Hamilton Olympic were reeling from another major injury blow as Maitland ramped up the mind games for the deciding Northern NSW National Premier League semi-finals on Saturday.
Hamilton learned on Friday that winger Daniel Bird had sustained facial fractures in a clash in the opening minute of the 3-1 first-leg loss to Broadmeadow at Magic Park last week. He was due to have surgery on Friday night and joined midfielder Jacob Bailey (knee) on the sidelines. Coach Michael Bolch said also goalkeeper Danny Ireland (ankle) was “not looking likely” for a return against Magic at Darling Street Oval (6.30pm) on Saturday.
Bird played on after the knock last week and scored Hamilton’s goal, which put them ahead 1-0 at half-time. This week he had x-rays which revealed fractures around his eye socket.
Bolch, who has Grant Brown back from suspension, said Bird was shattered: “He’s been outstanding and he’s scored a couple of vital goals. It just shows the ticker of the guy. It happened in the first minute last week and he’s played 80 minutes.
“It’s not good at all and there was still bleeding into his mouth on Tuesday night at training. That’s three really big players missing for us who have done really well during the year. It is what it is, I’m sure someone else will step up for us tomorrow.”
Broadmeadow will be without co-coach Robert Virgili, who was handed a one-game ban after he was sent off for approaching a linesman during last week’s win. Midfielder Shane Paul is away again away in the only other loss for Magic. Co-coach Bob Naumov said Magic had momentum into the game and would look to build on their advantage.
At Jack McLaughlan Oval from 2pm, Maitland take on Edgeworth hoping the Eagles will be distracted by their FFA Cup match against Western Sydney Wanderers on Tuesday night. The Magpies fought back from 2-0 down to level 2-2 with the minor premiers last week.
“We respect Edgeworth and what they’ve achieved this year and who could blame them if they’ve already got one eye on the Wanderers game,” Maitland defender Dean Heffernan said.
“It’s a huge game for them and Newcastle football, but especially for those players. One good individual performance could change one of their lives. I guess the last thing they want is to be playing us on a heavy pitch just a couple of days before. Hopefully that’s something in the back of their minds, that every run they make against us is one less effort that they’ll have three days later against one of the best teams in the country.”
Heffernan said Matt Comerford “was a big chance” of returning to play with a broken rib. Edgeworth coach Damian Zane said Brody Taylor (ankle) remained sidelined.
On Sunday, Belmont Swansea play Wallsend at Jack McLaughlan Oval in the First Division grand final from 3pm.
Heffernan believed the illness could again hurt the Eagles.
“You can’t underestimate how long it takes to get over a stomach bug,” Heffernan said.
“They will be feeling the pinch tomorrow from last week, and they’ll be thinking about chasing around the Wanderers guys three days after ours in a game on TV.”
Zane said the round of 16 game against Wanderers would be motivation for his players.
“It’s going to be a tough game because it’s the last thing they are playing for and I told the boys you don’t want to get knocked out then play Western Sydney,” Zane said.
“It would take away from it, the build up would not be as good, so we need to focus on tomorrow and I think they are switched on.
“They are all playing for a spot as well, because if we don’t beat Maitland, I’m going to have to change something against Western Sydney.”
He said Taylor tested his ankle at training on Thursday night but was clearly not ready to return from tendon damage.
He believed Taylor would “be lucky to make grand final” but would be given “until last minute to play Wanderers”.
Heffernan said Comerford, who failed a fitness test before the first semi-final, had made improvements this week.
“He trained well last night and he was really sharp,” Heffernan said.
“There is an injury there but we know it can’t get any worse. He’s desperate to play, which is great.
“I’m not sure if he’ll start or come off the bench, but he’s a massive weapon for us.”
As for Magic in their clash Hamilton, Naumov said: “It’s good to be in our position but you can’t be complacent about it as well.
“They’ve got to chase goals, but having said that, if we get a goal early on, it makes their climb up the hill even harder. It would be a mistake to sit back and try to protect our two-goal lead. We’ve got to start from scratch and go out and win the game.”