NEWCASTLE OLYMPIC FC V WARNERS BAY FC
MACQUARIE FIELD – SUNDAY 5.30PM
After more than 220 days since the first round of the Herald Women’s Premier League, 14 regular season rounds and a gruelling three-week finals campaign, the race for the championship title has come down to this. Premiers Newcastle Olympic against challengers Warners Bay at Macquarie Field.
Never in its history has the Herald Women’s Premier League been played so deep into spring, nor in recent memory has the race for the title been so tight at the end of the regular season.
The premiers, Newcastle Olympic, go into Sunday’s game as the favourites, though if 2020 has taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected.
“The girls are quite proud of their achievement and for us, you just look at the start of the season, not really knowing too much of what we were able to produce through the year,” Olympic coach Harmonie Attwill said ahead of the decider.
“We’ve progressively got better which is what you want to do.”
High pressure training scenarios have been a feature of finals preparation for the women in blue, who finished the regular season on top of the table.
“We go about it by setting a bit of a scene. If you are 1-0 down, what are you going to do? Really trying to get the girls to step through how they respond,” Attwill said.
Despite the occasion, the preparation will not change at Adamstown Oval as Olympic look to put the perfect signature on an already spectacular season.
“We will just prepare the same way we have for every other game,” Attwill said.
“It’s never about how important the game is. It is just a game and we just need to focus each week on ensuring we are able to deliver all the things we practice.
“We’ll do our normal two training sessions. We’ll just do what we’ve been doing and just make sure the girls enjoy that they’re about to play a grand final.”
Olympic have become known for attacking prowess throughout season 2020 while the defensive block, led by captain Sophie O’Brien, has set a high benchmark for opposing sides.
“I like us to not just be predictable. For the opposition to not always know where people are going to play, or what area of the field we’re going to target,” Attwill said.
And while grit and determination have seen Olympic clamber out of several tough matches, Attwill believes patience, discipline and togetherness will determine the result on Sunday.
“If we don’t win the game then we weren’t the better team on the day but if we can just follow the three principles we’ve followed all year, I definitely think we have a good chance to be successful,” she said.
“It’s been tough. Those couple of games I think about. Against Magic, we’re down 2-0 at half-time, we had to turn it around and it was a real test of the girls’ character to do that.
“Our second game against Adamstown, we didn’t play our best football. After that game we had a bit of a team building session just to reassess and make sure everyone was really clear on their role.
“To the girls’ credit they’ve always responded to whatever it is we try and discuss.
“What we do as a group will determine whether we are successful.”
At the other end, Warners Bay have an opportunity to write themselves into the record books and become the first fourth-placed finisher in the competition’s history to win the ultimate prize.
“There’s no pressure on us. I think the pressure will be on Olympic. They’ll be going in as favourites. That’s fine by us,” Warners Bay coach Craig Atkins said.
“If we can put in another character-building performance like we did on the weekend [against Broadmeadow] and keep working as a strong unit, I can’t see why we can’t get the result on Sunday.
“We’re going to have to be very structured defensively. And very effective with communication and transitions.
“For us, it’s going to be that intensity, the communication and the ball playing. We know once we get that ball on the ground and we start knocking it around we can compete with any football team in the league.”
The Panthers finished the regular season with eight wins, one draw and five losses. A fortnight ago they left Merewether United reeling in the minor semi-final, before scoring a win for the ages over Broadmeadow Magic in the preliminary final.
“It was another fantastic performance [against Magic], a terrific performance from the girls,” Atkins said.
“It was that character. We were under the pump for what would have been 15 minutes. Magic had corner after corner. That desperation I’ve asked for in semi-finals football, the girls were just all over it, they were everywhere.”
At season’s start, Atkins heralded a new era for the Panthers as fresh faces flooded John Street Oval. Now, with a full season as head coach almost under his belt, Atkins is on the verge of one of the great championship wins.
“I always believed that we could do it. But it was always going to take time. As a coach to watch all that be put in practice now, it’s been a fantastic ride,” Atkins said.
“The momentum has been building for a number of weeks now. We had to make sure we got to the finals first. We knew, if we put in a good performance in the finals, anything can happen.
“If it does come off, it’s going to be very well deserved.”
HEAD to HEAD
Round 3 – Warners Bay 0-4 Newcastle Olympic at John Street Oval
Round 10 – Newcastle Olympic 7-2 Warners Bay at Darling Street Oval
Road to the grand final
Preliminary Final – Newcastle Olympic 2-1 Broadmeadow Magic (after extra-time) at Lake Macquarie Regional Football Facility
Minor semi-final – Merewether United 2-6 Warners Bay at Lake Macquarie Regional Football Facility
Preliminary final – Broadmeadow Magic 4-5 Warners Bay at Magic Park
In the lower grades, Newcastle Olympic take on Adamstown Rosebud JFC in the reserve grade grand final, Merewether United face Newcastle Olympic in the under-17s decider and Mid Coast FC meet Merewether United in the under-14s grand final.
All four matches will be available to watch live on Bar TV, which will also be streamed through the Herald Women’s Premier League Facebook page.