THEY may have had to wait 63-years to achieve it, but when referee Richard Naumovski blew the final whistle at Nijong Oval on Sunday afternoon no-one connected with Cooma Tigers cared. The scenes of joy as the club celebrated breaking their League Championship duck defied the elements on a grey, overcast day on which the rain was incessant.
Whilst the achievement of Gaby Wilk and his troops is commendable and is a testament to their modern day style of fluent, attacking football with the emphasis on goals, goals and more goals, this is a club steeped in history. Established in 1952 by the workforce of the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme, the Tigers remember those who preceded them.
In their clubhouse, which serves a wide selection of food and beverages for the discerning punter, there is a nod to the past as a framed newspaper cutting, yellowing in age, showcases a visit from Chelsea, now an English Premier League powerhouse of course, for a mid-sixties match with the ACT.
The League title means a lot to Cooma. Not only does it grant them entry into the National Premier Leagues Final Series and a home fixture with the Champions of New South Wales, it exercises the demons of a couple of seasons ago when they were denied the crown due to an accidental administrative error. Few would have escaped the irony of the man at the centre of the issue in 2012, Goran Josifovski, scoring the brace which effectively sealed the title. Such are the vagaries of the game.
Josifovski rolled back the years with his double, slotting home after superb approach work from Aidan Johnson, arguably the find of the season, for his first before showing the composure required to take advantage of a scintillating break at pace by Stephen Domenici to net the crucial second five minutes into the second half.
Fittingly Robbie Cattanach, always at the heart of everything positive that the Tigers create, rounded it all off in stoppage time, bulleting a header from close range past Blue Devils' stopper Ashley Collins after Jordan Lando had skinned his marker.
And whilst the goals were mostly shared amongst Josifovski, Cattanach and Domenici this season, the trio have 12 apiece heading into the final round, it was far from a three man show. At the back Wilk rotated his two fine goalkeepers, the experienced Francois Bangweni sharing duties with Jack Pettit, the latter going from wooden spoon to League Champion in the space of less than twelve months following his summer transfer from Tuggeranong United.
At the back the introduction of Cristobal Soza, returning for a second stint with the club after his successful spell in 2013, added solidity at the required time. Liam Highmore emerged as a stopper of some repute, assisted by Stefan Todoroski who started the season as a regular before being used as a back-up, whilst club legend Phil Yarnold was his usual clam and efficient self. Then there was Johnson and Iain Elliott.
Whilst Johnson was an unknown, Elliott has been around the Tigers squad for a while now. The unsung hero of the team his tireless running, energetic tackling and endless enthusiasm allows the trinity ahead of him to shine. Johnson was an inspired acquisition. His ability to overlap at pace causing endless issues throughout the season. Midfielder Dejan Santrac pulled the strings from deep, allowing Cattanach a free roaming role with Dom Collucciello once again proving to be one of the best defensive midfielders in the competition.
Lianel Lauper did much to put Cooma into their current position before departing back overseas following a nine game stint whilst Griffith forward Jordan Lando added strength, height and an eye for goal from the bench with Jordano San Martin another whose presence helped inspire those around him to greater heights.
There can be no argument that the Tigers deserved this prize. But it looked so different back in May. Cooma had lost both their opening matches of the season, narrowly 2-3 to Canberra Olympic, and far more distressingly, 3-1 at Monaro Panthers. It prompted a re-think from the Cooma management and their team responded in some style. Unbeaten in their next thirteen matches with only the FFA COE preventing them from winning ALL their fixtures, a last minute Lando equaliser earning a precious point in Round 16.
It was a stunning run and one worthy of the Champions. For Cooma the quest for Championship glory is over. They've finally reached the Holy Grail. And yet, there is more to come. A Grand Final win to add to their previous successes in 2006 and 2012 would do for starters and then, of course, there's the opportunity to be crowned Champions of Australia. Now wouldn't that be some story? And on this sort of form, who would bet against it?