Barnsley battlers in State Cup finals fairytale

BARNSLEY Bulldogs. Chances are you haven’t heard of them unless you hail from the small coalmining community on the western outskirts of Newcastle.

The Bulldogs boast three men’s and a women’s team, are based at Taylor Park, wear white and bottle green, are coached by Darren Sills, play in Zone League One, the fourth tier of Newcastle football, and celebrate their 50th anniversary this year.

On Saturday they will contest the quarter-finals of the State Cup knockout in Coffs Harbour, where they hope to match the deeds of their English Championship namesake.

Barnsley FC, known as the Tykes, advanced to the semi-finals of the 2008 FA Cup, knocking out Liverpool and Chelsea, before going down 1-0 to Cardiff City.

The Bulldogs are the lowest-ranked team to make it through to the final eight of the 64-team, $10,000 knockout and take on Tamworth outfit Oxley Vale Attunga in the quarter-finals.

‘‘We are the underdogs, but we are not just there to have a great time and make a holiday of it,’’ Sills said.

‘‘We are looking to make a fist of it on Saturday, and who knows what happens on the Sunday if we get through.

‘‘In all forms of competition we have lost one game – round two of the league to Garden Suburb – and hope to take that form into the game.’’

Sills joined the Bulldogs this season from Northern NSW State League neighbours West Wallsend, who reneged on a deal to re-sign him and appointed Greg Smith as coach.

Under Sills the Bluebells made the semi-finals of the State Cup, losing to Edgeworth, but finished with the wooden spoon in the state league.

Jones brothers Tye (striker) and Jarryd (midfielder), Cal Sherwood (centre back) and Kyle Clarke (midfielder) followed Sills to Barnsley, and along with Kain Beagan (centre back), Brett Williams (goalkeeper) and Guy Kovacs (midfielder) have led the way.

‘‘It has been a thoroughly enjoyable year,’’ Sills said.

‘‘I was offered to be Greg Smith’s assistant, which didn’t feel right.

‘‘I live in Barnsley and walk to the ground.

‘‘We have a great bunch of blokes and they are all locals.

‘‘The team I inherited were promoted from Zone League Two last year and went through undefeated. Some of the players would not be out of place in first division or state league.

‘‘It is just the commitment level that holds them back. A lot of the guys work afternoon shift and can’t get to every training session.

‘‘The majority of the players have played either youth or under23s at state league level.

‘‘The beauty of it is that they are all local lads and it is purely amateur.’’

In its third year, the State Cup has been altered to provide an easier path for non-state league clubs.

Barnsley have beaten Tenambit, Hamilton Olympic, Kotara South and Garden Suburb.

New Lambton Eagles, who play in Zone Premier League (third tier) and State League clubs Broadmeadow Magic and Charlestown City are the other quarter-finalists from the southern pool.

‘‘They have opened it up a bit,’’ Sills said.

‘‘If you play in the state league, it is not that fair, but it is fairer for the lower-league teams.’’

Sills has done his homework on Saturday’s opponents.

‘‘I have been told they are a young, physical side and don’t go too bad,’’ he said. ‘‘We play a 3-5-2, which is the formation the guys played last year.

‘‘It’s very attacking football and there is always plenty of goals and opportunities.

‘‘We can’t wait.’’

The cup quarter-finals are on Saturday and the semi-finals on Sunday.

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