The first weekend of the finals in the NPLW held all its promise, and some more, with twelve goals in two games!
Belconnen United fought hard to get to the Preliminary Final, seeing out the West Canberra Wanderers for the second time in seven days. The Blue Devils faced a much stronger Wanderers side, as dense and aggressive defensively as you would expect from Rey Castro’s team.
The best opportunities were undoubtedly for Scott Conlon’s team in the first half, and the reward came five minutes before the break. A corner kick from Olivia Bomford found Talia Backhouse’s header, only for Karen Clarke to volley the ball past Jayla Murphy from point -blank range.
The second half saw a bit more action, with Belconnen striking first to get themselves a safe advantage cushion. Another experienced Blue Devil, Leah Carnegie, scored five minutes into the second act.
A cross caught by the wind took an unexpected path to the net, dipping behind Ally Hinson. The third goal came from the kind of counterattack that should be taught in football academies.
A corner kick for West Canberra turned into a trademark Keira Bobbin run and a 2 v 1 the Blue Devils. Bobbin offered the ball to Bomford, who twisted and turned with the ball, confusing both her defender and Hinson before finding the back of the net.
Melinda O’Callaghan did offer the Wanderers a glimmer of hope with 10 minutes to go thanks to a precise left footed effort that Murphy could not parry away, but their opponents were already too far.
Scott Conlon will lead his team again next weekend to fight for the Grand Final. He will also see the players gone to the National Youth Championships return, to give him some extra depth.
They will face Canberra Croatia, who were surprised at home by their runner-up in the league, Canberra Olympic. The two powerhouses offered us a thrilling game, and one for the history books, with eight goals and a 5-3 victory for Nicole Begg’s in extra time.
Under the rain on Saturday, the game started as a cagey affair, which Olympic made the most of, putting the reigning champions under pressure. The Blues struck first, courtesy of Olivia Gurney at the 24th minute.
The forward took advantage of passive defending in the Croatia defence, and let her talent do the rest with a run in the box and a duel won with Nat Vasta.
The champions answered 10 minutes later via their captain. A free kick obtained by Brittany Palombi allowed Grace Gill to show all her class with a superb ball over the wall that ended in the top left corner.
The score was even at half time but did not stay that was for too long after the break. From one legend to another, Ashleigh Sykes obtained a penalty kick after a misunderstanding between Vasta and Amy McLachlan and converted it herself.
Olympic resisted Croatia and thought they made the Grand Final when Vanessa Ryan was here to tap the ball in the empty net following Vasta save.
But the Champions have won five of the last six trophies available for a reason, and usual goal scorer Brittany Palombi turned into a lethal passer seconds later, finding Jennifer Bisset who could not miss from short range.
They did not stop there, equalizing in the very next opportunity with Palombi again at the assist, this time finding Jamie Berkeley at the far post.
The thrilling encounter would be need more than 90 minutes to find a winner. This time, Olympic would not only break the deadlock first, but confirm and hold on to their advantage thanks to their subs.
Early in the second half of extra time, Brittany Fiorese, alone in the six-yard box, was found by Sykes to put her team in front. Anna Vandenbroucke sealed the deal in the dying seconds, sending her team to their first WNPL Grand Final with her first touch of the game.
Nicole Begg and her troops will now have a weekend off to savour – and recover from – scoring five goals past the reigning champions! Usual Grand Final rivals Belconnen United and Canberra Croatia will fight it out in the Preliminary Final on Saturday, to face Olympic the following weekend.
Saturday 17 September
Canberra Croatia 3 (Gill 35’, 83’, Bisset 82’) Canberra Olympic 5 (Gurney 24’, Sykes 53’ (p), Ryan 80’, Fiorese 106’, Vandenbroucke 119’) – after extra time
Belconnen United 3 (Clarke 39’, Carnegie 51’, Bomford 70’) West Canberra Wanderers 1 (O’Callaghan 75’)
Words: Jeremy Magan