Midfielder Eugene Kirwan raised his Greenbay Hoppers jersey above his head and ran towards the lower deck of the south stand at the Vivian Richards Cricket Ground on Sunday, celebrating his 57th minute conversion that put his team ahead during their title match against 2016/17 Premier Division football champions, Parham FC.
The strike would eventually prove the winner for the Greenbay men as they claimed a second top flight title in three years.
The two top teams met in the feature match of Sunday’s triple-header of the Antigua and Barbuda Football Association (ABFA) competition, which was played at the North Sound venue for the first time and, needing a victory to lift the title, Kirwan’s strike brought much relief to the multitude of Hoppers fans sitting in the south stand; especially after they had been expertly denied by Parham’s Winslow McDowell a goal on numerous occasions.
But Kirwan, who recently transferred from the demoted Empire FC, played a brilliant one-two pass with fellow midfielder Keith Kelly deep inside the Parham penalty area before hitting into the upper left-hand-corner of the net.
The victory took Hoppers to 37 points in their quota of 18 matches, two ahead of Five Islands who also completed their quota of matches on Sunday.
Coach Rolston “Lexy” Phoenix said following a fairly balanced first half, his players executed well in the second half of the contest.
“I didn’t get up at all for the first half. The assistant coach [George Warner], he took the first half and after we went in [the dressing room] so we sort of changed around the game plan a bit, so I sat down and told them what I wanted them to do and they executed the game plan really good in the second half,” he said.
The match kept patrons on the edge of their seats with end to end action but was also a very physical contest which saw Kelly leaving the field with an injury following Hoppers’ conversion.
Phoenix said they had prepared for that type of battle.
“We knew Parham was going to come hard on us because the game was a really nice physical game but those guys came up trumps during the game. We came up playing a certain how [style], not just getting the ball and spam it [kick it out] and that’s why in the second half I told them that I didn’t want them doing it. We were doing that a lot in the first half because Caja [George Warner] wanted them to play direct first half in terms of putting the ball behind [the defense] and we try to get on the ball but I don’t like that,” the coach said.
Hoppers won 11 times, drew four matches and suffered three defeats on their way to the 2017/18 title. They scored 29 goals and gave up 23 for a positive 6 goal difference.
The loss did not affect Parham’s chances of a profitable finish, as they ended third with 28 points.
Meanwhile, Five Islands finished on a strong note, beating Grenades 3-1 in Sunday’s second fixture. Yoandir Puga netted twice for Five Islands, hitting the back of the net in minutes 11 and 44 while striker Cervantes Sander netted in minute 61 to put the icing on the cake and take his personal tally to 14 as the league’s chief marksman.
Grenades’ lone goal came from substitute striker Theo Browne who hit home from just inside the area on minute 70.
Five Islands finished second in the standings with 35 points while Grenades finished a disappointing fourth with 26 points.
In Sunday’s other contest, Old Road came from a goal down to salvage a 1-1 draw with Swetes FC as they barely manage to avoid the two-team relegation zone.
On 20 points however, Old Road will play a three-team round-robin contest against the third and fourth placed teams from the First Division in Fort Road and Willikies. The winners of that competition will be awarded a third and final spot in the Premier Division.