Walsh: Tough picking winner in W-League decider

Ahead of Sunday’s Westfield W-League decider, we caught up with one of the most renowned names in Australian women’s football to get her thoughts on the Grand Final.

Ahead of Sunday-s Westfield W-League decider, we caught up with one of the most renowned names in Australian women-s football to get her thoughts on the Grand Final.

Capped 75 times for Australia-s national women-s team the Matildas, Sarah Walsh is no stranger to big games. A W-League championship winner in 2009 with Sydney FC, the 31 year old has been one of the linchpins of women-s football in Australia and a significant part of the W-League-s continued development.

This Sunday Melbourne Victory will face Brisbane Roar at Lakeside Oval for the chance to be crowned W-League champions in the league-s sixth season. The Victory, who finished third at the end of the minor round, won the right to host the Grand Final after toppling Sydney FC, while the roar enter their fifth decider following their semi-final win over minor premiers Canberra United.

You can hear Sarah Walsh as she provides expert commentary during ABC-s coverage of Sunday-s W-League Grand Final. The telecast will begin at 3pm Australia wide on ABC 1.

It-s the big one on Sunday between Melbourne Victory and Brisbane Roar - was it a surprise to you to see the third and fourth teams get through to the season decider, which is also what happened last year?

SW: Probably the biggest surprise was Sunday-s match. Melbourne probably played the best football they-ve played all season so they really deserved the win over Sydney, but in terms of how the ladder finished it was pretty surprising.

Considering Melbourne did play their best game of the season, are they going to have to produce that again to win this Sunday, and is there a worry that they could have played their Grand Final a week early?

SW: Possibly but they have the players to be able to produce another result like that. That result against Sydney was also a factor of the way they went about their game - they changed Jess Fishlock-s position and really caught Sydney off guard. I think that-s something Brisbane might be more prepared for but in saying that Brisbane haven-t been too consistent this season either so it depends on which Brisbane team turns up. Either way it-ll be a really good match and tough to pick a winner.

With both of the teams at their best, do you think one holds an edge over the other?

SW: I-d probably have to lean towards Brisbane because of the number of players that have been in that situation more often than not. You-re talking about seven or eight Matildas in that team, they really know how to play in pressure situations and if you look at the Melbourne team, they-ve got a lot of young players. But in saying that, a lot of the young players stood up on Sunday, it-s just another thing doing that in a Grand Final. There is going to be a big crowd there and especially being a home crowd, it can also put a little bit more pressure on them.

Melbourne fell at the final hurdle last year when they went down to Sydney in the Grand Final, how do you think they are shaping up this time around?

SW: One of the differences is Jess Fishlock wasn-t there last year - she left early and she-s a huge part of that team, she adds a lot of experience. The majority of them were there last year and I think the fact that these opportunities don-t come around that often , they-re going to be very hungry to win because they haven-t won a Grand Final. I just think Brisbane have a really strong team so it-s a really hard one to pick a winner.

Do you have an expectation of how you think the game will play out? Will it be a typically cagey affair or do you expect it to be a more free flowing contest?

SW: I think the first 15 minutes will say a lot. Brisbane came out really hard in the first 15 minutes of their semi-final against Canberra and I haven-t seen them play like that all season and they decided to turn it on, so if they come out at Melbourne like that it-s going to be a pretty hectic opening because Melbourne came out the same way against Sydney.

I think they-ll probably feel each other out for the first 15 minutes and then probably sit back but I definitely think tactics will come into play a lot. It will be interesting to see where Dave (Edmondson) plays Jess Fishlock this week and then also in terms of how Brisbane nullify Lisa De Vanna-s speed. She only played a half against them a fortnight ago in Round 12 and caused them a lot of problems and I think if she had of played the other half it could have really changed the outcome of that game.

You-ve played in a lot of big games, do nerves play a big part when you run out for the start of a Grand Final?

SW: Definitely. I think some players are different obviously, but once the whistle blows it-s another game of football and depending on what the coach tells you before that and what your approach to the game is, I feel nerves might affect the older girls more rather than the young kids because they really enjoy the occasion and aren-t really fazed by it.

There is a lot of pressure on Brisbane in terms of the players that they have and whether their big guns play well. Both teams will have their levels of expectation. Melbourne are playing at home, they-re in their second Grand Final. Brisbane finishing fourth on the ladder I think they flew under the radar a little bit and there wasn-t a lot of pressure on them but now that they-re there they-re expected to win.

Finally, how have you seen the season as a whole in terms of the standard and quality of the football?

SW: It has definitely progressed to another level from last year and it-s good to see that even if it-s a small progression. Take Adelaide, which were excellent to watch this season - defensively they were probably the best team in the league and that-s probably been their biggest weakness for the past five years so Ross Aloisi has certainly brought some structure and discipline into that team. Gone are the days you beat Adelaide 6-0 and I think if we can get all of the clubs including Newcastle up to that standard it will progress again. Obviously the usual suspects were good again and that-s what we-ve come to expect.