Northern Football 2, Mainland Pride 4
North Harbour Stadium, Auckland, December 8 2013
The New Zealand Women’s Knockout Cup, the Chatham Cup, and now the National Women’s League – what a hat-trick! The balance of power when it comes to football in New Zealand is shifting south of the Cook Strait, Canterbury football is in the ascendency and it is thoroughly well deserved.
Mainland Pride completed the set this afternoon at North Harbour Stadium on Auckland’s North Shore by dispatching Northern Football, who had won this competition the last two times in a row and topped the table after the round robin. The third placed team going into the three team semi-finals, Mainland had to come from behind both in the competition as a whole, and in today’s match.
Northern seemed dominant in the opening exchanges, to the point where their early one-goal lead courtesy of a Nicole Stratford header off of a free kick came as no surprise. Northern continued to dominate possession after that, and it was against the run of play when Belinda Van Noorden equalised, and even still when Aimee Philips bludgeoned a lead following a fluky goalmouth scramble ensuing from a corner. But momentum is a powerful thing, and going into the break with a half time lead, however it came about, will have buoyed the visitors and demoralised the home side.
As a result, Mainland seemed much more assured and tidy in the second half, turning the tables on their opponents with the lion’s share of the ball and many strong forays into their opposition third. Then when Annalie Longo tapped in an easy goal courtesy of a shot rebounding off the post, one felt that Mainland were now well and truly on top. While Northern still had a trick up their sleeve and delivered a potentially match-turning blow with ten minutes left thanks to a dinky Katie Rood lofted header that ballooned over Lily Alfeld’s outstretched hand, the reality was the home side were down and out and they were well and truly finished off minutes later by a Van Noorden effort that drifted into the top corner from afar.
This result reads a little bit like an upset, but it really isn’t. From what I saw of these two sides during the course of the regular season, this was always likely to be the good contest that it was. The Mainland squad is packed with class, and the fact that it was possible to come from third and win the final speaks to how exciting, interesting and relatively even this competition has been.
I’d be lying if I said I knew much about what has led to both Mainland’s success today and Canterbury’s in general this year. But I do know that good facilities attract good footballers and good football crowds. The set-up down in Christchurch is the best in the country by a country mile and I am sure that played its part in today’s result. For that reason I couldn’t have been happier with this outcome, because if this becomes the standard for people to copy, then things can only get better. I am already looking forward to watching these talented footballers in red and black seek to emulate their vanquished foes from today and try to go back-to-back.
It has been a real delight to cover this league, and I hope the new format of a complete nationwide round-robin will be deemed a success in the halls of power. The logical next step is to get the sides playing each other home and away and running it over the full summer. If that were to happen, it would be a truly marvellous product that with the right marketing, the public could and should get right in behind.
Categories: NZ Women's National League
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.