Smith shows the way for Force's final tilt
IT'S no coincidence Kawana's resurgence kicked in with the return of Ryan Smith and now the central defender looms as the key man in Sunshine Coast Football's showpiece event.
The 35-year-old, who came back from an ankle injury mid-season, may lace up for the Force's premier men's team for the last time on Saturday night, when the defending champion takes on Woombye in the grand final.
And he's tasked with stopping perennial goal scorer Luke Alderson.
It's one of the hardest jobs in local soccer but Force coach Scott McLean knows his charge is up for it.
"He's such a good defender, he's experienced and is a calming influence on the ball,” he said.
A former state league player, Smith will have assistance from another campaigner in Liam Tucker, who could also finish up with the side following the match (6.30pm).
Their experience is matched by the enthusiasm of fellow backs Bailey Hockham and Ollie Colam, who played for the Force's under-17 grand final team last year.
"They have made the step up into first grade this year and have done their apprenticeship with two of the best defenders the Coast has seen, so it's been good for those guys...and leaves us in good hands for coming seasons,” McLean said.
"Luke (Alderson) scored one of the best goals I've seen in the local comp last week. It was a belter but I'd expect the Kawana defenders not to give him the room he was afforded last week.”
The Force started their title defence in worrying fashion when it lost four of its first five matches but when Smith came back into the fold, the team's resolve was forged.
"At the start of the year we conceded quite a few goals but the return of Ryan saw our 'goals against' dramatically reduced.”
The side then finished the 10-team regular season in second place before toppling premier Maroochydore in the major semi-final.
"It's been a perfect preparation to the final for us,” McLean said.
And while in-form Woombye has Alderson, the Force boasts rapid-fire Ryan Delahunty.
"In the back half of the season we've been very solid defensively and quite lethal in attack so it's a good combination,” McLean said.
In recent weeks, he said he had "an inkling” his side would meet Woombye in the decider again "because of their strength in finals”.
"Woombye steps up at this time of year. They are difficult to beat.”
It's the Snakes' will-to-win which separates them from most sides, according to McLean.
"If we can match their intensity and their desire to win and their willingness to work hard for each other, then no-one would argue we've got the better quality (players),” he said.
"But matching them is a difficult thing to do. They play at such high intensity and they want to win these games like their lives depend on it.”
McLean said a great rivalry had been forged between the sides during the past few years.