ILLAROO are now one game away from playing in the Shoalhaven Football grand final, barely a month after it looked like their season was over.
Their impressive run continued yesterday afternoon, where a triple strike from Aaron Crittenden helped them on to a 4-1 win against Sussex Inlet in the elimination semi at Ison Park.
Sussex may have gone in as slight favourites due to their position on the table and the early signs looked positive for them, when leading goal scorer Rohan Daley almost put them 1-nil up after just three minutes.
But it was Illaroo who came up with the opening goal, when Aaron Crittenden bagged his first of the afternoon after 18 minutes.
Illaroo had little time to rest on their lead when Mitch Butel found himself unmarked in front of the goal after a Rohan Daley cross to hammer in an equaliser five minutes later.
Despite some chances at both ends, neither side was able to take control and it remained 1-all at the break.
The game was in the balance when play resumed for the second half, but the advantage quickly went in favour of Illaroo when a John Muggleton header found the back of the net from a corner after five minutes.
Mid-way through the second half, it still looked as though Sussex had every chance of staging a comeback, but then it all came unstuck in a matter of minutes.
A speedy Aaron Crittenden soon had his second when a well-timed pass put him into open space with only the keeper to beat and he made no mistake, extending their lead to 3-1.
He completed his hat-trick a couple of minutes later after taking possession from a throw in, to all but end any chance of a Sussex comeback.
With 20 minutes still to play, Sussex kept pushing forward and while they looked more likely to score the next goal, the score remained 4-1 at the final whistle.
Illaroo were sitting way back in eighth just six weeks ago before an impressive run catapulted them into the finals and coach Andrew Timbs was pleased they were able to continue their good form.
“We’ve worked hard enough to get here, so to go out in the first one would’ve been pretty disappointing,” he said.
“It was always going to be a physical encounter against a team like Sussex, but we were patient enough and got the chances and then finished.
“We competed physically and that’s what won the game.”
Timbs said he thought Crittenden was the star up front, but all their players showed a lot ticker to come away with the win.
Illaroo are now just one win away from the grand final and they can book their place with a win against Culburra next week.
It’s a far cry from where they were six weeks ago when Timbs thought their season was done.
“The boys are up me about saying that,” he laughed.
“They said we were never out of it.
“Now we’re one win away from the grand final, so hopefully we can get there and win that as well. “Fingers crossed.”
While Illaroo were on a high after the game it was very different for Sussex who have reached the end of the road for this season.
Coach Neil Wiggins said the loss left him broken hearted.
“We played well, but we made a couple of mistakes and got punished for it,” he said.
“We were always confident we could’ve got a better result, but you win some, you lose some,” he added.
Wiggins said he was very happy with their season as a whole and wanted to wish the rest of the teams the best of luck for the remainder of the finals series.