It’s just before 5pm on a Sunny Canberra afternoon. There’s a change in the air. Brisbane, a powerhouse of Australian Women’s football stand in a huddle after the final game of the season. But there is one noticeable difference...
Westfield W-League Season Review Author: Jo West
It-s just before 5pm on a Sunny Canberra afternoon. There-s a change in the air. Brisbane, a powerhouse of Australian Women-s football stand in a huddle after the final game of the season. But there is one noticeable difference. 12 months ago there was laughter, cheers and celebration. Today, it is replaced by anguish and sorrow, something rarely felt by the girls from the Sunshine State.
Canberra whom have achieved so much over the 4 seasons yet to stumble come finals time have had a renovation of sorts. They have a new coach, new attitude, new lease on life. Captain Ellie Brush told reporters pre match that she didn-t want a repeat of the 2008/09 Grand Final result which saw Canberra on the wrong end of 2-0 result to Brisbane.
All the best stories we read start from one place - the beginning. So it seems fitting that we start here. And so, on Saturday October 22, 2011 almost 4 months ago now, the 4th season of the Westfield W-League kicked off. Would this be another season dominated by the intense State of Origin feel we get when Brisbane & Sydney play, or could the Girls in Green from the Nation-s Capital or even Melbourne post a few Victory-s? Let-s break it down team, by team
Starting as far west as we can and about three hours behind the rest of us, we land in Perth. Before the emergence of the W-League it was known more for 11 players chasing a small red leather ball than a slightly bigger white one. The Glory Girls would again rack up plenty of frequent flyer miles in their quest for a maiden title. Season 4 started off a bit rocky for the Glory with 2 away trips to Melbourne & Canberra which started the season with 2 losses. Not the best start especially in a season where only 10 games are played though the highlight for the Glory would have been pushing Canberra at McKellar right to the final whistle. Returning home, they would see Adelaide visit for their first home game. A 2-1 victory and things were looking up. Unfortunately this was as good as it got for Perth. Successive losses including conceding 16 goals in two weeks helped largely by Sydney winning 11-0 confined Perth to the bottom of the cellar and to rue a season lost. A bright spot was the final round 4-2 win over Newcastle allowing the girls from the west a happy end to what even they would probably agree, a disappointing season.
Moving onto the city of churches and touching down in Adelaide. Aussies love a battler-s story and Adelaide are the W-League version of the Aussie Battler. Here is a team who gives everything for 90 minutes only to come up short time and time again. Like Perth, they will collect a nice amount of frequent flyer miles and hope at the end, they are lifting the trophy. Like Perth though, a rocky start for the Lady Reds and history began to repeat itself. Canberra & Newcastle both won with margins of 3 in the first two weeks but the quality of football the Adelaide girls can produce just wasn-t showing on the scoreboard. Week three saw the girls travel to Perth and a contender for goal of the year. 2 minutes in, a cross into the box saw Racheal Quigley net a goal that even Wayne Rooney would have been proud of. The Football Gods finally, on December 17 in Round 9, after 3½ long years smiled on the Lady Reds allowing them a 1-0 victory of the Glory. If Adelaide can get a little bit more depth across the park, they will surely be a force to be reckoned with.
Melbourne is a city that everyone loves. The Sporting Capital of Australia (though some Sydney Siders might disagree) is home to the Victory. One of the biggest signings happened with the Men as Harry Kewell returned home to sign with the Dual Premiers. Now, we all love Harry and in awe of what he has achieved but this review is all about the Women, so let-s focus once again. Melbourne-s season started like its weather - Hot, cold and anything in between. Accounting for Perth in round 1, successive losses, albeit only by a goal to heavyweights Sydney & Canberra both on the road saw the Victory needing to find some form at home and they did this in emphatic fashion disposing of Adelaide 4-0. Going on the road for any team is tough, away wins are hard to come by. But a fundamental goal that all teams strive for is to win at home at make it a fortress in the process. Along with Canberra, Melbourne successfully negotiated this goal allowing only three losses along the way to set up a semi final showdown with Canberra.
