Obviously my plea to the higher being had failed. I awoke this morning to black clouds and a heavy shower of rain. Was this further proof that God was, indeed, a mere male who had it in for female football? By the time I arrived at Cook Park St Mary?s to watch the Arrive Alive NSW Women?s Premier League Grand Final the signs were there that God may be a virtuous woman after all. Sunshine had appeared! Then, to top it off, I find that my favourite referee, Ariane Nemorin, is in charge of the 1st Grade Grand Final. Wasn?t this always going to be a perfect day?
Personally, this was a match up that I?d been looking forward to all week. These two sides have provided some memorable clashes during the 2008 season. Macarthur are a team I enjoy watching. There always seems to be something happening when The Rams are in action. There’s nothing better than seeing Stephanie Haim charging at goal, Kylie Ledbrook working her magic in midfield or my personal favourite The Enforcer, Danielle Brogan, sliding in to make a great tackle.
I?m a sharing, caring sort of guy though. My admiration also embraces, figuratively speaking of course, NWS Koalas players like their inspiring Captain Alicia Cavangah, their talented young defender Adriana Cirjak and Super Sub Danni Calvi. I?m pretty lucky though. I get to see the best players in the Arrive Alive NSW Women?s Premier League at play every weekend. This isn?t a chore; it?s a whole lot of fun!
The match began with both sides seemingly testing the opposition?s resolve. There were no moments of menace from either team in attack until the 8th minute when a nice ball from Adriana Cirjak was knocked down by Sanaa Hawkins for Alicia Cavangah to unleash a powerful shot on goal. Unfortunately, whilst the power was abundant the accuracy was slightly astray but The Koalas had shown they meant business. Soon after, Cirjak hoisted another ball into the Rams area where a header from Hawkins flew straight to Rams keeper, Carla Monforte. The early missiles were certainly being fired by the Koalas? big guns.
The Rams had a moment or two where they threatened; a free kick after Koalas keeper Rutlidge was ruled to have run outside the box when placing a clearing kick, another from a seemingly harmless speculator by Stephanie Haim that spun like a Warney leg break to almost deceive Rutlidge. This particular play led to a brief period where The Koalas were under great pressure to clear the ball from their own half. This resulted in a free kick for a foul on Danielle Brogan which Kylie Ledbrook put just over the cross bar.
In the 26th minute though, it all came together for The Koalas. A fine ball saw Natalie Spirovski burst into the clear down the right. As she cut in towards goal Spirovski put in what looked a fairly ineffectual shot. It caught out keeper Monforte though who dived, deflecting the ball to the feet of Alicia Cavanagh who smashed the ball into the back of the net. Just like that The Koalas were in front!
The Rams tried hard to ignite their game but the usual fluency just wasn?t there. They did win a corner which in turn cause havoc in The Koalas defence but successive shots were cleared by Koalas defenders who weren?t afraid to put their bodies on the line. Then, a nice ball from Kylie Ledbrook released Sigrid Manty into a gap. Her pass into the face of goal almost brought a golden moment as Renee Cartwright attempted a back heeled shot at goal but Koalas keeper Rutlidge anticipated well to save the day.
Just before half time Gabby Dickinson broke into the clear for The Koalas. She let go a powerful shot from distance but the moment was missed with the ball sailing well over the bar. The half time whistle blew with The Koalas holding a slender but well deserved 1-0 lead.
The Koalas had the first attack of the second half; a break by Natalie Spirovski, virtually from the kick off, which led to a long distance shot at goal. However, thereafter it was fairly obvious that The Rams had knocked off some cobwebs at half time and were now ready to play. Two fine passes from Stephanie Haim resulted in opportunities for both Renee Cartwright and Kylie Ledbrook within minutes of each other. Ledbrook made a wonderful run into the box, shedding defenders with ease but capped off her brilliance with a wide shot at an open goal. Despite the disappointments it could be seen that The Rams were playing with renewed confidence. The smell of a goal was in the air.
So it was when, in the 53rd minute, The Rams won a ball from an ineffectual goal kick by The Koalas. Renee Cartwright received the ball and wriggled into space. Her pass found an unmarked Stephanie Haim who sized up the goal and blasted a shot. The ball was knocked down by the keeper, but straight to the feet of Kylie Ledbrook. Tap away, goal, and the match was suddenly all square. The Rams never, ever say die.
The Koalas, soon after, subbed Katarina Kraft with Danni Calvi. Could the Super Sub find another goal for The Koalas?
The Koalas broke from defence with Rachel Doyle bursting into the open. However, a crunching tackle by Claire Walsh flattened Doyle, earning Walsh a yellow card.
