Swan IC captured their first major trophy by defeating traditional rivals Perth SC 2-1 in an epic 2003 Boral Cup Final. First half goals by Paul Lincoln and Elton Holmes had the black and whites in a seemingly comfortable position, however, that changed early in the second half when team captain Damian Scali was issued his marching orders.
A Gareth Naven thunderbolt closed the gap for Perth but all attempts to equalise were thwarted by a determined rearguard action from Swan. Goalkeeper Cory Hugo took his share of the plaudits with a man-of-the-match display while there were also stand-out performances from central defensive partners Carlo Scali and Michael Di Fulvio on a sunny afternoon at Dorrien Gardens.
“The win was very important for the club and I think that it was the clubs first piece of silverware makes it a little more special,” said Carlo Scali a few days after his teams’ historic win on Sunday 14 September, 2003. “We have a lot of passionate people around the club and hearing their support during the game – not to mention getting to celebrate with them afterwards – was absolutely fantastic.”
Few gave Swan, who’d gained promotion to the top flight four years earlier, much chance leading into the day despite them losing only once in fourteen games. Perhaps notably, that solitary loss took place at Perth, who were expected to add the Boral Cup to the Premier League title they’d captured just a few weeks earlier.
It took only a couple of minutes for Naven to fashion the afternoon’s first opening, his surge into the 18-yard box halted by Corey Hugo’s courageous smother. The Swan ‘keeper was called upon again soon after to keep out a low strike by Shane Crampton after the blues were awarded a free-kick inside the area.
The game was turned on its head when veteran Paul Lincoln nudged Swan into a 21st minute lead. “Perth partly cleared a corner which dropped to me on the top edge of the box,” explained midfielder Mark Lee. “I volleyed it back towards goal where, thankfully, Paul was lurking, he normally misses from 6-yards but on the day he toe-poked it in!”
Perth responded with a flurry of attacks but both Crampton and Aaron Cole headed wide of the target. Then on 34 minutes an uncharacteristic error by last defender Dino Djulbic allowed Elton Holmes to skip clear and side-step oncoming ‘keeper Robert Scarparolo before tucking away Swan’s second goal.
Swan may have carried that lead to the break but the game was far from safe. “It was a great position to be in,” Lee commented. “We felt at half time that if we matched our first half performance we could pull it off. Against Perth a two-goal lead doesn’t guarantee victory, so we knew it was going to be a tough second forty-minute minutes.”
And tough it was. Seven minutes after the re-start Damian Scali was dismissed for a second bookable offence, much to the dismay of technical director Gary Marocchi. “The team wants to be given a fair opportunity and we weren’t given that,” stormed Marocchi. “Damian has been sent off for an innocuous little challenge and other incidents have been missed altogether.”
Nonetheless, defender Michael Di Fulvio remained confident Swan would complete the job they’d started. “Even with ten men I thought if everyone stuck to their task then would hold on and win the game,” commented Di Fulvio. “No one expected us to win against Perth, especially on their home ground, so we had something to prove.”
The game reached flashpoint in the 55th minute Rhys Graham felled Carlos Echeveirra in an off-the-ball incident that somehow went unnoticed by match officials. Perth were starting to make use of the extra player but Naven squandered a golden opportunity from 10-metres. And soon after Adam Bunce’s rising shot passed agonisingly high of the bar.
The blues dominance was eventually rewarded after 71 minutes when Naven unleashed a rocket of a shot from 20-metres that gave the ‘keeper no chance. Now back in the hunt, Perth upped the ante only to find their opponents defence of Carlo Scali, Di Fulvio, Justin Hugo and Echeveirra up to the task.
Graham was again fortunate not to have his name taken following a late tackle on Justin Hugo with 85 minutes on the clock. The game had ticked over into stoppage time when a back-peddling Cory Hugo brilliantly paddled Howarth’s dipping long-range strike over. And after four nervous minutes, the Swan camp was sent into jubilant celebration by the sound of Patrick McCaffrey’s final whistle.
“The club really has come of age, we had a dream 18 years ago to win something major and now we have,” said a very proud Damian Scali. “We are a very tight knit group (and) socialise quite a lot together. There has been a nucleus group at the club for a long time – myself, Carlo Scali, Justin Hugo, Cory Hugo and Trevor Hatton – and that had made a difference.”
“These guys have been through some serious lows but have always stuck at it and enjoyed the ride, and the new players that arrived this season have fitted in perfectly. One thing that we don’t have at Swan is players with ego’s, we’re all there for the team and not for individual glory.”
“As for the red card, I got to school on Monday – I teach at Kolbe Catholic College – and a number of students had organised red cards for the day after reading about it in the paper. As I walked around the school or into a class I was greeted with a sea of red cards.”
2003 Boral Cup Final
Perth S.C. 1 (Gareth Naven 71)
Swan I.C. 2 (Paul Lincoln 21, Elton Holmes 34)
Perth S.C.: Robert Scarparolo, Dino Djulbic, Aaron Cole, Michael Icanovski (Albert Osei-Tutu 63), Todd Howarth, Rhys Graham, Rob Giorgi (Robbie Puca 58), Gareth Naven, Adam Bunce, Mark Pottier (Michael Catalano 81), Shane Crampton
Swan I.C.: Cory Hugo, Carlo Scali, Carlos Echeveirra, Michael Di Fulvio, Justin Hugo, Mark Lee, Dean Nicolaou (Damian Todorovic 80), Gary Andrews, Damian Scali, Elton Holmes, Paul Lincoln
Cautions: Icanovski (36), D.Scali (42), Echeverria (59), Howarth (67)
Dismissals: D.Scali (52)
Officials: Patrick McCaffrey, Ron Tully, Ross Sardi, Joe Fusari