Canberra Croatia have well and truly established themselves as the dominant force in the Women’s National Premier League and will be eager to consolidate that position with another silverware-clinching season.
The 2022 campaign saw Croatia firmly cement their superiority in Canberra’s top-flight, by finishing as league winners by a comfortable five points, making it the third season running that they have topped the pile.
Fans will be delighted to see Zoran Glavinic retain his position as Head Coach for a second consecutive season, after winning the Premiership in his first NPLW coaching stint. Glavinic returned to the club to coach the women’s first-grade side, after a long history of spells with his childhood team.
“It’s the club that I grew up with, having a Croatian background.” he said.
“Getting asked to be back last year and to coach the women for the first time, it wasn’t really a hard decision for me at all.”
Coming in from Men’s NPL2 team Brindabella Blues for the 2022 season, Glavinic seamlessly continued the natural order of proceedings that is expected at such a successful club and clinched the title.
“With the players we did have, the experience they did have [and] the anticipation, the expectation is always high… and it was really high last year.”
Those expectations remain high for Glavinic looking ahead to the upcoming campaign, with ambitions of consecutive success a key pillar in his side’s goals for 2023.
However, the inability for Croatia’s star-studded squad to make the Grand Final admittedly left the Coach and his squad with an overriding sense of disappointment.
“We wanted to win everything… what we did last year, to win the premiership. I think it will be the fourth in a row, the girls have refocused, we are back on track,” Glavinic commented.
“Losing two finals… in extra time both times, and conceding so many goals was disappointing, and it shattered the girls a lot because we wanted to finish the season off for a couple of players who were retiring, in Grace Gill and Krista Hagen.
“One of the pictures that is in my mind all the time [is] seeing Grace sitting at Riverside just shattered, losing in that last minute was heart-breaking for us.
“It is a game that we all love, and this is why we love it. It comes down to moments, moments that you reflect on, you look at and you try to fix, but you just keep going and you keep turning up every week.”
These key player departures for Croatia present a sizable challenge to assess, with the club legends, Krista Hagen, and Grace Gill, calling time on their outstanding footballing careers and the likes of Jennifer Bisset departing the club.
“Grace has been a great player, great mentor, great person to be at the club for so many years.” Glavinic insisted.
“We have got to move on as a football team and just keep going. Losing experienced players, you have just got to keep going, but that is hard to replace.”
While these key player departures leave a gaping hole in this Croatia side, the core of the premiership-winning team remains, with the likes of Rhiannon Fensom, Dianne Wilson, Jamie Berkeley, Amy McLachlan, and Isabella Barac.
Additionally, tying down golden boot winner Brittany Palombi, will incite optimism amongst fans, having topped the scoring charts for the third consecutive season. Put bluntly, when Palombi is scoring, the trophies are guaranteed to be flowing at Deakin.
Croatia have signed an increasing number of young footballers to make up for key absentees however, with such additions including Charli Mitchell, Brandy Nicholson, Zoe Sobczak and Tatum Mazis.
Mitchell, an ex-Canberra United Academy starlet, takes up Grace Gill’s number 9 shirt and will add pace, hunger, and a keen eye for goal.
“I see her [Charli] playing as our number 9, it could be anywhere in the forward line… she is a well-known footballer here in Canberra, she likes scoring goals, and she likes scoring bombs. Her right foot is just fantastic.” Glavinic said.
“It’s going to take Charli a little bit of time to get into the intensity of playing here in the first grade, she’s going to be marked by really experienced players… making that slight adjustment is going to just take some time.”
Further opportunities will be afforded to the young prospects, with Nicholson Zoe Sobczak, as well as a greater role Mazis will add a dimension of speed and versatility in the front line.
With these exciting talents comes the need to embed these inexperienced players in with the rest of the squad, as Glavinic anticipates a reconsidered approach with the changes in personnel.
“We’ve just gone back to the basics,” he said, “to work on our formation and our shape in defence and then move it on to our forwards, if we don’t concede we don’t lose.”
“The players that we’ve brought in are young, very young… the team is still trying to have [those] combinations [which] haven’t quite been there yet.”
To watch this Croatia team, make more history in 2023, you can tune into BarTV Sports who broadcast every game of the NPLW live.
Words: Sam Watson