Armadale's 'beautifully chaotic' 2018 Cup triumph in full – with John O’Reilly and Billy Quinncroft
Everyone loves an underdog in sport. Whether it be for the individual stories within a collective journey, the layers of emotion required to prevail against all odds, or to see the unbridled joy on the faces of those we aren’t necessarily accustomed to.
On the 14th of July, 2018, Armadale Soccer Club head coach John O’Reilly woke up on the Saturday morning of the State Cup Final and put together an IKEA flat-pack he had purchased that week. It was arguably the biggest day of his coaching career, but an unusual composure had set into his mind early, which was broken only briefly by a radio interview five hours before kick-off. The calm was a result of knowing he had done everything he could to that point. The larger Dorrien Gardens pitch which hosted the final was walked, the dimensions of Armadale’s training pitches were altered to try and replicate the size of the ground, the messages for the squad were told, and the team was picked and prepared with key defenders Nathan Costello and Josh Kuser already missing due to pre-planned holidays. In O’Reilly’s words, there was nothing more he could have said or done on the Saturday which would have led to a different outcome. There was an understanding in everyone’s eyes that the game plan was bought into and that it would work. It was just about the execution.
The hard yards and preparation was justified. O’Reilly encouraged opponents Gwelup Croatia to play around and across Armadale, not through them, and wanted his team to be on their toes and ready to intercept. Michael Rizidis heeded those instructions twice on that famous afternoon and it proved decisive in delivering a first State cup to the Army. The winger first intercepted a flat pass across midfield from Victor Brauner before feeding joint-Golden Boot winner Chris Jackson for an instinctive opener.
*Chris Jackson opened the scoring for Armadale on 11 minutes. Photo- @FootballWest
Jackson’s second was pure class. Rizidis’ alertness was key once more as he capitalised on hesitant Gwelup defence to win a header, which landed at the feet of the English striker. A man full of confidence, Jackson curled superbly into the top corner five minutes into the second half, and sent the Army faithful into raptures.
“There was a moment after the second goal went in where I looked around and up at the crowd,” Armadale coach O’Reilly said.
“From the minute you arrive at the game, you’re so focused that you sometimes forget to live in the occasion. I had 20-30 seconds where I just looked around and took that mental snapshot of it all.
“I could see everyone was going crazy. From the ex-president Tony Greipl, to the members of the current board, all the supporters cheering. Then you re-focus and it’s all about patience and not getting too excited.”
Armadale held out with relative comfort to win 2-0 and lift the trophy. Emotion was running high at the final whistle and suddenly the enormity of the triumph set in, according to skipper on the day Billy Quinncroft.
“As soon as that whistle goes and you realise you’ve done it, it sinks in what you’ve achieved,” the former ECU Joondalup and Sorrento player said.
“You go over to the fans. They’re behaving wildly and enjoying themselves, they deserve that moment and it’s what you want to see because it’s an unreal feeling to bring something home that hasn’t happened before.
*Billy Quinncroft holds the State Cup aloft. Photo: @FootballWest
“Some of the people in the crowd that day were involved in founding the club and to see their faces was so rewarding.
“They won the cup as much as us. And to help provide that to them after the work they put in through the season means a lot. The players go out on the pitch, but you can’t explain what it means to the people off it who have been doing what they do for years.”
O’Reilly echoed his captain’s sentiments and spoke about the overwhelming pride he felt.
“I was just so proud to see all those people get an opportunity to have that moment, because when you’re at a club, you build an emotional connection, especially when the people are good and honest,” he said.
“There can be an unfortunate stigma with Armadale sometimes. But to bring that moment to the community, to be a small part of that history, there was many years of being relegation battlers and losing games, but this was their reward.
“For them to still be there, to dedicate their time to being Armadale fans, it was so right for us to dedicate that win to them.” The story of Armadale’s State Cup and FFA Cup journey in 2018 still resonates within the club. It was their first major honour after earning promotion to the top-tier of semi-professional football in WA in 2004. The 15 seasons since that State League Division One title haven’t always been easy, having finished tenth or lower in all but one campaign, but the club are humble with their ambitions and their energies are driven towards work ethic and strong relationships.
“There’s no elitism. We look after our catchment zone and that’s based on engaging with our local community,” O’Reilly said. “Whether that’s NPL, juniors, masters, ladies, socials, the drive always comes from enjoying the game and of course we always have the ambition to take steps forward, but we’re very realistic. “Every club has their own identity. We have to be taken seriously as a community club, continue to grow within, keep good people involved and keep building the strength in culture.”
*The celebrations continued long and hard into the night - Photo @FootballWest
The route to the showpiece for Armadale was a dramatic one. In the four games prior to the final 22 goals had featured, and remarkably they had conceded two goals in every tie up until the final. Prevailing 3-2 in three five-goal thrillers during that run saw the adrenaline lift around the club. It boosted the confidence, created a buzz, players and supporters alike thrived on the ‘beautiful chaos’ as it was described by O’Reilly.
“The growth among the group was noticeable in terms of their belief. The earlier games were hectic and we were having a great spell in the league too,” he said.
“Rockingham wanted a scalp, there was quick-fire goals, a couple of red cards, and then in the Balcatta game there was a last minute goal in regular time.
“Danny Richman had been out for a month with injury and played 120 minutes. He was only meant to play 45. Then Billy (Quinncroft) was rested with a minor injury, but we had a late out and had to turn him home to get his boots while he was on his way to watch.”
“I wasn’t even meant to play against Balcatta,” Quinncroft added.
