Monday, 2 October 2017

South claim WNPL title over Geelong Galaxy in dramatic grand final

Despite the senior men starting pre-season in late November 2016, the 2017 South season just doesn't end, and so we - the few, the proud, the geeky - found ourselves out at Broadmeadows for WNPL grand final day. I got there early enough to see almost all the under 18s final, which South lost 2-0 to Calder United. It was an uphill battle for most of the game for the South girls, who trailed 2-0 at the break and took a long time to get going in this game. They were up against the bigger bodied opposition which didn't help matters, but they fought their way until the end and had they snatched a goal late, things may have have ended up differently. As it was, Calder were the better side by some margin

The bombshell news before the senior grand final was that the league's golden boot winner Melina Ayers would be out, reportedly at the behest of the national youth squad selectors who did not want her playing and further aggravating a calf injury she had picked up while training with them. It left a sour taste in the mouth, but one had to have confidence in the rest of the squad which had done so well this season. And besides which, we had the services of the Matildas' all time leading scorer in the form of Lisa de Vanna.

Lisa De Vanna shields the ball from a Geelong opponent. De Vanna was a crucial element of the championship win, even if at times her teammates went all mid 1990s Collingwood with her by looking to pass to her at every opportunity, as did those Magpie players of that era with Nathan Buckley. Photo: Mark Avellino.
After a sluggish start from both sides, it was De Vanna who put us ahead early on when she smashed a low cross from Natalie Martineau into the roof of the net. Still better was to come, with De Vanna setting up a shot for Jamie Pollock, only to have that effort sharply diverted with a header into the back of the net by Martineau. 2-0 is never a done and dusted scoreline, especially only half an hour in. This is perhaps especially true in the women's game at this level where shifts of momentum can be quick and devastating.

And thus in the second half, Antonia Niteros gave away an unnecessary penalty which was converted by former South player Laura Spiranovic, and soon enough Geelong were level when South keeper Molly-May Ramsay misjudged her positioning and saw a shot curl around her from distance into the far corner. Times like that you think the game is going to slip away, but the introduction of Caitlin Greiser off the bench, along with renewed resolve from the South players saw us get on top in the final ten minutes of regular time.

Caitlin Greiser tries to win the ball from a Galaxy opponent. Photo: Mark Avellino
We hit the woodwork four times. We should have stormed over the top of them. And while Greiser was the main culprit, missing one sitter in particular, saying something like we would've won easily if Ayers was playing is a bit of a misnomer - the chances were there were to be taken, and we didn't do it. So the game went into extra time, and this time Greiser found herself at the back post and made no mistake. 3-2 up early in extra time, and looking good, only to cough up another equaliser. So as it was two years ago when South last played in and won a women's Victorian top flight grand final, the game was off to penalties.

One got the feeling of an immense injustice about to take place, but we worked our way to a two goal buffer in the shoot-out; only to try and Melbourne Croatia 1991 grand final our way out of the game by botching our chance to finish Galaxy off. When De Vanna stepped up to take our fifth penalty, it just looked wrong. Galaxy keeper Emily Kenshole had been doing a good job in the shoot-out, and she easily saved De Vanna's tentatively placed effort. Skipper Alex Cheal stepped up in the sudden death round, and though among some of the watchers in our behind the goals group thought that this would be another Michael Eagar/Palm Beach 2015 moment. But Cheal put her penalty away, and then Geelong had their next effort saved easily by Ramsay.

120 minutes and still no winner, so now into the shoot-out. No one here seems particularly confident. Photo: Mark Avellino.
It was fitting but also pleasing that Greiser scored the decisive penalty in the shoot-out. The striker has been understandably overshadowed by Ayers' goalscoring feats this season, but got into enough good positions to win the grand final on her own and yet came away with just the one goal. Credit to Greiser though, she held her nerve brilliantly and placed the ball out of reach of the goalkeeper, who had done a good job of guessing where our penalties were headed. And thus South won the title, adding 2017 to our previous wins in 2011, 2014, and 2015, and the enforced State League 1 title from 2016 - although to be fair, the 2011-2015 titles were done under the auspices of the SMWFC.

