History will be made on the weekend as the Women’s NPL features a never-seen-before Grand Final, between Canberra Olympic and Belconnen United. Both teams had to defeat the reigning champions to get a shot at the most prestigious trophy of the season, a testament to the talent that will line up at Deakin Stadium.
The red-chequered seats will have unusual shades of blue on Saturday at 3pm, when Scott Conlon and Nicole Begg’s teams battle it out on Canberra Croatia’s ground, almost as a symbol of the torch passing to the next champions. It is the first time since the WNPL started in its current format that the league champions do not reach the Grand Final.
Canberra Olympic and Belconnen United of course will not complain about it. The only two teams able to beat the reigning champions this season (both repeated the feat twice) deserve their spot in the biggest game of the season, a rematch of the Federation Cup Final, taken away by Olympic (2-1).
The feeling might be new for Canberra Olympic, or their coach, but there is plenty of Grand Final experience amongst the players donning the royal blue jersey. Michaela Thornton and Nicole Jalocha combine for more title encounters than you can count on both hands. They will undoubtedly be the leaders the league runners-up lean on.
Olympic did make it to this Grand Final despite the two former Blue Devils’ absence, defeating Canberra Croatia two weeks ago after extra time. Nicole Begg put her depth of talent on display that day, with substitutes Brittany Fiorese and Anna Vandenbroucke scoring in the added half hour to clinch the win.
Big games also call for big players. Two weeks ago, Ashleigh Sykes ended a three-game drought when she scored before the hour mark. The 2018 Julie Dolan winner has had another successful season with Olympic, finding the back of the net 12 times, including three of the six goals her team scored against Belconnen in regular season. She will undoubtedly be one to watch again this Saturday and will do what it takes to add another item in her already busy trophy cabinet.
The Blue Devils will walk on the pitch, once again, as the underdogs, a position Talia Backhouse and her teammates have come to enjoy. Belconnen United, a team that had lost their coach and four starters in the off-season, including their star-captain, went from strength to strength in 2022, adding youth around experience, and more importantly lining up talent all over the pitch.
In a competition used to revolve around two leading teams, Scott Conlon made sure his players remembered and channelled the winning mentality and history of the Blue Devils, and after a scare – and three losses – in the first round of games, helped them levelling up to the top two teams, until the climax at Deakin in Round 19.
Belconnen United has the defensive solidity champions build on, and an array of weapons offensively that is hard to match. Keira Bobbin’s pace on the wing, Olivia Bomford’s technique upfront and Talia Backhouse’s energy everywhere on the park have inspired the rest of the Blue Devils and given them the confidence to reach the biggest stage.
Six of the seven last Grand Final trophies were brought back to McKellar. Scott Conlon has all intentions to keep the Antoni Jagarinec’s legacy alive, and to etch Belconnen United on the trophy once again.
On his way, a “newbie”, Federation Cup winners, WNPL season runners-up, the best defence in the league (15 goals conceded only), Canberra Olympic will battle for their first Grand Final trophy.
After two weekends on Final madness, another cracking encounter will crown the WNPL new champions. Do not miss the final 90 minutes (or more) of one of the most exciting seasons in women’s football in the capital.
Saturday 1 October 2022
Canberra Olympic v Belconnen United
(Deakin Stadium, 15:00)
Words: Jeremy Magan