From COVID outbreaks to crazy saves: Tigers FC fall short in defiant FFA Cup run

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Football can be a cruel game sometimes. Cooma-based side Tigers FC learnt that the hard way last night, after going down 3-0 to APIA Leichhardt in one of the most unique FFA Cup fixtures in history.

When the match was initially created back in July this year, no one would have predicted the road that the Tigers squad would have had to take to get to the final whistle.

After the Delta COVID outbreak shutdown both Sydney and Canberra earlier this year, it became apparent that the fixture would not be played on time.

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COVID cases inside the Tigers camp just two days before their rescheduled fixture at Viking Park in November meant a second date change, and with multiple players out due to protocols it remained unknown if the Cooma-based side would be able to field a team.

Somehow they ultimately did, and along with replacement players to make up the squad, they lined up against APIA with the ultimate prize of playing at home against Western Sydney Wanderers on the line.

If Tigers coach Ryan Grogan thought that just getting to the start of the match was going to be his squad’s biggest challenge, he was unfortunately mistaken.

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“I think that the way the game turned out is a reflection of the build-up in terms of everything that could have gone wrong (did),” he said.

Injuries plagued both teams, with APIA going down to 10 men at one stage after using their allotted substitutes.

Both teams ended up with just their goalkeepers on the bench, with every other player, including all of Tigers FC’s ring ins, finding minutes on the park.

Grogan could not have been prouder of the new players that he brought in for the match, all of which had a special connection to the Cooma-based club.

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“The boys I brought in are former Tigers players or new guys that we signed for next year,” he said.

“They did an exceptional job, and I could not have asked any more from them”.

With two players sent off before extra time, it was always going to be an uphill battle for Tigers.

After holding out for much of the first half of extra time it appeared that APIA had finally found the breakthrough goal when striker Jason Romero found space inside the penalty area.

In another clear display of their never say die attitude, goalkeeper Jakob Cole stepped up, producing back-to-back saves that sent the crowd, and Twitter, into pandemonium.

“My legs were just really heavy, so they probably gave out getting down to be honest,” Cole said.

“Getting back up, it was just a really good moment.”

When asked about his keeper’s performance, Grogan was filled with nothing but praise for the shot stopper.

“Everyone in the ACT footballing community knows how good of a keeper Jakob is and he has gone and demonstrated that tonight,” he said.

“That’s the reason why we have him in the team, when the big moments come he pulls out the big saves and he saved our backside a number of times.”

After months of preparation, delays, injuries, Covid and send offs, it felt like a bit of fortune might finally be going Tigers FC’s way.

This is where football was at its most cruel.

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After 113 minutes of action APIA finally broke the deadlock, and as they celebrated with their contingent of travelling fans, it appeared as though the misfortune had finally caught up with the Cooma side.

The flood gates opened, and just seven minutes later when the final whistle blew, they had somehow lost 3-0 and were out of the cup.

Tigers and their 2000 fans probably deserved to go to penalties, Cole probably deserved a chance to be the hero in a shootout. Unfortunately that’s not how football goes.

However Grogan was nothing but proud of the way his side handled all of the adversity that they had faced.

“I think the side handled the scenario the same way they’ve handled every setback so far this season, with aplomb,” he said.

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The Tigers team, their fans, their coaching staff, as well as APIA can hold their heads very high after last night’s performance.

After months of not playing and training, both teams put on a spectacle. Every fan that was there loved every peak and trough in what was the definition of a roller coaster game.

The exact same can be said for every person watching at home. That’s the magic of the cup, two great squads, fighting with everything they have against adversity for the opportunity to play against an A-League Men club.

Whilst APIA now face the Wanderers at home this coming Tuesday, unfortunately for Cooma last night was just one hurdle too far.

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William Makepeace
Current Intern covering Canberra United. Sports Media student at University of Canberra who lives and breathes Football

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