Tiff Eliadis was awarded best on ground, and she was a worthy recipient. She was important at first in midfield, and then in defence later in the game. It also wouldn't be a South championship without the trophy coming apart upon presentation, and that was the case again yesterday as the base came free right on cue. Later on the team and some of its well-wishers returned to the social club. The kitchen was closed, but the bar was open, and there were pizzas from Blue Room up the road, and later unfortunately from Pizza Hut. Nevertheless the vibe was good, and why wouldn't it be? You'd just won one of the most dramatic grand finals by the skin of your teeth.

But all's well that ends well! Trophies, pennants, and big smiles all round for a fine season. Photo: Mark Avellino.
It's in the nature of women's football (so far as my observations go) that at this stage of its development that teams are less cynical in their play than the men, and are always looking to attack rather than defend. Even so, this South team from what I've seen of it is even more obsessed with scoring goals over not conceding than even that stereotype of women's football allows. Some of the keener watchers of this team put that down in part to the coaching of Socrates Nicolaidis, and I like to think that somewhere in that influence is a bit of the old, classic South - the one which sought not just to win, but to attack, to fear no team. If the men's team under Chris Taylor has understandably taken on a more pragmatic approach during its run of success, then it's at the very least pleasing that in the women's teams and in the juniors, the old South ethic of winning and winning well is kicking on.

The grand final win however will no doubt annoy many of the other teams. Few if any of them wanted South included in the WNPL this season, crying both for lack of depth in the local women's game as a whole, but also for what they perceived as favourable treatment from FFV in us getting in at all after we missed out on the inaugural WNPL intake in 2015. For those who kept the faith, especially those players who remained with South during our short WNPL exclusion period, yesterday's triumph will be especially gratifying.

Just quietly, too, this grand final was a cut or two above that 2015 decider at the Veneto Club, a messy and mistake riddled game. Geelong had given our women a good run for their money throughout the 2017 season, twice drawing 3-3 with us and losing the other game we played in circumstances which could've easily led to another 3-3 draw. While I think we deserved to win this game both on the balance of the day and on the balance of the season, Geelong would be devastated knowing they that threw everything they had at us and it still not being enough. Still, those of their supporters in the crowd were good sports about the whole thing, and there was a great feeling after the game at the entertainment which had been provided by both teams.

Those who weren't there missed an entertaining game of a good quality. Those who were there maybe just for the day for a bit of fun, saw themselves perhaps being surprised by how much they cared by the end.

FFA Cup semi-final ticketing news
Details have finally been released by the club.

If you haven't received an email about it yet, head here for a rundown of what's been announced so far.

Please keep all comments about ticketing for that game in that thread and not in this one.

Around the grounds
Double dose of joy and despair
The Saturday before last I headed out to Port Melbourne for a couple of state league promotion/relegation playoffs. These are my favourite fixtures in the Victorian soccer calendar. There's something on the line, and you get two sides playing against each other, on a neutral venue, who are of a roughly equivalent level but who may seldom if ever meet because of geography. And unlike a similar meeting in an FFA Cup game, the rewards are a bit more tangible, if modest. For clubs at this level, it's not the wishy-washy 'promise' of the impossible getting to the FFA Cup round of 32, but rather the more tangible and hard-earned slog of getting promoted up the Victorian soccer pyramid.

First up was Ashburton against Dingley Stars. Ashburton had been relegated to State League 4 under the stewardship of former coach (and one time South player) Steve O'Dor, but had done well enough to earn their way through to a promotion playoff. For Dingley - the old Southern Stars, who were in turn the old Dingley - a loss would mean another relegation. First things first - the temperature was up in the high 20s, which was going to play havoc with the fitness of both sides, especially if the game was going to go the distance into extra time and penalties. Secondly, it's not often you get two sets of bantering, chanting supporters to a game at Port. Usually it's the 50 old blokes who are hanging on to Port for grim life and maybe whatever of Clarendon Corner or MCF decided to turn and try and create some atmosphere. No aggro here, just good old fashioned passion.

