Narrabri FC are the Namoi Premier League first grade minor premiers for the sixth time in seven years after scoring a crucial final-round victory against Wee Waa United at Hogan Oval, and they will now host the major semi-final against defending champions Inverell this Saturday.
A 2-1 Round 15 win last Saturday saw the Narrabri side complete a brilliant fightback in the final three weeks of the season. They fell to second following back-to-back losses in Rounds 11 and 12, but top spot was still in their hands if they could beat their three opponents on the run home. After knocking off Moree Services FC 4-1 in Round 13 and scoring an 87th-minute winner to prevail 3-2 against Inverell FC in Round 14, they returned to the top of the table, overtaking Inverell by two points. Saturday’s victory against Wee Waa United then ensured they would not be overtaken again as they finished on top with 33 points following 11 wins, no draws and four losses this year, ahead of Inverell (31), Wee Waa (22) and Moree (3).
It was a crucial win for the Narrabri side, with Inverell’s 6-0 victory at home against Moree meaning the defending champions would have finished on top had the minor premiers dropped points against Wee Waa. But unfortunately for Inverell, it was not to be.
Narrabri FC’s vice-president and long-time first grade coach Neil Brayshaw was thrilled to have coached the side to another first-place finish, which he also did in 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021 after the Rhys Hayne captain-coached team won the first of the club’s six minor premierships back in 2017.
Inverell took the competition by storm last year during their debut season as they finished first before booking a home grand final and winning it to do the minor/major premiership double, and that is what Brayshaw is now hoping his side can achieve for just the second time in the club’s history in 2023.
“I’m so proud of the boys and the whole club. Not only first grade but also reserve grade. Getting two minor premierships is great,” he said.
“In first grade, it’s been a pretty tough second half of the year with a lot of injuries and people away with holidays and suspension, but we held in there, and we just believed in our identity and who we are.
“I’m pleased with the top-two spot. I think that’s where you’ve got to be to win it. Finishing in the top two was my goal this year, and we’ve achieved that, but we’ve gone one better and got the minor premiership. That is a huge bonus.
“We all know, though, the job’s not done. These next few weeks are what you play all year for. Now it starts to try and qualify for the grand final.
“We all have to focus this week at training with another hard game coming up against Inverell.
“Getting the home grand final is the big motivation. There’s nothing worse than going away to play in the grand final, which we did last year. We were away in the semi-final too, but we’ve got the chance to play it at home again this year, so the goal now is to earn a home grand final and get a lot of support down there on grand final day.”
Narrabri FC opened the scoring 17 minutes into the match on Saturday when striker Colby Williams finished from close range after Wee Waa’s goalkeeper Steve Phelps spilled a Cooper Baryshaw shot, and the hosts took that 1-0 lead into the half-time break.
Wee Waa equalised from the penalty spot 10 minutes into the second half after Rhys Hayne was penalised for a handball. The away side’s captain-coach Ben Cooper had his initial shot saved by Narrabri goalkeeper Jakeb Nipperess, but he made no mistake with the follow-up attempt.
Narrabri FC went ahead again 12 minutes later when Jake Brayshaw buried a loose ball into the back of the net from right in front after Wee Waa’s Phelps spilled it into his path while attempting to collect a curling Cooper Brayshaw free kick from out near the left sideline.
That was the final goal of the game as Brayshaw’s strike turned out to be the winning one for the second game in a row.
In reserve grade, Narrabri FC scored a 4-0 win to finish the year unbeaten. The Darren Moodie-coached team earned 43 of a possible 45 points following 14 wins and one draw.
They scored more goals this year than they did in the previous two seasons combined, and they only conceded twice.
Moodie, who played for the side last season but switched to the coach’s role for the 2023 campaign, said he was proud of his team and that all the credit belonged to the players.
“The boys, and Lauren, they’re the ones who have achieved it, and I’m proud of them all,” Moodie said.
“I facilitate, and they go out there and perform on the park.
“Myself and Neil (the club’s first grade coach Neil Brayshaw) brought in a 3-5-2 formation as a system for both of our teams at the start of the season. We have a good balance of players to be able to create a good playing style around that.
“In reserve grade, it’s been all about the players listening and getting on board and performing the roles when they are asked to, which they have done. It’s also about effort and desire and that want to not concede, and that’s what this team has. They don’t want to concede.
“I’ve also got a team of players who are interchangeable. They can all play two or three positions.
“There’s a few older guys in our team, and the younger guys from last year have an extra year under their belt now, and they are more confident in their ability as well.
“Our first game of the season was a 1-0 win. It was a hard win. But as the players have become more confident in themselves, they’ve become more dominant. They have belief in each other as well, which is so important.”
The reserve grade competition was introduced to the Namoi Premier League in 2021, and Narrabri FC has fielded the youngest side ever since.
The young players’ growth, both as a team and individually, is a testament to themselves and the hard work they have put in over the years, as well as the coaches they have had along the way, including Danny Laws (2021), Ben Stride (2022) and Moodie (2023).
They have a few more senior players in the playing group as well who offer guidance and experience, including the likes of Stride, James Stuart, Jakeb Nipperess and Bailey Campbell this year.
Narrabri FC finished second on the ladder in its first two seasons in the reserve grade competition, both years beaten by a far more dominant first-placed team. It was Moree in 2021 and Inverell in 2022, but this year, there has been no stopping the Narrabri players.
Victor Matuku scored the first two goals of the reserve grade contest on Saturday before Bailey Campbell added a third just before half-time. Callum Wales then scored in the second half to make the score 4-0.
Narrabri FC will now host the major semi-finals this Saturday at Hogan Oval when they welcome Inverell in first grade and Moree in reserve grade.
Wee Waa will host both minor semi-finals at Cook Oval when they meet Moree in first grade and Narrabri Eleven FC in reserve grade.
The winner of the first grade major semi-final will host the grand finals on Saturday, September 9, following the preliminary finals on Saturday, September 2.