pride and Gold Coast both won a game against each other this season, although the day Pride lost, they were without four regulars.
"It should be a tight game,'' Kitching said, preparing for the Sunday clash.
"The boys have done really well.
"The same group of boys last year came last on the ladder.''
Among the talented Pride players are Queensland Schoolboys under-16 goalkeeper and captain Josh Boyle and sharpshooter Darryl Barton.
Ipswich Grammar School striker Barton won the Golden Boot award for the whole NPL under-16 competition after netting 35 goals from 23 matches.
That included two five-goal hauls, one four-goal performance and a hat-trick.
"He certainly had a good year,'' Kitching said of Barton, who finished five clear of his nearest challenger in the league.
"To be win Golden Boot of the whole thing is a real big achievement.''
The winner of Sunday's elimination encounter earns a shot at competition leaders Lions in the next stage of this year's NPL finals.
While confident in his team's ability, Kitching was monitoring the annual bout of illness that sweeps through all sporting teams.
"That's the only concern I've got at this stage,'' Kitching said. "But I think we will be right.''
The Pride under-16 boys team is one of four Ipswich club sides involved in this weekend's finals.
Other teams preparing for finals are the Pride under-15 boys, under-13 girls and under-15 girls.
The under-15 boys tackle Brisbane City on Saturday afternoon.
The under-13 girls face Logan on Saturday before the under-15 girls tackle Moreton Bay that afternoon, also keen to keep their finals' hopes alive.
NPL U16 boys elimination final: Sunday (3.30pm) - Western Pride v Gold Coast United at Peninsula.
NPL U15 boys elimination final: Saturday (1pm) - Western Pride v Brisbane City at Croatian Sports Centre.
NPL U15 girls elimination final: Saturday (3pm) - Western Pride v Moreton Bay United at John Fredericks sports fields.
NPL U13 girls elimination final: Saturday (1pm) - Western Pride v Logan at John Fredericks sports fields.