FOOTBALL can be cruel.
If Akema Greenaway’s fifth minute shot had been two inches to the left, it would have cannoned in off the post.
The 17-goal Ingham striker showed lighting pace to escape her marker and race free – but by the finest of margins, her bullet strike rattled the side-frame and went wide.
It was a moment that would shape the history of this year’s North Queensland women’s reserve grand final.
Unfortunately for Ingham, it is not a moment that will be etched in this region’s football history.
MA Olympic went on to score twice in a scrappy first-half.
But neither will the history books tell how our girls showed the hearts of lionesses to claw the game back from 2-down to level after the break through goals from Brooke McLeod and Adriana Spano, taking the game to extra time.
And the excruciating moment when Jade Nucifora hit the post in extra-time will be remembered only by the players – and vociferous band of Ingham fans who made the one-hour journey south to support their girls.
They were the twelfth man – or in this case, the twelfth woman.
Ingham were inches from a euphoric winner.
But on this night, it was not to be.
MA Olympic grabbed a third against the run of play and were crowned grand final champions after a 3-2 victory.
Finals can be decided by such margins.
But the league table does not lie.
It reads, played 16, won 15 and lost one. Seventy goals were scored and just six conceded.
Ingham finished 6 points clear of the second-placed rivals that beat them in that grand final.
They even beat MA Olympic 1-0 in the play-off semi-final.
In the strangest of systems that exists nowhere else, the defeated side were afforded another crack of the whip.
Being losers of the ‘first v second’ match, they got to play the winners of the ‘third v fourth’ play-off, which they won.
Coach Rodney Fascetti said: ‘In any other country in the world – once you win the league that’s it.’
‘In England or anywhere, that’s the way it is.
‘My major priority was winning the minor premiership.
‘That’s the hardest thing to do. That was the major goal. The grand final and the Crad Evans Shield is just the icing.
‘But no-one will remember us for winning the minor premiership. That’s the problem.’
He added: ‘I knew they could play so much better. That’s what I told them at half-time.
‘We showed that by coming back and levelling up.
‘We pushed on in extra time. I thought we were on top and we were going to score another one – but it did not happen.
‘We had a few opportunities and just didn’t take them.
‘We hit the post in extra time and it just wasn’t our night. It wasn’t meant to be.’
Ingham play Cairns’ minor premiership winners Leichhart in the Crad Evans Shield at Brolga Park on Saturday.
Fascetti added: ‘It would be good to go out with a win. But if we don’t, we can just enjoy what we’ve achieved for the year.’
MA Olympic deserve credit for their ‘never say die’ attitude, and for their unbeaten run in the home straight of the league season that saw them beat both Ingham and Brothers, leapfrogging the latter side into second.
As does captain Kirrily Low.
The striker scored 30 league goals before – with the title sewn up – fracturing her leg in the last 20 minutes of a last league match victory over Brothers.
The seven-time women’s premier league grand final runner-up, who celebrated her 30th birthday in the build-up to the final, was a surprise name on the Ingham bench.
And she was not just there to keep it warm.
Low was brought on with 15 minutes of normal time remaining – two weeks after fracturing her leg.
Ingham Wolves may never witness a mightier display of commitment.
Fascetti said: ‘I think when she came on she drew their attention and freed up more space for Akema.
‘It just shows what it means to her. That’s the dedication and commitment she has for our team. She was willing to do it.’
The coach thanked Ingham’s band of merry supporters for roaring on his team.
‘They were unbelievable. I heard the singing. I feel so proud to be associated with this club.’
The charismatic Fascetti is yet to make a decision on whether he will be in the dug-out next season.
‘I’m still considering it. I’ll make a decision after the Crad Evans Shield.’
He is certain of one thing.
‘Kirrily’s not playing. She’s banned.’
It has been a magic season for Fascetti’s team.
They are the pride of Hinchinbrook.
And there may still be a final trophy to lift at the end of it.
The Crad Evans Shield takes place at Brolga Park in Townsville.
Let’s get Ingham’s barmy army back on the road.