They won all four waterpolo competitions, starting off with the winter league, going on to take home the President’s Cup and then completing a memorable season by winning the summer league and the knock-out.
It is the second time in waterpolo history that a club won all four titles available in this sport. Sliema had made it in 1998.
But there’s a difference. San Giljan won all four competitions without a defeat and without even conceding a draw. It was 25 wins from 25 games for the club, a feat that was never achieved before and which cannot be beaten. It can only be matched.
When Sliema won all titles in 1998, they had also played 25 games. But during the course of the season they lost twice and were held to a draw on another occasion.
San Giljan won all their matches, dominating the season right from the start so much so that the summer league was wrapped up in the first week of August, very early in the campaign and with three games to spare.
San Giljan bagged all 45 points at their disposition, winning the competition with a staggering 17-point advantage over runners-up Neptunes. In all, Malta’s top two-winning teams, Sliema and Neptunes, picked up 47 points between them, just two more than San Giljan.
The saints scored 198 goals, nearly doubling the number of goals conceded, 101, ending with an overwhelming 13.2 goals scored per game on average against 6.7.
It was only on one occasion that San Giljan won a game by a solitary goal, in the first round against Neptunes. From then onwards, it was progressively easier for the saints; they often made sure of the points midway through the match and notched comfortable wins even against the clubs which were supposed to challenge them for the title: 14-4, 14-9 against Neptunes and 12-4, 16-8 against Sliema.
Needless to say, their hero was Montenegrin star Aleksandar ‘Leka’ Ivovic, certainly among the best foreign waterpolo players to have graced the national pool. The mind behind every move and the leader in all corners of the pitch, Leka solidified the already-strong San Giljan team with its mixture of veteran and young players into an unbeatable side. San Giljan were rarely in difficulty, but each time they were, he lifted his game a notch or two to take his side out of trouble.
Leka also scored goals at will, his powerful shot splitting defences and hitting the back of the net with impressive regularity. That he ended up as the league’s top-scorer with 57 goals is not a surprise. One other factor worth noting is that he was never fouled out of the game, and was never temporarily excluded in 10 of the 15 matches played, including the last seven. He was always in the water unless the result was secure, at which time coach Marko Orlovic substituted him to loud cheers from the San Giljan fans.
The league victory
But it would be wrong to single him out. Ivovic was instrumental in San Giljan’s triumphs, but without the saves of young keeper Jake Tanti as well as the overall hard work from the other members of the team, Matthew Zammit, Dino Zammit, Ben Plumpton, Andreas Galea, Aurelien Cousin, Paul Fava and Peter Borg the saints would not have been able to arrive this far. Youngsters Tristan Said, Joseph Galea, Darren Zammit and Thomas Micallef also gave their contribution towards the club’s success.
Orlovic was able to unite a team that will go down in history as having won all competitions available in waterpolo, winning all the games. And, behind the team, there is a hard-working committee led by president Daniel Aquilina which leaves no stone unturned to make it all possible.
The President’s Cup
Having won nine of the last 12 competitions in the last three seasons, San Giljan look ahead with great anticipation to 2018. Their first target will be to maintain their unbeaten trend, now at 25 games, in a bid to possibly break their own, long-standing record of 32 unbeaten matches stretching between the 1994 and 1995 seasons.
But San Giljan know that it will be hard to repeat 2017, mainly because their disappointed adversaries will be gearing up to take their revenge.
The winter league
There could be a bitter ending to the season however because, given the voting, it is highly unlikely that a San Giljan player will win the Player of the Year Award. It is a real pity that this is so, and if this really happens the ASA would do well to revise the system. When a team wins every honour it should automatically follow that one of its players wins an individual award.
What is sure is that the ASA should nominate San Giljan for the 2017 Team of the Year Award. It would be a befitting end to a memorable year.