The regular season is all but done and most will call the Goulburn North East’s merger with Bendigo Amateur Soccer League a huge success.
Like anything, it takes time to adapt to change, new philosophies and rules, but after 22 rounds it is fair to say the local competition has been a huge tick.
The now defunct GNEFA competition, which was supposedly ‘‘ran’’ by Football Federation Victoria, became stale with only four teams going head-to-head against each other more often than not.
I played a few years of local soccer and the idea of playing the same team every third or fourth week was definitely not appealing to me, but how good has the BASL been?
Shepparton, Shepparton South, Shepparton United, and Tatura are afforded the luxury of travel, a new opponent and better standard of soccer, adding a new lease on life.
The new campaign is a longer season, it has been filled with drama, suspension and what not, but what a finish to the championship.
United’s women wrapped up a comprehensive season claiming the title on the final day with an emphatic victory over Spring Gully.
Their coach Rocky Papalia, like all other coaches, has been full of praise for the new format, adding it is a step in the right direction.
United was brilliant all season throughout the championship conceding just six goals, while their prolific front four of Sophie Papalia, Sarah Loverso, Caitlin and Chelsea Georgiou put most teams to the sword, scoring 75 of their 93 goals.
The men’s championship also went down to the final day, in fact, the race is still alive with Eaglehawk playing a catch-up game this weekend.
South co-coaches Joel Aitken and Nathan Radevski could have wrapped up the championship in their final game of the season against second-placed Eaglehawk.
South, which is one point clear on top, needed to win away from home on Sunday, but it drew, leaving the race for the championship wide open.
A draw for Eaglehawk against Spring Gully on Sunday will hand it the title.
Tatura and Shepparton fell well short of the mark, however, both sides’ depth was tested due to injuries, suspension, departures and holidays.
Brent Mathers was forced at times to relive the glory days pulling the boots on up front with David Turkovic, while Dillon Shelley’s Reds had more injuries than what the emergency department would have on a Saturday night.
United started the season in a blaze of glory, leading the competition for six weeks, keeping five clean sheets in the first 12 weeks, however, it too has had a dip in form.
Roven Shaholli’s side, like most, has had to overcome injuries and suspensions, but it scraped into the final four and the playing coach believes his side is as good as any.
BASL places a large emphasis on winning the championship, much like the leagues across Europe, however, for the first time the League Cup campaign is here.
With a one-week break to sort out the catch-up games, South, Eaglehawk, Epsom and United have all qualified for the finals, meaning there are two Goulburn Valley-based outfits representing the region.
Aitken believes his side has what it takes after last weekend’s result, in which it was forced to play with 10-men for the final few minutes.
South has conceded 32 goals this season, equal with United, but 10 more than Eaglehawk, however, its strike force has the ability to make up for it.
Aitken, Jesse Brun, Sean Grant and Toby Ferguson have scored for fun this season, a front four that will frighten most during the League Cup.
Although their incoming opponent Eaglehawk, which has kept six clean sheets and spent 12 weeks on top of the table, has the competition’s best defensive record.
Epsom, which won the championship last season, has gone quietly about its business finishing the season in third position.
The Scorpions have scored a season high 110 goals, with youngster Cooper Arkinstall leading the way.
Arkinstall, who can still play in the youth championship, has led the line all season scoring three hat-tricks on his way 23 goals.
And then there is United.
Shaholli’s men, who are relatively inexperienced, play a fairly decent brand of soccer, they pass and move, create and try and control proceedings for the most part.
Ermal Marku, who is arguably the competition’s best player, needs to back up his impressive championship in the League Cup if United is any chance of playing off in the big dance.
The finals are going to be a buzz, a new season begins now, albeit a shorter one, and I think the BASL amalgamation with the GNEFA clubs has been one of the best decisions soccer across the Goulburn Valley has seen in a long time.
Each region has two clubs competing in the League Cup, there is plenty of spice and rivalry in the air and I think it is a change that soccer was crying out for.
If I could change one thing though, I would open the finals campaign to five teams, as too many clubs had nothing to play for towards the back end of the season.