Not every story has a fairytale ending.
Oakleigh Cannons’ giant-killing run has come to an end, after they were sent crashing down to earth by a rampant Macarthur outfit, who continued its undefeated start under new boss Dwight Yorke to secure a place in a maiden Australia Cup final.
However, the moment of the night was saved for 13-year-old Oakleigh goalkeeper Ymer Abili who came on in the final minutes to a thunderous ovation – becoming the youngest known player to feature in the competition since its inception.
“In the 85th minute… He (Oakleigh coach Chris Taylor) said ‘warm up’. I was buzzing, so happy.” Abili told Network 10 post-game.
“I had no nerves I was just excited to go on, to make history.”
The Bulls showcased their class in the battle of David vs Goliath to sink the newly crowned NPL Victoria champions in front of 5200 vocal supporters at Jack Edwards Reserve, with new signing Daniel Arzani particularly standing out with a Man of the Match showing.
After an ill-fated stint overseas since leaving Melbourne City in 2018, Arzani showed signs of the player who burst onto the scene at the World Cup – scoring a brace and looking like a threat each time he got on the ball.
“[I’m] getting minutes, getting confidence. It’s been unbelievable for me working with the gaffer (Yorke),” Arzani said.
“He’s got a way with us boys. He’s keeping everyone happy, he’s keeping everyone playing at their best.
“I’m really loving my football for the first time in a while.”
After going a goal behind as a result of a Joe Guest wonder-strike, the Bulls upped the ante with five goals in just over 20 minutes, as braces from Arzani and Ulises Davila, and a solitary goal from Jake Hollman proved to be the difference, with Yorke’s charges playing the role of spoiler to a potential first-ever all-NPL Cup final.
As a result of the 5-2 win, Macarthur will compete for their first-ever piece of silverware against NPL New South Wales outfit Sydney United on October 1, in a Western Sydney derby with the venue to be decided in the coming days.
Despite the thrashing, Oakleigh can hold their heads high after a sensational campaign, which saw them battle through a treacherous schedule which included playing 13 games in 60 days to end their campaign across three different competitions.
And it seemed as if the Cannons would enact yet another “cupset”, having knocked off Sydney FC a fortnight ago at the same venue when they took the lead through Guest to send the home fans into raptures.
But the toll of big game, after big game seemingly took its toll on the semi-professional outfit, who were dealt a hammer blow to their already decimated back-line – losing defender Aryn Williams to a suspected ACL injury just prior to the floodgates opening.
Macarthur fans, on the other hand, will take great confidence into the semi-final, as they fly the flag of the A-Leagues in the decider against yet another NPL opposition, but also given the form of their fleet-footed front-line which has caught the eye in the early days of Yorke’s tenure.
OAKLEIGH 2 (Guest 24‘, Dekker 81’)
MACARTHUR 5 (Davila 44‘, 64’, Arzani 45+4, 55, Hollman 58’)
Venue: Jack Edwards Reserve