It is very rarely that you see a game that embodies all the qualities that the Royal-Thomian rivalry is known for, but on Saturday the 7th of October all those who were in attendance at the Sugathadasa Stadium were treated to just that. It is very often the word grit is associated with S.Thomas’ College , however it was Royal College who displayed the much fabled grit to make a short work of the 4 goal lead that the Thomians held on to from the first leg. Having identified their weaknesses from the first leg the Royalists managed to recover from a rocky start where they conceded an early penalty to Isuara Kahandawala the main goal threat for the Thomians and quickly established a foothold in the game.
Shamod Edirisinghe a player who made little impact in the first leg came alive in the first half quickly bagging himself a hat-trick of goals. It was the combination of the skipper Shakya Gunaillake and the vice captian Kahanadawala who caused a lot of problems for the boys from Reid Avenue in the first leg and it was to those two individuals whom Royal College paid a lot of attention to. Gunatillake who was the linchpin of the Thomian side in the first leg and dictated much of the play from the center position was marked out of the game and was pressured into giving the ball away during crucial attacks, Kahandawala whose long range strikes were causing a lot of headaches for the goalkeeper Hettiarachchi was hassled but Royal were careful to not give a foul away and allow him to shoot. This meant that the likes of Shannon Ebeneezer and Sanaka Molligoda had to be relied upon for goals and not for a lack of trying but Royals defensive set up made it very difficult limiting both to a total of 3 goals combined. Isiwaruna De Silva was another player whose name didn’t come up much in the first leg but he certainly made his mark with a barrage of powerful shots three of which managed to to hit the back of Thomian keeper Kumarasinghe’s net. Kumarasinghe himself who had a brilliant first leg was given a lot more to do this time but came up with some critical saves in the fourth quarter.
Sawinda Dissanayake Royal’s prop and skipper Basith Yakoob both managed to bag a couple of goals and heading into the final quarter the momentum was with Royal. Following De Silvas goal the Thomians showed that much needed grit and managed to hold the Royalists back. However trailing by a goal they needed to score in order to ensure that the trophy that they had seen consistently returned to Mount Lavinia for four years remained there. This is where the games moment of brilliance came , and it was the youngster Manula Wickramaratne who in the face of a momentous Royal comeback thwarted history from being made and in a moment where time stood still for many a Thomian and Royalist , young and old managed a cheeky lob over the keeper, snatching an unlikely draw from the jaws of defeat. It was a moment that exemplified a rivalry that transcends most sporting encounters and in the face of such pressure to coolly lob it over the keepers head must give the Thomian side confidence that the future is secure with the likes of Wickramaratne at the fore. In the end it was a spectacle of a game that caused a stir of emotion and a lot of credit must go to the players and coaching staff for giving us the audience a tremendous game of Water Polo which won’t be forgotten soon. For the Royalists it was a performance that made their alma mater proud, unfortunately for them that elusive trophy continues to reside in Mount Lavinia for another year but the character that they showed in order to come up with such a performance must give them hope that it won’t be too long before they get their hands on the trophy. As for the Thomians they were given a scare but as they did indeed promise, they made it five.
T.A.N de Silva