By Ben Gilby (24/12/21).
Above: Jeff Hopkins, who made clear his passion for the Melbourne derby. Photo: MyFootball.
Melbourne Victory head coach Jeff Hopkins spoke to the media today ahead of the big Boxing Day Derby with cross-city rivals Melbourne City and began with positive news about player availability.
“Melina Ayres won’t be ready for the game, so we are all a bit disappointed, but apart from her everyone is good. Tiff Eliadis is back in contention, she’s trained well this week. Alex Chidiac and Amy Jackson are back, so we’ve got almost a full squad to choose from.”
With Victory’s defence having a massive Kayla Morrison-shaped hole in it after her heartbreaking ACL injury in the club’s opening game, Hopkins outlined how he is trying to address his defensive roster ahead of the game: “We’ve tried a few things. I think I know what I want to do.
“We’ll have another little look on Christmas Day when we’ll be training at AAMI Park from 7:30am to 8:45am. We’ve done a fair bit of work on the back four this week. To be honest, we have some good options. Amy Jackson did well for us last time. We have three options there – Tiff (Eliadis), Emma Robers, and AJ (Amy Jackson). Most likely we’ll move Courtney Nevin back to left-back this week. We’ll wait until tomorrow to name the team.”
Focusing on the midfield, Hopkins acknowledged the massive selection headache he has due to the sheer number of quality options in the squad. “That’s my biggest and best problem if I’m being honest. Mindy Barbieri has done well, young Alana Murphy had her first start last week and was one of our best players. With Kyra (Cooney-Cross), Lynn (Williams), Alex (Chidiac), as well as AJ who can play there too, it will be a difficult decision to make as to who to leave out. But I know that whatever happens there is a lot of quality. It does though mean that two players will be hard done by missing out because they have all been brilliant.
“I like to have a settled side if I can, I like to find players who can do the job in our game style and keep rewarding them when they do well and equally if they are doing really well in training. When players get into the side, they know they’ve done well to get there and if they keep doing well they will stay there.
“We’ve won games, but we still haven’t hit a real consistent level of performance and that’s the reason why we haven’t put the same side out for two or three games on the spin. If we can get some luck with injuries and keep people on the pitch, fit and healthy, we can get the team out we want to and get cohesion. We can also work through the week with those players too. Once that happens we can get the performances going too.”
Last year’s derby clashes with City are fresh in Hopkins’ mind, having won one followed by a defeat a few weeks later. With Victory beating the Sky Blues a fortnight ago, he is keen to ensure there is not a repeat of last season’s return result.
“It’s something we’ve been talking about all week, today as well. We know what a team who is wounded can come out and do. There needs to be some time over the next day or so about the game and our roles, responsibilities and be ready for a real battle. We have to take it to them. We’ll be so ready for the game and come out so quick and aggressive. The rest of the game will then look after itself.
“We really let ourselves down in the second game against them last year. We have really highlighted the fact that it won’t happen this year. Whatever happens, we won’t lose the game through lack of enthusiasm, lack of effort, and lack of running. If we can bring all that and our team plays to the quality of their potential then it’s going to be a great spectacle and I’m confident that will be enough to get us over the line.
“I don’t mind playing them so quickly again. I’d play the derby every week if I could! Since I’ve been here, we’ve made a really big thing about it. For the players, it means a lot. They understand what it means to the club, the board, and the members. It makes and breaks people’s week or even longer until we play them again.”
The Victory coach then addressed the point that potentially A-League Women players are far more at risk from covid than their male counterparts as a number of them have jobs away from playing.”We do have a higher risk as a number of our people are in multi-venues, but it is something that is there all the time. You can try and mitigate risk as much as possible. You can mitigate the risk and then sit back and worry all the time or get on with enjoying life. I try to do the latter. Let’s get on with things and not let this dominate our mindset.”