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Manton St Tales

WNPL teams hit The Summit

Manton St Tales

The Women’s National Premier League Grand Final will be held tomorrow at a new Mt Barker sports park. Spiro Karanikos-Mimis previews the showpiece event between Salisbury Inter and West Adelaide.

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Under the blazing sun at last Sunday’s FFA Cup match between Adelaide United and Adelaide Olympic, I got talking to a security guard.

We chatted about the expected crowd and how Adelaide Olympic were taking over Valo Sports Centre and the benefit that would provide them.

He said to me: “Have you seen the facility in Mount Barker? Amazing.”

Football SA was on the end of some stinging rebukes for scheduling tomorrow’s WNPL Grand Final at the new facility at Mount Barker – aptly named the Summit Sports Park.

‘The women deserve better’, ‘all the Grand Finals should be played on the same day’ and ‘the women should be the prelude to the men’s NPL grand final’ have been the arguments put forward.

Now, I must acknowledge when I was told the Grand Final was going to be played in Mount Barker, I was a little taken aback.

But when the logic for the decision was explained to me, it’s arguably the biggest compliment Football SA have given the women’s game.

The facility is new, modern and state-of-the-art. And, you’d expect nothing less for the money invested.

There will be a feast of women’s soccer happening there: the Grand Final being the centrepiece of course.

And lastly, the WNPL Grand Final is being played in the traditional time slot of the men’s game and will be the final game on Football SA’s calendar (the men are playing the night before at Marden Sports Complex).

The real issue people have is the idea that Mount Barker is ‘rural’ and hence, believe it’s a slap in the face for the WNPL.

It really isn’t. It is a mere 30 minutes from Adelaide. Valo is 15. And arguably, it is the best soccer facility in South Australia right now.

Football SA’s CEO Michael Carter is bullish about the decision.

“The football facility at the Summit Sport and Recreation Park is an outstanding piece of infrastructure for the code,” he told InDaily.

“The Mount Barker population continues to grow and the growth of football in the region has been a strategic priority for Football South Australia.

“Having the Women’s National Premier League Grand Final at Mount Barker at this venue is a testament to the rapid growth and exposure of the league.

“We are excited to have a first-class event at the venue on Saturday and look forward to attracting new fans in the Adelaide Hills to the game.”

Saturday’s final will see the two best teams all season fight it out for the chance to be crowned 2021 WNPL Champions.

Neither Salisbury Inter or West Adelaide have ever had that honour bestowed on them before, making this an historic Grand Final.

Salisbury Inter are the team to beat. Having already claimed the Premiership and Cup they will be hoping to win the domestic treble.

They destroyed West Adelaide a fortnight ago, beating them six-one in the qualifying final.

Inter’s Club President Bianca Simeoni is acutely aware how important tomorrow is.

“We entered the season without ever having won WNPL silverware,” she says.

“To have won the Premiership and the Cup and make our first Grand Final is such a huge achievement and reward for our club.

“The team work so hard on and off the park; they are absolute professionals in the way they go about it.

“Our players are so versatile in their game play which I think sets us apart; our defenders can score, our strikers can chase back and win the ball – everyone plays their role but they can all cover for each other and bring an unpredictability that can catch teams off guard.

“We have such a talented group of players and together they have formed a formidable team.”

She’s not wrong.

Chilean Maria Rojas is prolific at this level. So far this season, she’s scored 33 goals in 24 matches in all competitions.

Then there’s Emily Condon – the one-cap Matilda has been superb all season.

And it’s easy to forget about Emily Heazelwood; the Tasmanian has been superb this year and is surely close to a maiden A-League Women contract.

Inter’s squad oozes talent, so-much-so that Meleri Mullan hasn’t been able to crack into the team since returning to South Australia after a stint with Bankstown City Lions in Sydney. She’s playing for Adelaide United this upcoming season.

But, don’t immediately think this game is fait accompli. Obviously, West must find a way to contain Salisbury’s potent attack. I do not envy the Hellas defence, who will have their hands full.

Hellas were not on their game two weeks ago but will be hungry for revenge tomorrow.

They took one-step in the right direction in last week’s Preliminary Final when they accounted for traditional rival Adelaide City four-nil.

And its easy to forget they led the competition for most of the season, with only a poor run of results towards the latter end of the year, knocking them off the top of the table.

On their day, Hellas’ own front three of Nicole Tilley, Georgia Macri and Christie Hillyer are irresistible.

Add that to the fact that Laura Johns, another A-League Women mainstay, can interchange with the wide players and you have a forward structure which is the envy of most WNPL teams.

Tilley knows what needs to be done to win the match.

“We think this is the best West Adelaide team we’ve had for a while,” the forward explains.

“We’ve got to switch on early, close them down a lot quicker and not give them time.

“They can capitalise on that, so we need to control the game and keep the ball.”

She has lost Grand Finals before but is keen to ensure history does not repeat.

“We’re hoping we can get the job done,” she said.

“For the club it’s massive. It’s a big deal. Everyone is buzzing and hopefully it happens.

“The girls are pumped. We are stoked after the four-nil win (against Adelaide City). We’re ready.”

When all is said and done, it’s likely the game will be won or lost in midfield. Both teams usually deploy a midfield three (though West have been known to use a diamond four).

Inter’s three of Dragana Klajic, Anna Pritchard and Chrissa Pavlomanolakos are sublime. Pritchard and Pavlomanolakos screen the back four magnificently but are also great distributors, while Klajic plays a more advanced role and often supplements the attack by making gut busting runs into the box.

West’s three of Alison Atkins, Maddie Durieu and the abovementioned Johns (who has regularly interchanged with Tilley in the middle) will need to be smart about how they counter their direct opponents, but also need to be mindful that they don’t stifle their own natural game in the process.

They too make are an excellent engine room – one that Hellas is blessed to have.

There’s some romance about both these teams trying to win their first Championship at a venue named the Summit.

And while most pundits will be backing Inter, write off Hellas at your peril. Either way, it’s going to be an excellent day for women’s soccer.

Spiro Karanikos-Mimis is a contractor for Football South Australia, who commentates WNPL matches.

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