Ben Gilby brings you the news from this week’s press conferences around the A-League Women ahead of Sunday’s games (8/1/22).
Garrath McPherson on Getting That First Win and Keeping Gorry
The Brisbane Roar head coach has highlighted some of the off-pitch work that was done to help his team finally record their first win of the season last weekend. “We’d been very close to closing out our previous games and we’d learned a lot of harsh lessons among a squad which doesn’t have a lot of experience.
“We worked on the training pitch on how to close matches out. Beating Melbourne Victory in Melbourne was the first time we’d beaten then there for a while. If you then throw in the fact we had a player test positive (for COVID) and then had to change in the car park on white chairs, and then had to get straight on the bus afterwards in our playing kit and boots – the resilience was excellent.
McPherson also reminded the media of two other factors that impacted on his team: ”Our squad didn’t start training together until after a lot of other sides already began. Several players picked up injuries right before the season started. We’ve got a lot of local players making their starting debuts at 17 and 18-years-old. It’s exciting, but it’s also terrifying at the same time!
“We are a club with a history and we want to win games and trophies, but there is a trade-off between short-term and long-term success. It is an investment in players who will be with us for a number of years before maybe going on to America or Europe to be in a professional environment.”
Brisbane’s head coach addressed the fact that Katrina Gorry will be remaining with Brisbane during the forthcoming Asia Cup competition: “She was concerned about the medical care situation out there (in India where the Asia Cup is taking place). If (baby) Harper got sick out there it would not be ideal.
“She’ll miss out on this opportunity, but with the World Cup in 2023, I’m sure the national team will have many more meet-ups this year and I’m sure she’ll be considered again. I’m happy to have her for more games with us though!”
In terms of availability, Roar have no injuries ahead of the game against Western Sydney Wanderers.
Nat Tathem: Making A Comeback and Keeping Positive
Brisbane’s defender spoke about her delight in returning to action last weekend after a year out with an ACL injury in her side’s win over Melbourne Victory.
“The girls were all so supportive which helped. It was a shame that it was an away game that I made my comeback in which meant there were no friends and family there, but also coming on the field against my old team helped as I knew what to expect.
“Melbourne helped me through my re-hab as I was still there for half the time of my recovery. The coaching squad there helped me through and they were happy for me to be back. I knew what to expect being against Victory. It was more like a training environment as I knew everyone out there.”
Despite Brisbane’s frustrating start to the season which saw them concede late goals to lose their first four games, the 26-year-old defender knew that better times would soon arrive: “Even when we weren’t getting the results, we kept together and kept positive.
“You could see a bit more nervousness on match day because we needed a result. We got around each other to support each other and fight to the last minutes. Those games we lost in the last five minutes have sucked, but it proved to ourselves that we won that way last week, we can keep going to the end.”
“When you lose games, because the season is so short, you become that bit more results-focused as you need to win games to come back and make the top four. We had only lost games by one or two and they were all things that we could fix. We were never played off the park.”
Rado Vidosic on City’s Return From COVID Inforced Absence
Melbourne City head coach Rado Vidosic reflected on a difficult period for his team following a COVID outbreak at the club: “There was always a 100% chance that we would get it (COVID). Most of the girls were living in one house and they got through it easier as they were surrounding each other. Thank God all of them came back without any long-term issues. Some came back within two or three days, most came back soon after. Only one is still off.
“We only had six players training with us for the best part of the last week, it was a blessing that we didn’t play. Not everyone had COVID, but a number without COVID had to isolate. Now we are healthy, we don’t mind playing midweek games. We will probably lose some players for the national team, but we have answers for that. We have a good squad and we are injury-free, working on our principles.”
With the Matildas calling up City’s Winonah Heatley and Holly McNamara for the pre-Asia Cup training squad, Vidosic recognizes that it impacts his team, but also highlighted the fact that the Sky Blues are far from being the only team to lose players.
“Ourselves, Sydney, and Victory will lose a few players for the Asia Cup. It doesn’t necessarily put things in our favour. It will be interesting as, with corona too and injuries and a smaller number of players per squad and younger, less experienced players, it will be stressful for every club. (But), whoever we lose, we should be able to replace.”
