Neptunes prolong winning run
Summer 2012 was yet again a success story for Neptunes and their Russian coach Sergey Markoch.
Though not as dominant as they had been during the previous summer, the Reds peaked at the right time and thus prolong a winning streak that saw them retain the championship for a third successive year. That was the 21st title in their 84-year history and they also won the KO for a second Double in two years.
This rosy patch meant that Neptunes have won five league titles besides two cup successes in the last seven years.
No one will argue that the Reds were the best outfit.
In terms of consistency and scoring statistics they were tops. Their players’ versatility and shrewd adaptable game plans were other hallmarks in their repertoire.
Moreover, they again had two players in the top-five scorers list, the irrepressible Steve Camilleri, who headed the rankings with 78 goals, and Tamas Molnar, 50.
The team may not have gone through a runaway round robin phase like they did last year, but then showed their mettle when they won this year’s best-of-five final against Sliema in four rather than five matches.
For the umpteenth time the main challenge was offered by the Blues.
Whereas in summer 2011 Neptunes won seven out of nine matches against Sliema, it was a closer affair this year as they beat their rivals five out of nine times, with a match finishing all square and three going the Blues’ way.
Coach Markoch was quick to point out that his team’s character helped them win this year’s top honours.
“We had the physical build-up and the players’ individual skills within a collective framework foremost in mind and that needed time to achieve.
“The mental strength and power to recover in moments of difficulty were also evident,” he said.
These latter qualities emerged mostly when the team overcame the psychological drawback of having to face a buoyant Sliema in the fourth play-off without left-hander and potential match-winner Michele Stellini.
Markoch remarked that the turning point of the season was when they were beaten by Sliema in the President’s Cup.
“That made us analyse the situation and rectify matters. This resulted in better performances as the season unfolded,” he said.
“We showed that we could adapt ourselves in all circumstances, with the units interchanging positions smoothly when in possession and when having to mark and block the opponents.
“This, with self-belief, was an important recipe for success.”
Referring to this year’s standard of play, Markoch said that there was more equilibrium among most of the teams this time.
“This balance is a positive factor which makes competition more interesting. Moreover, the colourful support for the teams is perhaps unique in that most other countries lack the colour and emotion provided by the Maltese waterpolo followers,” Markoch said.
“I dare say that this is the most flamboyant championship in the world. Neptunes is one of the many teams that rallies warm support.”
Neptunes president Matthew Bonello, at the club’s helm for the last seven years, had words of praise for the team.
“This rosy patch since 2006 emulated the four-year successful stint we had in the 1980s.
“Throughout the season there were moments of difficulty and inconsistency but the team has developed the ability to deliver when it matters,” he said.
As for the players’ contribution to this year’s success, the fearsome scoring tandem of Camilleri and Molnar was emulated by Aleksandar Ciric and the ever-dependable captain Niki Lanzon.
New recruit Clint Mercieca (this was his second title after winning the league with Sirens) adapted himself admirably to his new less offensive role while Stellini was his usual forceful attacker.
Goalkeeper Ian Bugeja provided moments of inspiration complemented by stand-in Ryan Sciortino.
Stout defender Jordan Camilleri and the galvanised Sean Gravina were very useful cogs in the set-up, while Edward Aquilina also gave his all at given moments.
Tailenders Gabriel Pace, Zak Mizzi and Benji Lanzon were always there when the occasion demanded.
As for the other teams, the thoroughbreds Sliema are to be commended for their challenge in their centenary year which again made for an exciting end to the season.
San Ġiljan proved a competitive outfit and managed to record victories over all opponents.
Sirens finished on a bright note but were unluckily punished by the otherwise improved play-off format which impeded them from maintaining their momentum if a multi-round system had been adopted.
The forward-looking Exiles were only seen in patches.
In the second tier championship, which offered some balanced encounters, Marsascala, under the guidance of Pierre Borg, confirmed their edge when landing the double.
Valletta and the improving Otters were worthy opponents throughout while Ta’ Xbiex lagged behind despite their efforts.
In the cadets’ leagues, Sliema won the U-20s, San Ġiljan the U-17s and Neptunes kept up their staggering feat of at least landing a junior honour every year for almost the last quarter of a century when wining the inaugural Under-13 league and that of the Under-15 category.
Efficiency on the pool deck by the match secretariat, the pool staff and generally good refereeing helped to make it a successful summer. This was replete with numerous disciplinary decisions which, however, could have done with less tinkering.
THE TOP SCORERS
Steve Camilleri (Neptunes)78
Ferenc Salamon (Sliema)59
Tamas Molnar (Neptunes)50
Csaba Kiss (Sirens)48
Marton Toth (Exiles)48
Joseph Kayes (Marsascala)87
Zoltan Radocs (Otters)63
David Zoltan (Valletta)57
Timmy Agius (Valletta)50
Yuri Szeles (Ta’ Xbiex)49