Newcastle-s season can best be described as a mixed bag. Some good, some not so good and some surprises that leave us wanting more. With Lisa De Vanna leading the charge striking balls harder than Rafa Nadal at the Australian Open; it was a wonder why Newcastle didn-t end up higher up the table. Wins here, losses there and the occasional upset (2-1 Sydney FC Fans??) put the Novocastrians in a good position but unfortunately, successive losses in the last two rounds ended a finals dream for the girls from Tinkler Town.
Sydney FC & Brisbane Roar - The 21st Century version of Ali & Frasier. These two will give any non believer a reason to rejoice all that is good about Women-s sport. They go the full 15 rounds and often even the judges would call a dead heat. 3 seasons, 3 titles Roar 2, Sydney 1. They had competed in the last two grand finals against each other each scoring a total of 4 goals in the matches over the two years. Dead heat. The line-ups ooze with pure talent. In the Blue corner, Sydney FC with the likes of Garriock, Uzunlar, Walsh & Caitlin Foord -better known as the “Best Young Player of the 2011 FIFA Women-s World Cup”. They hammer opposition into submission, most notably Perth Glory 11-0. The Glory Girls will be forever having nightmares every time they look up and see a Sky Blue Day.
Standing across from them in the Red Corner is the Heavyweight Champion- Brisbane Roar. Playing in a Grand Final seems like just another game as they-ve made it every season since the W League begun in 2008. They-re no shrinking violet either - Polkinghorne, Carroll, Kellond-Knight & the “Super Sub” herself, Emily Gielnik causing grief to opposition far and wide. The girls from the Sunshine state only dropped one game en route to the final but would the final hurdle be just one step too far?
3 weeks into the New Year saw 7 teams cut to 4 when on the 21st and 22nd of January the Semi Finals were contested. Firstly we saw what could have best been described as a David and Goliath battle when Melbourne travelled again to the Nation-s Capital to do battle with the Girls in Green. Despite everyone from the bookies to the fans and even the dog across the road putting their money on Canberra, Jitka Klimkova-s girls would have been well aware of a Melbourne team anxious to cross that final frontier and beat Canberra in Canberra. The regular season games had been close and classic - Canberra won 2-1 in a very close game in Round 4 and Melbourne nearly did what season 2011/12 would have seen as the impossible - nearly causing an end to Canberra-s perfect season until, enter centre stage Michelle Heyman netted an 81st minute goal to keep the streak alive.
One of the Victory-s standout performers of Season 4 was Jodie Taylor who knocked in 8 goals. This probably should have been closer to 11 but in the semi her radar went missing. As ABC Pundit Stephanie Brantz described, “She-s just having one of those days”. In the end it would prove costly as Canberra would go on to slot another last 10 minute goal through Michelle Heyman & book a place in the Grand Final.
Match Two would be built up to have more fireworks than Sydney Harbour on New Year-s Eve and boy did it deliver. Sydney got the ball rolling in the 18th minute through Renee Rollason and with 60 seconds on the clock the programs were being finalised to be sent to the printers for a Canberra/Sydney Grand Final. Enter the Super Sub Emily Gielnik who slotted a goal in the 94th minute to send the Brisbane faithful into rapture. Sydney-s case wasn-t helped when at the end of regular time Kyah Simon was seeing red after referee Casey Reibelt produced her 2nd Yellow for the talented striker. Also seeing Red (which incidentally was the colour of the day) was Sydney FC Coach Alen Stajcic who on seeing he was bored with his current toys promptly threw them out of the cot and was sent to the naughty corner. Later he was sent to his room for disobeying instructions while in the naughty corner.
Now please don-t take this (especially anyone associated to Sydney FC) as this writer-s attempts to tell anyone who acts like this to stop being a baby - far from it. Stajcic-s actions showed everything that is professional sport. The passion, stress, joy, sadness that comes with being a Head Coach was clearly on display. Rather than go into detail about what caused this event (it has been well documented) let-s just stand back and marvel once again and the State against State mentality that makes Roar Vs Sydney FC games simply incredible for all to see.