I'm not going to pretend the skill level was the greatest, but at least the two teams got to play on a pretty decent surface and provided a very entertaining contest, and well with the $5 entry fee - because the weather was so nice, I'd left my media pass at home in my good jacket, but no gripes from me. Ashburton looked to attack on the wings, Dingley with balls over the top. It was one of those balls over the top that gave Dingley the lead, as the lofted through ball ended up being misjudged by the Ashburton keeper and bouncing over him into an empty net. In the second half Ashburton had the breeze and appeared to be taking control of the game. They drew level thanks to a deep cross to the back post, and that moment it looked like momentum was such that Dingley would get overrun.

But Dingley worked their way back into the game, and the game went into extra time. If one was to say who deserved to win it in normal time, it'd have been Ashburton, but they didn't take their chances. Yet it was Dingley who found the breakthrough in extra time, a cut back from the right being bundled into the back of the net for an own goal. But Ashy wasn't finished yet, and managed to get another equaliser, from a corner if memory serves me correct, their many corners before that point being almost all garbage. The penalty shoot out saw both teams supporters congregate behind the Williamstown Road goals. Dingley were the better team here, winning the shoot-out 4-2, leaving Ashy to wonder what if - but at least they were good sports about it. Just a pity that I don't think anyone was there to film this game.

The second fixture was State League 4 Sebastopol vs State League 3 Fawkner (the seniors of the junior wing, not the original senior wing which ended up at Mannginham). This game was a major let down after the previous one. Both sides were ordinary. Sebastapol had the better territory, but were ineffective in attack. Fawkner were solid at the back, but couldn't really get the ball forward. About 25 minutes in, Fawkner finally managed to get the ball upfield, and scored a very easy goal. That didn't improve the game in any way, and it took a dog's breakfast of a goal for Sebastopol to get level midway throough the second half, a series of headers from an uncleared corner ending up with one being looped over the Fawkner keeper.

Fawkner went down to ten men, and then survived an almighty keeper mistake to send the game into extra time. Not much happened in extra time, unless you count Sebastopol also going down to ten men, Fakwner cracking a shot into the crossbar from six yards after the keeper spilt the ball, and Blue Thunder doing a lousy job of preempting the problems that would arise from the rowdy Sebastopol support behind the goals which was liquored up and launching unceasing vitriol at certain Fawkner players. You can bet that if that was Clarendon Corner they would've had the security teams out there from the start, but for some reason it took one of the Fawkner defenders getting into slanging match with the Sebastopol support for security to cotton on the issue.

The game went into penalties, and Sebastapol won the shoot-out 4-2 to win promotion to State League 3. Unlike the earlier game, which was finished in a very sporting manner, the Sebastapol supporters and certain Fawkner players almost came to blows on the non-social club side of the players race, with security reacting very slowly. I'm not quite sure how it didn't kick off, but credit to those who few people from both sides who managed to assert their authority and eventually calm the situation down.

Final thought
Trivial as it may seem, and loathe as I am to finish on a sour note, it was disappointing not to see any members of the senior men's team in support of the senior women.


  1. Thanks for the GF write up. That team has been something special this year (and previous years, as you rightly noted).

    We really need more Senior Women + Senior Men double headers next year, despite the different gate rules.

    The U20's can play on the outside pitches.

    1. I used to be for more double headers, but I've been convinced of the opposite view now - the occasional double header is fine (especially if it coincides with say a game against the Bergers or Bulleen, who also have WNPL teams), but if we can get a bigger footprint on Lakeside by taking over more days, getting more social club traffic, and getting the under 20 boys and the under 18 girls more access to a proper pitch, we'll be better off.

  2. What a season! What a team! It's been great following the NPLW team this year. Well done to the club and all involved in creating such an awesome atmosphere around the women's team this year, and of course to the players and coaches and managers who dominated all season. No doubt a few future Matildas in there!

    Great to see the club united like this. Well done girls!


  3. Postscript, Fawkner survived the drop anyway because Bendigo folded their senior teams after getting relegated from the NPL.


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