Brady Maccabi’s renaissance under Josh Rosenfeld has raised many eyebrows but he will surely see victory over Hendon as his finest moment if he can end their treble dreams at the first hurdle.
This season’s JC Cyril Anekstein Cup final at Wingate & Finchley sees the Premier Division rivals lock horns for the second time this season, with two more games to follow. But Sunday’s meeting is undoubtedly the most important of them all.
Revenge will be the name of the game for a Brady team who felt hard done by when they were beaten by a controversial strike by Avidan Last in the semi-finals of the Peter Morrison Trophy. Now Rosenfeld his troops have nothing to lose in the evening kick-off against the JC MSFL champions-elect.
"We are expecting an extremely tough challenge against an excellent Hendon side, but it’s one we are looking forward to," said Rosenfeld.
"I think Hendon have had a sensational season to date; to be in contention for the treble and credit goes to manager David Garbacz and the rest of their boys.
"We played them a few weeks ago and we know where there strengths lie, and it’s pretty much all over the park.
"We know if we are not all 100 per cent at our best then we will lose the game. “Every single player needs to be at the top of their game if we are going to come away with a victory. That can happen as I believe in my young side as we have so much potential and desire. We have shown this already on many occasions throughout the season.
Brady will be missing the versatile Zak Presky who starred at centre half in last weekend’s draw against FC Team A. They also have doubts over Nicky Smith and Paul Hakim, who has not played since the Peter Morrison Trophy semi-final defeat against Hendon.
While Hakim, TJ Keterman, wing wizard Josh Hershman and captain Jonny Ellis have all caught the eye, it is the emergence of the gifted Jonathan Green that poses arguably the biggest threat to Hendon. His ability to both score and create chances for his teammates has seen him develop into a top talent since his starring role in the Open futsal squad at last summer’s European Maccabi Games in Vienna.
Rosenfeld says it has been a real team effort to reach the final. "Nineteen players have played for us in this competition this season and whoever makes the 11 on Sunday, it's down to the whole entire squad.
"We are not individuals, we’re a family who all work hard for each other and we want that to show on Sunday. I feel we are definitely underdogs for the game but we will thrive on that."
Brady have had the tougher run to the final, beating four teams from the top two divisions along the way. And ominously for Hendon, Hakim has yet to register in the competition.
"We have potential match-winners and so do they, so there is no one I am singling out to be the difference on Sunday," Rosenfeld said. "We can't wait. It's been a fantastic season and an incredible feat to reach our first cup final in over eight years.
"We will not go down without a fight and its one I truly believe we can win."
Hendon have been the model of consistency under manager David Garbacz this season. Like Brady, they recruited well last summer, bringing in marquee signings Motti Colman, Ben Lauffer and Danny Kon.
The Reds have scored 18 goals in this season’s competition, with the two most important strikes converted by
the twinkle-toed Greg Corin in the semi-final thriller against North London Raiders A.
Garbacz is confident the league leaders will be able to handle the pressure that comes with being the favourites. "Brady will relish having the underdog tag and no doubt, they will go into the game saying how they have nothing to lose," he said. “We are under no illusions how strong they can be though if they bring out all the big guns.
Whoever plays for them though will not change the fact that we will go into the game as favourites, but we are more than happy to have to cope with that pressure. It is inevitable when we are still in there with a great chance of an unprecedented treble."
Traditionally, MSFL finals at Wingate & Finchley have failed to deliver in terms of quality, with some finalists struggling to get to grips with a combination of nerves and the big and fast-paced pitch. But as Garbacz points out, the 2011 League Cup final against double winners Redbridge Jewish Care A was a memorable contest.
"I'm hoping for an entertaining game of football which will be a great advert for the Jewish game," Garbacz said. "It is the showpiece occasion of the season and last season we just lost out in an absolute cracker against Redbridge.
"I would be hoping for a similar type of game but this time with us coming out with the right result.
"I don't think our recent experience of Wingate will count for anything. Brady have enough big players who have seen it and done it before so a big cup final will not phase them.
"It is the oldest cliche in the book but we do genuinely need to treat it as just another game and relax and not let the pressure get to us.
"We do not have a good record at Wingate - having lost our last three finals there - but we need to put that at the back of our minds and play as we have been playing all season."
With an unprecedented treble within touching distance for Hendon, Garbacz took time to pay tribute to some of the key men in his team.
"Greg Corin has practically single-handedly kept us in this competition. We were one minute away from going out to Lions B in round three in our worst display of the season when he came up with a crucial equaliser, but his last second heroic equaliser against Raiders in the semi will live long in the memory as a very special moment. Expect another massive performance from Greg in the final.
"Josh Lipman is without doubt the finest defender in Jewish football today and it is criminal that he has not been rewarded with higher Maccabiah honours. He will be immense for us at the back. Up front the two youngsters who have exceeded all expectations this season are Yoav Kestenbaum and Danny Kon and they are both very exciting talents and are far too talented to let the occasion get the better of them."
The secret to Hendon's success is simple, according to Garbacz. "We have tried to play football the right way , not to give referees a hard time and to accept all decisions. We are a very united squad and it has shown in some exceptional performances.
"It has been an absolute pleasure and an honour to have managed this squad this year . Each and every one of them are fantastic footballers and more importantly great personalities.
"Winning the league has always been our priority but if we can lift a couple of cups as well it would be no less than this group of players deserve. Some of them have been round a long time but we added a couple of new faces this year and a few brilliant youngsters to keep the olders boys on their toes.
"At the moment it has worked wonders but everything we have achieved so far will count for nothing if we don’t finish it off with silverware."
THE KEY BATTLES
- Josh Hershman vs Alex Gilbert - Hershman has taken the MSFL by storm over the last two seasons, scoring goals and putting chances on a plate for his teammates. He faces a tough battle against the experienced Gilbert who loves his Sunday mornings and marauding runs
- Jonny Ellis vs Danny Kon - experience against youth. ‘Captain marvel’ has had a standout first season with Brady. He’s led by example but faces an intriguing battle with livewire Kon who last season plied his trade for minnow Los Blancos
- Oli Colmans vs Russell Corin - The Brady stopper is an extrovert on the pitch, going from the sublime to the ridiculous. But he’s shown great maturity and concentration this season. Corin was man-of-the-match in last season’s final and has stepped up a level this season
CUP FINAL SQUADS
HENDON: Russell Corin, Josh Bentley (capt), Alex Gilbert, Paul Bentley, Josh Lipman, Martin Smulovitch, Motti Colman, Alex Rosenthal, Rafi Kon, Ben Kon, Ben Lauffer, Ari Last, Greg Corin, Yoav Kestenbaum, Avidan Last, Danny Kon, Dovid Korman. Manager: David Garbacz
BRADY: Oli Colmans, Jonny Ellis (capt), Ryan Fox, Nick Smith, Adam Littas, Lee Platt, Josh Gordon, Steve Field, Josh Hershman, Jonathan Green, Paul Hakim, TJ Keterman, Danny Cohen, Jordan Grant, James Steele, Joel Lassman, Alex Hershman, Jordan Nathan, Ben Adaki. Management: Josh Rosenfeld (manager), Assistants: Simon Hakim, Jamie Klein (coach), Joel Nathan (chairman)
OFFICIALS: Ref – Andy Myerson, Asst-refs – Daniel Cohen, Gary Silver, 4th official – Martin De La Fuente