A warm sunny day greeted us in the Nation-s Capital on January 28 when after months and months of pre season fitness, regular season matches and finals fever it all came down to this. Canberra and Brisbane; the last two standing. Would history repeat itself and see Brisbane win or could the Girls in Green take their maiden title? A bumper crowd of 2512 squashed into McKellar Park to witness what would be a great showing of Football talent. Canberra-s plan seemed simple enough - attack, attack, attack. It certainly paid dividends when in the 11th minute the Girl with the Golden Boot - Michelle Heyman slotted one past Casey Dumont to have the home crowd start the party. Heyman would again be involved in United-s 2nd this time turning provider for another shining star (not that they all weren-t) in Ashley Sykes to make it 2-0 for United. But Champions, as they say don-t lie down. Just over 10 minutes later the Super Sub from the Sunshine state Emily Gielnik latched onto a Temeka Butt pass to make it 2-1. Heyman was firing on cylinders and again was involved, grabbing her 2nd in the 55th minute to give Canberra some breathing room. In the 65th minute, Brisbane Roar had the chance to get one back after Nicole Sykes took down Temeka Butt in the penalty area. Temeka stepped up and calmly slotted it passed Lydia Williams. With still 25 minutes plus injury time to go, everyone-s hearts were left firmly in their mouths. Eventually after just over three minutes of injury time after some incredible end to end football, Kate Jaciewicz called time and sent the Canberra faithful into what could best be described as incredible scenes of happiness and overwhelming satisfaction.
Some may argue that out of all the teams, Canberra should have been reviewed 1st especially seeing as they finished the season there however this writer likes to leave the best till last and no one can argue that Canberra were as Tina Turner herself put it Simply the Best. Under new coach Jitka Klimkova (who was only picked up after a chance meeting at the World Cup with Capital Football-s CEO Heather Read) a new level of professionalism was produced. The talent in the Nation-s Capital was certainly there, it was just Jitka had a special way to allow the girls to harness it and bring it out. Canberra-s squad on paper certainly looks intimidating. You-ve got a better chance of finding a needle in the haystack than getting one past Lydia Williams and Canberra-s back three often comprising of Perry and later Taryn Hemmings & Snez Veljanovska, Brush and Cooper made it as impossible to get to Williams as Canberra would park the proverbial bus in front of Goal. The midfield - Bissett, Gill, Shipard and Nicole Sykes controlled games from start to finish. Whether it was helping the defence clear out the danger of a possible goal or turning provider (sometimes even on the counter attack) to the lightning quick strikers of Heyman and Raso, they were a major part of Canberra-s success this season.
Already you see the makings of a great team, however to win there is a basic fundamental needed...scoring goals and United-s strikers did just that. Golden Boot winner Michelle Heyman would often have a field day at the expense of the opposition on her way to netting 3000 goals (OK, so maybe it was more like 15 but still impressive) and backed up by the other Sykes twin Ashley (no you weren-t seeing double all this time) and the Energizer Bunny herself Hayley Raso.
Even the bench had pure talent sitting, waiting for the chance. Striker Emma Kete and the back-up keeper Aroon Clansey were the Girls from across the ditch and each made their mark. Snez Veljanovska and Georgia Yeoman-Dale certainly also made their claims for a spot heard and will be vital to Canberra-s quest for another W League Title.
So many descriptive words come to mind when describing not only Season 4 of the Westfield W League but Women-s Football itself - awesome, incredible, captivating, edge of your seat tension, awe inspiring and Season 4 lived up to this and much, much more.
Consider this; W-League teams have approximately $150,000 to put their squad together while their male counterparts have close to $2.35 million. Rather than go on about the gaping differences in funding, sponsorship etc let-s stand back and celebrate all that is good about not just Women-s football, but Women-s sport as well. Australian-s have always loved sport - as kids (well, maybe not the Gen Z-s - 1994 and after who are too busy playing XBOX - we grew up idolising our heroes. This writer always made sure that he was Australia when it came to backyard cricket (who else was there to be really?). What is so positive to see is the current crop of W League players are now those heroes. Routinely after games the Girls sign autographs to the smiling kids who go home pretending to be them, acting out their incredible moments - Sally Shipard goal against Newcastle was a highlight this season. Women-s sport in Australia has produced Champion after Champion teams. The Matildas who have been to the Quarter Finals of the last two FIFA Women-s World Cups and Asian Cup Champions is just a snippet of what we see week to week.
To everyone involved in not only this season, but seasons past, to all players, officials, administrators, fans and anyone and everyone who promotes Women in Sport take a bow. You have done and are doing an incredible job. From all of us who love our sport - Thank You.