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The pointy end

WaiBOP 1, Northern 2
Gower Park, Hamilton, December 8 2018

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Well, here we are! The last round of the double round robin National Women’s League is done and dusted. All the teams have finished their season except two of them – those being the two finalists who we can now celebrate as Northern and Canterbury. And I would certainly argue strongly that our two finalists are without question the two best teams in the league. Is it any coincidence at all that they are also the only two teams that have their own specific identities – the Pride and the Lights? Amongst other things these are statements of intent from both federations as to how seriously they are taking this league. But of course they are symptoms not causes.

Both Northern and Canterbury are federations with certain advantages in the National Women’s League. Northern undoubtedly benefits from sharing its region with the FFDP but it’s also a reasonably professional outfit that does a lot of structural things right. Meanwhile the Pride have in many ways created their own advantages by hiring great people,  innovating and setting high standards both on and off the pitch in everything they do.

One of the things about the National Women’s League being a two round competition now is it demands to be taken seriously and its increased profile incentivises all the federations to improve lest they be judged harshly by those of us in the cheap seats. These are their flagship representative teams. Full stop. How much do they care? It would probably be no surprise to anyone that I see WaiBOP as something of a case study on this. Take yesterday’s game…

It was exciting to see so many ot the Ferns and Young Ferns back in the fold after their international heroics – but, mixed with that excitement, I couldn’t help but lament the situation my home federation finds themselves in (narrowly avoiding the wooden spoon) and how different it might be if all the talent the region has developed were available for them to call on – including those who have been representing our country. And, even more importantly, the fear I now have of some of the freshly minted talent they are in danger of losing now with the demise of Claudelands and the lure of FFDP amongst other things.

The first half at Gower was a story of Northern dominating but nonetheless the visitors experienced something of a reversion to the lack of attacking potency that was their hallmark before their stars departed. It was also a story that showed WaiBOP’s undoubted improvement – out of sight – from the first half of the season. They absolutely have to improve more to bridge the gap however.

The home side seemed to take some inspiration from the exploits of their under 17s, because despite the weight of possession against them they looked as composed on defence as I’ve seen them – no doubt becoming accustomed to Coach Mayne’s back three that was new to a lot of them before this spring. And in the 21st minute they took their chance via a long range golazo! The scorer, 15 year old Chloe Henderson, a player you may well see in the next batch of under 17s, is a great example of the exciting young talent the region is continuing to produce that must be nurtured and retained if we want to be competitive in this space.

I had a quick chat with Northern super sub Helena Kelderman at half time. She told me to get some nice photos and I informed her that if she wanted those she had better celebrate in my direction when she scores! I think she was a bit shocked at my lack of confidence in my team, but the truth was I didn’t actually know who I wanted to win. I had one eye firmly on my wallet – dreading the cost of flights to a Christchurch final at this late stage.

And so it came to pass, H didn’t get a goal but she certainly made an impact when she came on, providing two assists for Ava Pritchard in the 71st and 83rd minutes. After the second one, and after she had leapt exuberantly into Ava’s arms, she pointed at me with a big grin. It was a lovely moment and up there with the highlights of my season despite what it meant for my favourite team.

So what did we learn? Northern still struggle to score and WaiBOP still can’t hold a lead. The final will be in Auckland, probably at Trusts Stadium from what I hear. “Hey, I saved you some money on flights” exclaimed H when I saw her after the final whistle! I was genuinely happy about that.

WaiBOP must now grow from this season and look for solutions. It might be the Pride model of emulating the FFDP in the region somehow to give players a new place to grow in the region. It might be the Southern United model of working with the University of Waikato to lure/retain footballing scholars into the region. But they simply must do something.

I only really cared about my wallet when watching today’s game because for this WaiBOP fan it wasn’t about winning or losing one game. That was a meaningless battle in the greater context of  the overall war – the winning or losing of which comes down to what they do over the next 12 months.

Categories: NZ Women's National League

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

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