It was a do or die in the FFNC Football Premier League clash between the Park Hotel - Byron Bay Rams and Lismore Thistles on Saturday with the loser eliminated from the finals race. There was a huge amount of pride at stake and indeed another chance for the Rams to prove they are finals contenders. From the get go both teams with no love between them went out with everything they had. It was fast and exciting semi final football in front of a good crowd of around 400 fans. The hit ups were bruising encounters and the 1 on 1 battles were intense while both teams fought for the upper hand. Just 10 minutes in Rams Tommy Ruhl just back from injury, took a huge throw into the Thistles box. The Thistles centre back failed to clear the ball & it fell to the edge of the box near Aaron Richter-Steers. He jumped and unleashed a cracking full volley into the back of the net to put Byron in front.
The Rams mounted more pressure on the Thistles midfield while their very talented Joel Rudgley tried to rally his team in response; however Thistles were scrambling at the back. Byron were dominating and getting the ball through to the Thistles backline repeatedly and their keeper was working overtime. The Rams flankers Sammy Owens and Tim Knight were carving up their opposite numbers and creating lots of scoring chances for Rams striker Tommy Ruhl however the Thistles defenders swarmed over him like wasps and ball just wouldn’t go in the net. Ian Lennie, Sam Robson and Shaun Packham gave the Rams great confidence and kept the Thistles strikers at bay with some brilliant defensive tackling and had the fans cheering.
The Rams continued their momentum in the second half with a only a few balls getting past the brilliant midfield combination of Victor Pires, Yantra Whitling, Richter-Steers and “Iron Man” Layton Barton for keeper Kai Connell to deal with. Barton seemed invincible crashing through the Thistles defence all day and leaving players in his wake. With Byron so dominant, frustration was creeping in with no second half goals to show for 12 excellent scoring chances unconverted. The intense clashes started to take their toll first with striker Tommy Ruhl then defender Ian Lennie then flanker Tim Knight, all with serious knee injuries. Replacements Bruce Morhaus, Jonno Pierce and Herrick Schuenemann kept the intensity up however the 1-0 score remained at the final whistle despite the Rams clear dominance. The Byron Bay will now play Goonellabah in the major semi final next week to keep their final hopes alive.