Belconnen United will aim for a reverse of fortune in the 2023 Federation Cup Final when they meet Gungahlin United in the decider at Deakin Stadium on Saturday 3 June following victories for the Blue Devils and the Gunners in their respective semi-final showdowns.
A hat-trick from Isabella Hindmarsh helped Belconnen United to sweep past a gallant Canberra United Academy at the Australian Institute of Sport, whilst a last-minute winner from Ginger Oliver sealed an upset success for Gungahlin United who defeated favourites Canberra Olympic at Woden Park.
Belconnen return to the Final after being defeated in the 2022 showpiece by Olympic, but this season will see Scott Conlon’s group back with more experience and with a score to settle, something that was apparent from the way they stormed into their opposition on a slick playing surface at the AIS.
With the pitch having been saturated via a pre-match downpour, conditions were rife for the Blue Devils to implement their possession-based approach focused on swift ball movement and, with the talent to strike from range, they opened the scoring just prior to the quarter-hour mark.
Reilly Yuen found space in the outside right channel and swung a strike off the right book that curved away from Eliza Evans in the Academy goal and into the top corner. Fluke or brilliant finish? Only Yuen would know.
What was certain was that the second Blue Devils goal was a thing of beauty. Hindmarsh collected possession in midfield and weighed up the options before unleashing a sublime shot from 30 metres that arced over Evans and into the corner for a sensational goal.
The midfielder wasn’t done and, some sixteen minutes later took aim from outside the area and repeated the trick. Her lofted effort had the perfect trajectory to loop agonisingly over the head of Evans from the Academy perspective and nestle into the back of the net to effectively seal the game before half-time.
The Academy never gave up and caused one or two problems for the Blue Devils with the hard-running of Tamara Cochrane and the midfield grit of Latisha Babic, but Belconnen simply had too much in the final third, illustrated as Bessie Riethmuller pounced on a mistake to steer home from a yard for four close to the hour.
And Belconnen’s progress to the Final was confirmed in the 74th minute as Hindmarsh reacted quickest as substitute goalkeeper Georgia Ritchie parried a Keira Bobbin shot to tap in from close range for the fifth.
Over at Woden Park Gungahlin United upset the odds by defeating cup holders Canberra Olympic in a dramatic conclusion to their last four encounter. Oliver, a pre-season signing from West Canberra Wanderers, produced the decisive moment to stun Olympic and send Gunners fans into delirium.
Earlier, it had appeared as if the match had been going according to the script excepted by many observers of the local Women’s National Premier League as Olympic, considered by many to be title favourites in 2023, edged in front just before the clock reached the thirty minute mark.
Olympic playmaker Nicole Jalocha opened the scoring with her first goal of the campaign with a neat finish past Gunners’ US import Emily Kelly in goal to break the deadlock in a match that had been very even up until that point with chances at both ends.
Gunners’ response to adversity was commendable, dominating territory and possession and drawing themselves level ten minute before the break with a stunning equaliser. Gungahlin legend Erika Pennyfield was released over the back of the Olympic defence and, despite the acute angle, found a finish into the far top corner.
Indeed, Gungahlin might have led at the break had Cassia McGlashan’s shot found the net instead of thumping back off the crossbar. It was a similar tale in the second half as presentable openings came and went before Olympic had a goal from a corner ruled out for offside.
The match appeared destined for extra-time, only for Gungahlin to steal their passage with seconds remaining. Some excellent combination play around the Olympic area saw a pass find substitute Oliver who planted her finish beyond Janet King in the Olympic goal and send Gunners into their maiden Federation Cup Final.
Canberra United Academy 0 Belconnen United 5 (Yuen 14’, Hindmarsh 19’, 35’, 74’, Riethmuller 59’)
Canberra Olympic 1 (Jalocha 29’) Gungahlin United 2 (Pennyfield 35’, Oliver 90’)