Inverell will host the 2023 Namoi Premier League grand final day this Saturday, with the two top-ranked teams facing off in each division as Narrabri FC’s minor premiership-winning sides to go head-to-head with Inverell FC in first grade and Moree Services FC in reserve grade.
The first grade grand final is a rematch of the 2022 decider as the two best teams in the competition meet again from 3pm. Inverell won last year’s grand final 3-1 after they were locked 1-1 at full-time against Narrabri and then netted two unanswered goals in extra time to complete a minor and major premiership double, a major milestone that Narrabri is hoping to achieve in 2023.
Neil Brayshaw’s men finished this year’s 15-round regular season ranked first on 33 points following 11 wins and four losses, while Inverell had to settle for second as they fell two points short following 10 wins, a draw and four losses.
That saw the Narrabri men host the major semi-final between the two teams last month, but it was Inverell that got the job done at Hogan Oval with a 1-0 win that secured a second straight home grand final. Narrabri bounced back from that defeat with a 3-2 preliminary final victory against Wee Waa United at Hogan Oval last Saturday to join Inverell in the big dance.
Narrabri has now qualified for seven straight grand finals since the competition resumed back in 2017. They lost three in a row from 2017 to 2019 before finally prevailing 2-0 over Narrabri Eleven FC in 2020. There was no decider in 2021 amid the COVID-19 pandemic and then Narrabri were unable to defend their premiership last year in Inverell.
Neil Brayshaw, who coached his side to a fifth minor premiership in six years in 2023 since taking over the role in 2018, said Narrabri would need to start fast if they were to win their second grand final on Saturday.
“It’s a really good opportunity to get a bit of redemption for last year. The boys know they can do it and I know they can do it,” Brayshaw said.
“We’ve got both grades in again this year, which is great. We’ve all bonded really well as a squad this year and I think we’ll be up for the challenge.
“In first grade, I think the best two sides are there again. You couldn’t ask for more from a grand final match than playing against the best. I think it’ll be a physical but clean game.
“We need to start fast and don’t let them score first. We need to score first and then stay on top. We can’t have any lapses like we’ve been having all year.
“It was our most polished performance for a while last week, and everyone is fairly confident with we’re we are at.”
Brayshaw said he thought Inverell’s biggest strength was their touch and skill through the middle of the park and believes his side will need to sit off rather than dive in against the opposition’s talented midfielders and attackers on Saturday.
Narrabri will be at full strength on grand final day with the exception of goalkeeper and captain Zaac Brayshaw, who is suspended after he was sent off in the major semi-final against Inverell last month.
Inverell’s coach Damien Schultz said his side were bracing for a tough game on Saturday and were looking forward to the challenge as they prepare to defend the premiership.
“The guys are going alright this year and they’re pretty happy with themselves. It was a tough win out at Narrabri the other week,” he said.
“We have a few new people this year and they’ve all been starting to click.
“Narrabri will be turning up to play like they always do. They’ve been the better side this year by far, from what I’ve seen anyway. It’ll be an arm-wrestle. We haven’t had an easy one against them yet.
“I think we got a bit lucky in the semi-final. They probably played better one man down. We scored in the first couple of minutes, but when they went to 10, we just couldn’t break them.”
Inverell have a couple of players from their backline away on holidays for the decider, but Schultz declared that his club have great depth and said that whoever is called upon will definitely rise to the occasion and do the job that is required of them.
The two first grade grand finalists have met six times already this year and those games were split evenly at three wins apiece, with Narrabri prevailing 4-2 and 7-0 in the first two fixtures, Inverell winning 3-0 and 7-2 in the following two fixtures, Narrabri taking the last regular season game 3-2 and then Inverell claiming the 1-0 major semi-final win.
The word ‘decider’ is certainly the perfect way to describe this Saturday’s grand final match as the two best teams in the Namoi Premier League battle for the premiership.
The reserve grade grand final will kick off at 12.30pm when minor premiers Narrabri FC challenge the second-placed side Moree Services FC.
For Narrabri, a second consecutive reserve grade grand final appearance sees them continue their rapid rise since the division was introduced in 2021. Having fielded the youngest side in the competition all three years, they earned as many wins this season than they did the past two combined, and the 53 goals that they scored this year was more than triple the 15 they managed in 2022.
They finished second to Moree by 16 points in 2021 and then to Inverell by 18 points last year, however, they went through this season undefeated to win the minor premiership by 12 points following 14 wins and a draw.
Coach Darren Moodie played for the team last year but injury forced him to take up a new role in the dugout in 2023. He said that the side’s improvement has been inspiring to watch throughout the past 12 months.
“I’m extremely proud. I couldn’t be prouder,” he said.
“The improvement has been immense. The younger guys who played in the grand final last year were a lot more confident at the start of this season.
“We’ve improved as a team from a technical perspective – movement, positioning and decision-making – all those sorts of things. Overall, we have a good, strong, balanced squad.
“I addressed the players last night and we talked about the fact that we play sport because we love it and enjoy it, but overall, the big reason that we do really play is for these moments, to be playing in grand finals.
“They’ve done all the hard work and they deserve to be where they’re at. They have been the best team all season. It comes down to one game now.”
For Moree, this year’s grand final has well and truly been three seasons in the making. They were the dominant side in 2021 as they finished on top of the table before the finals series was cancelled amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and they were also favourites to qualify for last season’s decider before they lost an abundance of points for fielding nominated first grade players throughout the year, which saw them finish fifth and miss out on the finals.
They almost missed out again this year but managed to survive a penalty shootout in last Saturday’s preliminary final against Narrabri Eleven FC at Hogan Oval to advance to the decider.
Coach Matt Urquhart said that his players were keen for Saturday’s challenge but would need to stay switched on for the full 80 minutes.
“We’ve won the games we should this year, being against the Elevens and Wee Waa,” he said.
“We’ve struggled against FC, not in terms of being outplayed, but the FC guys can put 80-minute performances together whereas we have little periods in our game where we drop off a little bit. The semi-final showed that. It was a cracker of a game but we switched off in two moments and FC capitalised. If we can stay alert all game this weekend, it should be a cracking final.
“I’m definitely ready for this season to be over, but the guys who will be out there playing are all keen. After last weekend’s game they were all excited and chuffed with themselves.”
These two sides have met six times this year. Narrabri won four of the five regular season games a combined 14 goals to nil and they drew the other 1-1. Narrabri then prevailed 2-0 in the major semi-final at Hogan Oval last month as they kept a fifth clean sheet against Moree in 2023.
Narrabri are definitely the favourites come Saturday but they are going to have to work hard for it against a Moree side that never go down without a fight.
Inverell FC will have a barbecue running and bar facilities available on the day, and there will also be an Armidale Local Competition second grade preliminary final played from 12pm, with the hosts challenging Demon Knights for a chance to challenge South Armidale United in the grand final.
Inverell’s Armidale Local Competition first grade side have already booked a spot in their September 16 grand final, with Guyra United to host Glen Innes Highlanders in the preliminary final this Saturday.