14 September 2022

The fourth-grade goalie who steered South Wagga to its maiden first-grade finals

| Michael Hargreaves
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South Wagga’s Dermot ”Derm” Collins was elevated from fourth grade to the Pascoe Cup centre stage. Photo: Pat Flynn.

“He shouldn’t even be f***ing playing!”

These choice words from a distraught Southies playmaker at full time summed up the deciding moment of the Pascoe Cup minor semi-final between Leeton United and South Wagga.

In the end, it came down to two men whose mirroring comebacks collided in the elimination final between the defending champions and Wagga’s finals debutants.

Leeton United is one of the Riverina’s most successful football clubs and players had their sights set on retaining the crown they won in 2020 before COVID called time on last year’s season.

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Back in June, Leeton United’s star midfielder Adam Raso had been suspended for 13 matches following a horror tackle in the derby that broke the leg of Hanwood’s Anthony Agresta.

That decision would have seen the playmaker out until the grand final; however, Leeton appealed and Raso’s suspension was reduced by several weeks to see him back in time for the finals.

On the other side of the pitch, guarding the goal for the underdog South Wagga was an unlikely star of the season, Dermot ”Derm” Collins.

Before being plucked from the fourth-grade side, warm-ups for the Irishman consisted of a light stretch and a dart.

Post-match the warm-down swapped out the stretch for a cold frothy and yet another smoke.

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It was a combination of COVID travel requirements, army placements and an injury crisis that delivered his surprise elevation from the ”thirsty fourths” to the bright lights of the Pascoe Cup.

On the eve of the season, South Wagga had locked in Uruguayan keeper Santi Jaume, but a quick trip home mid-season left him stranded in South America by COVID restrictions.

All of a sudden Collins was adjudged by coach Andy Heller as the pick of the club’s keeping stocks and he was placed centre stage.

As the Warriors progressed to the final four for the first time in their 20-year history, it was in no small part thanks to the remarkable reflexes of a man who four months ago was enjoying a more casual kick in Friday night fourth grade.

Sunday’s clash saw Collins protecting the net in the elimination final against third-placed Leeton.

soccer match

Leeton United’s Adam Raso curls one in against South Wagga. Photo: Pat Flynn.

Leeton’s talisman midfielder Raso and Collins were both in the thick of the action from the first whistle.

Souths set up in a low block to stop the dancing feet of Henri Gardner and the men from the MIA had looked to be M.I.A. as the defenders were well marshalled by the Irishman’s booming voice.

Clear efforts on Collins’ goal were hard to come by and he employed his trademark toe poke to lay a trap for the defending champs.

“Get out! Get up!” went the cry of the coach as each defensive action was followed by a quick high defensive line.

Southies’ Mazban Sulamain missed with an acrobatic volley before the magic feet of Leeton’s Gardner conjured a way past defender Andrew Flaskas and into the referee’s whistle.

Raso swung the free kick on the right of the area high to the back post, where it was met by Collins’ fist.

Southies’ best chance to snatch the lead fell to Damon Watson when the underdogs sprang their trap.

Leeton was left marooned on the halfway line as Flaskas cut in from the left to his preferred right and sent the ball sailing between the central defenders and into the racing feet of Southies’ No. 10, only for it to balloon over the top.

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With 20 minutes on the clock it was nil-nil and Leeton was awarded a corner, sparking a string of angry Irish expletives as Collins shouted his men into place.

Raso was the man sending it into Collins’ box.

For a right-footer on the right wing, Raso pulled out the most imaginative play possible, curling the ball towards the goal rather than naturally away, and unsuspectingly through the defenders and Collins’ hands to score.

The winner scored by a bloke who, according to at least one defender, “shouldn’t even be f***ing playing!”, against a man who really shouldn’t be either, but by doing so gives the rest of us hope.

Leeton will face Lake Albert in the preliminary final at Hanwood next Sunday, with the winner to take on Hanwood in the decider.

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