After missing out on promotion to the NPL in Season 2014, Valentine Phoenix set their target early on that and that target was to be in the finals race and be in contention for promotion. Their first competitive fixture of the season saw them take on fellow promotion favourites Lake Macquarie City in the FFA Cup and the Phoenix came away with a thrilling 8-3 victory over their Macquarie rivals.
After seeing off Lakes with ease, Valentine took on ZPL side Dudley-Redhead in the second round and won comfortably, 10-1 over the local rivals. It wasn't a surprise and it was a result that proved Valentine as one of the best teams in the NewFM 1st Division. Suddenly their pre-season form looked very dangerous.
Round 1 of the NewFM 1st Division saw Valentine take on newly promoted side Wallsend at their temporary home at Baxter Field. Goals to the McGinley brothers Scott and Paul gave the Phoenix a first up 2-1 win over the Red Devils.
After seeing off the newly promoted Wallsend in Round 1, Valentine travelled to the Newcastle Athletics Field to take on another promoted side in Cooks Hill United. The team in black and white had a half-time lead but a goal to Reece Newton would save a point for Valentine and help avoid a potential shock loss.
It wasn't the most convincing start to the season but Valentine would kickstart their goal scoring form with an impressive 5-1 victory over the Thornton Redbacks. Confidence was high after that win and they used it during a midweek FFA Cup clash with Zone League One outfit Hunter Simba. They saw off Simba 7-0 with ease.
Valentine faced the third of the three promoted sides when they hosted Kahibah FC at Baxter Field in Round 4. The Phoenix were held to a 2-2 draw which capped off an irregular start to the new season. Consistency was needed if they wanted to earn promotion to the NPL and it wasn't far away.
The Phoenix travelled to top of the table West Wallsend and blew the Bluebells off the park in a convincing 6-0 display and capped off by captain Scott McGinley recording his first of four hat-tricks this season. This was the result that effectively turned Westy's season around and saw them crash out of finals contention.
A tricky mid-week trip to Singleton was handled in a fine way as Valentine recorded 3-0 over the Strikers with Scott McGinley keeping his goal scoring form together with a brace and defender Brett Adcock getting his name onto the scoresheet. Suddenly it was nine goals with zero conceded over two games and the Phoenix were looking like the team to beat.
Next up was their biggest game to date as they took on fellow promotion-chasers Lake Macquarie City in their return to Cahill Oval after the end of the local cricket season. The Phoenix picked up a highly-satisfying 3-2 victory over the Roosters and moved into the box seat for promotion after the first two months of the season.
Another tricky mid week away trip (this time to Toronto-Awaba) saw Scott McGinley record another Wednesday night hat-trick in the club's 3-1 victory over the Stags. Valentine headed into a Round 10 bye on top of the table and with four straight wins under their belts. Form was coming together.
A home match against out-of-form Cessnock could have been a banana peel but the Phoenix came through and recorded a convincing 5-1 victory, courtesy of goals to Alex Burrell (x2), Mitchell Harper, Luke Barnier and Paul McGinley. They'd back up from that with a tight but crucial 1-0 win over Cooks Hill United the next week, courtesy of a goal from Scott McGinley.
A Round 9 catch-up game would see Valentine's season hit a brick wall in the form of Belmont-Swansea. The visiting Belswans gave the Phoenix their first loss of the season, despite a goal from Alex Burrell. It was a minor dent in Valentine's promotion hopes.
Up next was arguably the shock of the season as mid-table Thornton beat Valentine 1-0 at Thornton Park. It was one of Valentine's worst performances of the season and suddenly saw the wheels fall off their promotion bus. Form was needed and it certainly came.
Hosting a decent Singleton side was always going to be a tough ask but Valentine would stand up to the challenge and come away with a convincing 5-2 victory. Goalscorers were Corey Atkinson with double, Brett Adcock, Scott McGinley and Paul McGinley.
Valentine's biggest win of the season was next as they put eight past a hapless Toronto-Awaba side. Both Scott McGinley and Corey Atkinson recorded hat-tricks and were joined by Luke Barnier and Paul McGinley on a very lopsided scoresheet. Suddenly Valentine were looking every much so the true favourites to go up.
Facing Kahibah away in Round 17 was always going to be a tricky test but again Valentine stood firm. Goals to Luke Barnier and Paul McGinley and a clean sheet to goalkeeper Perry Budden helped Valentine record a 2-0 win over the in-form Green and Blacks.
Valentine's last regular season home match saw them take on a severely out-of-form West Wallsend outfit and after putting six past Westy earlier in the season, it was no surprise to see them put five past the Bluebells this time round. Here's a fun fact, Valentine have scored 41 goals in their last five against Westy, without conceding one!
Round 19 brought the biggest game of the season as promotion-hopefuls Valentine and Lakes clashed at Macquarie Field. This was a game I got to and trust me when I say, it was Valentine's best performance of the season in my opinion. Everything went their way, Scott McGinley got a hat-trick and they saw off their main threat for the third time in 2015 (counting the FFA Cup).
A few days later Valentine traveled to The Gardens knowing a win would all but seal promotion to the NPL. Again this was a game I got to and it was a freezing, foggy night on a tough pitch but the Phoenix would take a crucial three points through a Paul McGinley goal. The 1-0 win put them in the box seat to seal promotion.
After a bye in Round 20, Valentine traveled to nearby Blacksmiths Oval to take on Belmont-Swansea. Belswans needed a win to make finals whilst Valentine could seal promotion with a victory. It was another gutsy 1-0 win, courtesy of Scott McGinley this time. After narrowly missing out last year, Valentine had sealed re-entry into the top flight.
