Dynasty v fairy-tale. Town v country.
A team chasing a record sixth consecutive championship v a team just a year removed from finishing last.
No matter which way you cut it, Saturday’s Citizens Shield final has an interesting angle, and both sides have solid reasons to dream of glory. Old Boys has been beaten only once (on the field) this year, and is capable of the most devastating attacking play you will ever see at this level.
Maheno, meanwhile, has staged an astonishing resurgence this season, fields a team with an exquisite balance of power and pace, and will have every neutral fan in the green-and-black corner.
Equally, both teams have to answer a couple of key questions.
Can Old Boys overcome their lack of depth? And how will they cope if they are deprived of the ball?
Will Maheno’s lack of playoff experience be a factor? And can its defence hold up to the inevitable Old Boys onslaught in the first half? Old Boys might have qualified top (comfortably) but its season included a default and an ongoing struggle with player numbers, and both coach Kilifi Fangupo and captain Ralph Darling believe winning a championship this year would surpass the previous five.
“It’s been a battle,” Darling said. “We’ve had a year from hell with our numbers, really, but we’ve got a good core group of guys that just get the job done. If we can get up this year, it will be a pretty special achievement.” Darling believed the huge amount of playoff experience in his team helped when Old Boys nearly succumbed to an inspired Athletic Marist comeback in the semifinal.
He knows Maheno will be a worthy foe on Saturday. “They should be really proud of what they’re doing down there. “I think they’ll target our breakdown, so we’ll have to tidy that up a bit. I’m expecting a good battle up front. And they’ll use a lot of kicking to the corners, so our back three will have to be aware.” For Maheno, it has been a spectacular lurch from rebuilding to contending for the Citizens Shield.
Coaches Mark Wilson and Nick Anderson recruited well and got a bunch of new players to embrace the game plan and environment, and the results have been mightily impressive.
Captain and No8 Hayden Tisdall _ just one of many to enhance their reputations this season _ has relished the journey from wooden spoon to final. “It’s pretty awesome. We battled away for a few years,” Tisdall said. “Reaching the final means a lot, especially to the players who have been through some tough times, and to our supporters.” Tisdall said Maheno knew, after the first round, it had a team capable of challenging anyone. But the club’s ambitions have very quickly lifted from challenging to winning. “Getting to the final is a nice reward. But we definitely want to take the next step and go all the way. Old Boys have had it for too long. Everyone in the team believes we are good enough, and I’ve got a lot of faith in the guys. “We want this a lot.”