The Koalas pushed forward in what looked a dangerous attacking raid. However the ball, and with it the opportunity, were lost. Worse still Kylie Ledbrook?s long clearance found Stephanie Haim who raced into the clear. Haim in turn put the ball out in front of a trailing Renee Cartwright. The former Young Matilda burst towards goal. Koalas? keeper Rutlidge advanced to meet the challenge and seemed to have saved the day. However, the ball bobbled from her grasp towards Cartwright, who was now on the ground after being tackled. The Rams striker had the presence of mind to flick a foot at the ball, finding the back of the net to put her side up 2-1. Ouch, that one had to hurt The Koalas who were now looking a little heavy legged after their mid week final against Marconi Stallions.
Macarthur now seemed to take command. They were continuing to push forward with The Koalas battling to hold the defending Premiers in check. Lara Neilson then earnt herself a yellow card, after a foul on Renee Cartwright. The Koalas brought Stephanie De Francesco into the game for Gabby Dickinson.
The Koalas? chances were now coming spasmodically; one from a rare Danielle Brogan mistake, the other from some nice combination by Danni Calvi and Stephanie De Francesco which leads to an uncontrolled header in front of goal by Alicia Cavanagh. Adriana Cirjak doesn?t make too many errors herself but, under pressure, a pass to a support on the left edge of The Koalas? penalty area is intercepted by the ever present Renee Cartwright. She seems certain to score the clincher but keeper Rutlidge was up to the task, ensuring her side are still in with a chance.
Seeking to spark The Koalas back into life Coach Claude De Francesco replaces Sanaa Hawkins with Leonore Carr. But it?s The Rams who are full of running with another fine ball into the area only being defused by Rutlidge who leaps above the pack to take the ball. The Koalas get their last opportunity after winning a corner but a header from Carr goes over the bar. The Rams replace Linda Dudek with Laura Donnelly as the clock winds down.
The Rams get a chance of their own when a goal mouth melee found the ball breaking to Cartwright. Her shot is deflected to the feet of Laura Donnelly who shoots over an open goal with her first touch of the game. Rams Coach Matt Turvey then made his final replacement, bringing on Leila Braimah for Leesa Thompson. Braimah barely gets to grasp the Grand Final thrill though before referee Nemorin blows the whistle to bring an end to this match and the 2008 Arrive Alive NSW Women?s Premier League season. A 2-1 win to Macarthur Rams, giving them consecutive Grand Final victories.
At the presentation both Captains are glowing in their praise of their opponents. These teams may be keen rivals but there is obviously plenty of respect between them as well. Macarthur?s star midfielder, Kylie Ledbrook, was named Player of the Match.
Koalas Coach, Claude De Francesco, praised his side?s achievement in making the Grand Final for the second year in succession. He felt it fitting that the two best teams should fight out the competition decider. Claude described Macarthur as a fine side who know how to win. He mentioned their ability to lift their game when required; the mark of a champion team. De Francesco made no excuse but did feel that his team tired in the second half; a possible consequence of their 120 minute battle in Wednesday night?s Final with Marconi. He was very proud of the effort his team had produced today.
Macarthur Rams Captain Danielle Brogan commented on the tough, windy conditions that the game was played under. Brogan admitted that some strong words were said in the dressing room at half time but that they?d obviously had the desired effect. Her team had put it all together after the break and taken their chances. Brogan felt that the equalising goal was probably the turning point of the match with The Rams getting on top thereafter.
Like so many Grand Finals this wasn?t necessarily the prettiest game to watch. It was a tight affair for most of the match but a few moments of brilliance decided the fate of the title. The Rams are one of those sides who have so many options amongst their squad who can come up with those magic moments. From what I saw of them during 2008 I doubt that anyone could argue that the best team in the competition had come out on top.
I have no idea what I?m going to do every Sunday from now until the start of the next Arrive Alive NSW Women?s Super League/Premier League season. Possibly I?ll visit the Harrie Dening Centre, Lynwood Park or ELS Hall Park and stare longingly at the fields waiting for all the talented footballers to reappear. Possibly my wife will have some household chores for me? HELP!
To all the clubs involved in both women?s leagues, a big thank you from a correspondent who enjoyed his role immensely. I?m a football lover who passionately supports the female presence in the game. What I saw this season from the players, officials and supporters reinforced my belief that girls/women?s football is a product well worth marketing to the greater football community. Bring on the W League and let?s show people what they?ve been missing! See you in 2009.
-By Ross Anderson