Round 22 brought a dead-rubber of sorts against Cessnock but to Valentine's credit, they'd come from behind to beat the Hornets 3-2. It was Valentine's eighth-straight victory and a great way to enter the Semi Finals.
The first leg of the Semi Finals at Kahibah Oval saw the Green and Blacks control the majority of chances but it wasn't enough as Chris Brown stuck a dagger through Kahibah hearts with the only goal of the game. Advantage to the Phoenix ahead of the second leg.
The next week at Cahill Oval was a lot like the first game, Kahibah had a lot of chances (as did Valentine) and none were going in. A Scott McGinley penalty in the 86th minute would allow Valentine to put a foot into the Grand Final and two more late goals were icing on the cake, regardless of Kahibah's 94th minute goal.
Next up was the big one. Sure promotion was sealed but Valentine wanted to win the big one after losing the Grand Final last season. They were unable to overcome a spirited Wallsend side. The Phoenix threw all they had late on but it wasn't their day. Promotion in my opinion outranks a Grand Final win and it was sealed with class across the season.
Valentine face a tough test next season but I feel like they'll find their feet in the NPL and survive relegation. Good luck!
Goalkeeper Perry Budden has been voted the club's best on my recent Player of the Year survey but in my opinion it has been a real team effort with several standouts. Captain Scott McGinley lead by example, scored a lot of crucial goals and always gave his absolute very best for the orange and blue.
Likable central defender Brett 'Buzz' Adcock was also praised by his club and team for his efforts this season. The centre back was strong all season and scored some headers at the other end of the park too.
There's players in the squad who didn't get a mention here but they are indeed out there. There's quality in this Valentine squad and it's proven by the fact that they'll be returning to the top-flight in 2016. I think with the players they have and a couple of key additions, Valentine could really find their feet in the NPL.
A lot consider Riley Russell the best upcoming talent at Valentine and the tricky fullback was rewarded by being voted Newysports' Community Under 23's Player of the Year by his peers and opponents. He played a cameo role off the bench in yesterday's (as I write this) Grand Final.
He's bagged a couple of goals for the Under 23's this season and has been a major part of their run into the Semi Finals. DJ Costello has been another that has played a cameo in the 1st Grade season and looks like a decent talent coming through the ranks at Valentine.
Under 23's Wrap Up:
It was a highly successful season for Valentine in the Under 23's. They were by far the best squad all season and despite being dumped out of the finals in the Semis, they can hold their heads high that for the majority of the season they were the best team. As I said in the First Grade review, I'm a firm believer in the Minor Premiership outranking the Grand Final. It's much better to finish at the top after four or five months than jag a couple of wins together at the end of the season.
Standouts have to include Riley Russell. The full-back has been superb all season and is highly regarded by his club and his peers in the squad. He featured off the bench in Sunday's 1st Grade Grand Final and will no doubt find some success in the NPL.
Other players who have been crucial for this squad include DJ Costello, Conor Motherway and Jayden Mounsey, along with Matthew Williams. It's been a real team effort all season and results like their 6-0 smashing of Lakes in the latter part of the season really prove that this squad will be one to watch in the NPL next season, depending on the age requirements and what not of Under 22's. I've got no doubt a few of the players in this squad will play 1st Grade next season.
Under 19's Wrap-Up:
Another Valentine team, another Minor Premiership. There's no doubting this club's efforts this season, they've been by far the best squad for the majority of the season. This team in particular have a lot of talent and a real team spirit. They lost the Grand Final but they've looked good all season and with the majority of the squad being fairly young they'll probably all stick together next season.
|Nathan Baker v Westy|
It'd be slightly ignorant to not praise the entire team as from the games I've seen over the last few weeks, this team know each other's game and really play a smooth style of football.
Across the park this side have talent. Up front with Nathan Baker. Two quality wingers in Nathan Sanders and Sam Powell. The Godina brothers teaming up well in the centre of the park, along with the player the team voted as their best in Jordan Purcell.
A strong back-line lead the way all season. Riley Cleaver, the highly-rated Alex Mackenzie, Jared Screen and Mark Davis. Goalkeeper Martin Kollen was superb this year. Depth was strong too. Mitchell Hogan and Blake Carpenter were quality and the squad's youngest player Kaleb Pearson was strong as well. A great team effort!
|After the win at Cessnock|
Under 17's Wrap-Up:
The only Valentine team not to make the Semi Finals were the 17's. This side picked up a couple decent wins this year and as a young side that was chucked together at the start of the season it could have been much worse. I've been told the team bond was great and team spirit was high which is something I've seen in all the Valentine teams to be honest.
Standout players I've been told included captain Dylan Halligan who lead his team well and was a general in midfield, Max Zank who showed a lot of strength on the ball and Sebastian Lewandowski in defence, whose presence was missed when he went on vacation for a month or so mid-season.
|Valentine Under 17's v Westy (Photographer: Jeff Keating)|
Their biggest win of the season (and their only win against a top six team) came when they defeated eventual Minor Premiers Kahibah F.C 2-1. This would one of just two losses for Kahibah all season so the young Phoenix squad can look back on that game with fondness.
Going up to the NPL next year will probably split the majority of this side up and hopefully any players that do leave can find a new home around the New-FM league. Unfortunately it's part and parcel of this level of football. A decent season for a team that hadn't played together before this year.
Keys To The Future:
The future is indeed bright at Valentine as they embark on life in the Northern NSW National Premier Leagues. Recruitment is key and I've been told there's a new coach and some players in mind. They just need to look at what Maitland did this year in terms of recruitment. I think Valentine will stay up next year.
With a junior base the size of Valentine-Eleebana, it would not surprise me to see them become one of the biggest club's in Newcastle. There were some whispers of a ground upgrade and there's plenty of stuff in motion that could see Valentine really become a solid NPL side.