“I was given the weekend off by John, so I went out the night before. Then I was suddenly needed on the bench and I was sitting there thinking, ‘please don’t put me on, John’.
“In the end we went to extra time and I was needed. Thankfully we got the result and it’s still something we laugh about now.
“We were taking it one game at a time but as we got closer (to the final) we all started to believe and think why not? No one has given us a chance. Everyone has written us off from the start, so let’s go and prove everyone wrong. And we did exactly that.
“John was always encouraging us. The boys wanted to give something back, because he put so much time and effort into preparing us for those games. He was outstanding in that sense of getting us in the best physical and mental shape. He loved going into detail too, but he mainly just wanted to get the best out of everyone.”
Dianella followed in the local quarter-final and it was another wild tie with three goals in the final 20 minutes giving Armadale a 5-2 win. Then, with a place in the FFA Cup Round of 32 at stake, which was awarded to both finalists of the State Cup, O’Reilly’s team defeated ECU Joondalup 3-2, a side who were flying in the league and boasted prolific Scottish duo Gordon Smith and Daryl Nicol.
“After Dianella, it sunk in there was a real opportunity which was unthinkable months earlier,” said the former Ashfield and Shamrock Rovers coach.
“We wanted to win that game so badly and that night against ECU was adrenaline driven.
“The heart beats a little faster with something like that on the line, but one thing I look back on and remember now is the atmosphere in the changing room. There was a feeling in the rooms and a real calm focus.
“The game was the complete opposite. There was energy, it was 100 miles an hour, wet weather, tackles flying in everywhere and a vocal crowd. A real English-style cup tie.”
*Full match of Armadale's 2-0 win over Gwelup Croatia. Credit - @FootballWest YouTube
“As soon as we got in the changing rooms afterwards we were bouncing around like lunatics,” Quinncroft added.
“We knew what it meant. There was so much excitement because a lot of the lads hadn’t had an opportunity to travel for football, and that’s what we ended up getting in the end. It was a great night.”
The Round of 32 draw delivered Armadale an away trip to Cairns and that would be their next challenge after lifting local silverware two weeks prior. At the time, it was the longest journey between NPL teams in the history of the competition, and the club made the most of that moment on the big stage. The club was in touch with FFA Queensland about training facilities, A-League players were consulted on routines, and a degree of research similar to that of the State Cup Final was complete. Confidence was high but unfortunately for Armadale and their fans, football isn’t always scripted perfectly and they were dealt a harsh hand on the night.
The game was approaching the 20 minute mark when Beau Rahim fouled Josh Taylor 30 yards from goal. It looked a challenge worthy of a yellow card at first instinct, but the red card was produced by Jarred Gillett despite the distance from goal and a retreating Quinncroft running alongside play ready to cover.
“I know I’m not the quickest, but I was definitely there,” Quinncroft said.
“It was hard on us and really kicked us in the teeth. We’d come so far, tried so hard and got to half time still in it.
“We battled our hearts out with 10 men for the majority of the game, but there’s so much emotion on an occasion like that and you start getting tired. You’re trying to be positive, and keep it tight with a man less, but it killed us in the end to be honest.” The visitors from WA conceded four second half goals to lose 4-0 having defended with 10 men for 70 minutes. It was a great shame given the adventure they’d been on, and even today it’s still tinged with a little bit of regret from O’Reilly.
“It was a golden opportunity for two underdogs to give their all, go 100% at each other, and we felt it was a winnable game,” he said.
“Then to see the red card come out, I felt robbed. Not of the game because I wouldn’t have the arrogance to say we’d have won, but more robbed for the players and club, and the opportunity of competing for 90 minutes to see if we could go one stage further.
“I’ve looked back at it so many times and Billy was coming in across the play, there’s no way it was a last man offence or serious foul play.
“It was a round of 32 game between two grassroots clubs, an end-to-end opening, and that decision was made. I was lost for words and absolutely gutted.
“You ask about regret and I wish we were able to finish that 90 minutes without being a player down. Then I can look at myself and say whether I got it right or wrong tactically. It still hurts to this day and I’m sure it did for the players as well.”
Armadale’s season bottomed out after that. They finished the season without a win in their final five games, but were never in danger of picking up the wooden spoon. Their hard work was done in those winter months and it provided a period on cloud nine which lives long in the memory.
*Armadale's heroes celebrating their State Cup triumph. Photo - @FootballWest
Quinncroft started this NPL WA season at ECU Joondalup before the coronavirus break occurred and an opportunity arose to take a break from football, work up north and come back fresh in 2021. He still reflects on the 2018 campaign fondly and ranks it as one of his best achievements while playing the game.
“You sit back two years later and think how the hell did that happen?” he said.
“No one gave us a chance and on paper we weren’t a team of star players, but the way we did it was unreal. To look back on it now, to have won a trophy, to have that trip to Cairns, it was a dream. “I support West Ham so I haven’t had much joy over the years other than to celebrate avoiding relegation, but to win a trophy was incredible. Except for playing professionally earlier in my career, it was definitely one of my proudest moments to win that first cup. Hopefully there’s another one down the line!”
“The ending was a sore point, but it doesn’t dominate my memories because there was so many amazing moments,” O’Reilly said when asked to summarise his final thoughts on 2018.
“There’s five guys from that day still at the club now, but I could bump into anyone from that season and we instantly pick up that friendship just from those moments which is amazing.
“There will always be that connection and that year really cemented my affiliation to the club. Whatever happens in the future, I’ll always have a soft spot for club and the Armadale family.