THE last two years when the final whistle has been blown in the men’s Premier League Hockey grand final, Souths coach Ray Winwood-Smith has been left to console his players while Lithgow Panthers celebrated.
This Saturday it will once more be Panthers and Souths battling for glory, but this time Winwood-Smith is confident it will be his men celebrating.
He said they have learned a lot from those past defeats – falling 3-1 in penalties last season and going down 5-3 in 2016 after the scores had been locked at 3-all.
The coach also feels that Panthers are not a bogey side for Souths.
“There are no mental demons as such, but they’re a smart side, they’re tough side and just playing them in Lithgow is a challenge,” he said.
“They know how to plays finals hockey, we do too and we’re better prepared this year than we have been the last two years. I think we’ve learned a lot, and how we’ve gone about our business the last three, four weeks has been exceptional.
“The boys have really put the effort in to make sure they understand what we need to do and how to do it.”
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All up, Souths has lost to Panthers eight times on Premier League Hockey grand final day. The last time the two blues triumphed against the Lithgow powerhouse was in 2007.
In order to stop Panthers from adding yet another win to that one-sided equation, Winwood-Smith said maintaining physical and mental intensity for 70 minutes is a must.
Panthers showed when winning the major semi-final 4-3 over Souths a fortnight ago just what can happen if the two blues switch off.
They scored three times in quick succession to set up the win and leave Winwood-Smith’s side to survive a preliminary final against St Pat’s.
“Last time we played them it was a six-minute period where they got on top of us and out of 70 minutes of hockey, that six minutes turned the game,” Winwood-Smith said.
“We’ve identified what that was, where it happened and how it happened .. we know if you drop your guard for a short period of time either side can get punished.
“Other teams you can back off for a period of time and know you’re not going to get punished, but Panthers if you do that you will get punished. It’s vice-versa too, it goes both ways with us.
“Intensity is the name of the game this weekend … I don’t think either side is going to leave anything on the field at the end of the game, so it’s all or nothing.”
Though Panthers hold the edge in recent finals battles, Souths did win on Lithgow turf earlier this season. That 8-2 performance was one of the best with Winwood-Smith at the helm and proved to him it can be done.
“I suppose the big job is getting there to the grand final, now they’ve just got to play to the best of their ability on the day and see what comes out of it after that,” he said.
“At the end of the day that’s all we can do, we now need to front up with the right mental attitude to put it to them.
“The boys are very confident and in saying that, we still need a bit of luck to go our way.”
Saturday’s grand final in Lithgow will commence at 1.15pm.