“Today (Friday) was probably the best training session we have had all season. All the hunger and desire were there, hopefully, it will show on Sunday against Wellington too. (Tony) Gustavsson is calling up lots of young players, he has an open door for the squad, so players know they need two or three good performances and they have a chance. It is a really good thing.”
In terms of selection for Sunday’s game, the City head coach doesn’t expect there to be any surprises. “I don’t like to tinker with the squad,” he admitted.
“It is the plan that Stotty will play 90 minutes. We are still trying to manage her. She has had a few days off. It will depend on things like the intensity of the game and the weather. We would love to extend her to 90 minutes but we know it depends.”
The competition’s top scorer, Hannah Wilkinson will face her fellow country-women on Sunday, and Vidosic was effusive in his praise for her: “This is my fourth season and she is the first striker for me. Her and Holly McNamara can play in different positions. We are blessed. Hannah’s experience and work rate are second to none.
“She is a great person who is lovely to have in your team. I spoke to her at the Olympics when she was thinking of joining us. I told her she would be rewarded for hard work. Seven goals in five games is great. She is looking forward to the rest of the season and playing for her national team.
“She is fantastic in the air. We haven’t quite got our crossing game going, but we will soon. Our balls into her for her runs though are good and she has been fantastic.”
Hannah Wilkinson: Loving Life At City
The A-League Women’s top scorer opened her media conference by detailing what the situation was like at the club during the COVID outbreak. “We’re just grateful to be back together. It was a pain in the arse to happen, but now we’re all back and that’s awesome.
“A big group of girls who live together was the main problem. Slowly but surely, symptoms came from that house. Everyone got tested. I wasn’t part of that group. We just had to do what we could. It was a nightmare, but all good now.
“It was a shame that we couldn’t maintain our momentum (after the big win over Melbourne Victory). One of the cases came back positive before the game, so we knew there was a risk we might not be able to play for a while. It made us realize we had to go out there even more strongly for that game and do everything we could to do well.
Wilkinson’s partnership with Holly McNamara this season has been one of the best in the competition, and the Kiwi was full of praise for the 18-year-old striker. “I love playing with Holly. She is a very smart player. We work well, she moves off of my movement. She knows where I will be and she’s set up most of my goals. “National teams will be watching. It’s a good thing. Her being called up will be a great thing for the Matildas.
“The service and distribution that I’m getting is every striker’s dream. This sort of consistency I haven’t had for a long time. I’m so grateful to be playing with them.”
Wilkinson is also enjoying being coached by Rado Vidosic: “I love the way we play, it’s beautiful to watch and beautiful to play. We play a really nice possession-based game. We do a lot of work out of possession, pressing. That shows in our results.
“I’ve wanted to play in this league for so long. I’m really grateful to be playing with City. It’s awesome and cool to be close to home for once too!”
With Wilkinson in such good form, she is hoping to return to the Football Ferns squad in February when they will be competing in the She Believes Cup. However, as the A-League Women is playing through the FIFA international window, a choice will have to be made from a club v country perspective.
“A FIFA window is supposed to see that there are no (club) games. But that is something that we can’t control. We don’t want to miss any games, national or club. This is a massive opportunity for the national team. It is annoying and really frustrating, but what can you do?”
Gemma Lewis: Re-Set Phoenix Prepared For City Test
Phoenix face Melbourne City this Sunday, and head coach Gemma Lewis began by revealing how she was planning on combatting the Sky Blues’ New Zealand international Hannah Wilkinson, who is in deadly form.
“Ah! I’m going to push her for her Kiwi loyalties and tell her to keep (her goal tally on Sunday) to just a couple maybe!
“She’s on form and she will cause us problems. However, she is a player that Kate (Taylor) and Mac (Mackenzie Barry) like to play against as they love stepping up, intercepting and being aggressive. They are looking forward to coming up against her, being a fellow Kiwi.
“She is a weapon and we need to defend our box. It’s been an area of focus this week. We need to win first and second contact in the box. It will be hard against a unit like Wilkinson, but we’re in a much better place now after the Sydney game.”
Wellington’s last outing, that 5-0 loss in Wollongong was nine days ago, which has allowed for recovery after a period of two games in four days for Lewis’ youngsters.
“It has allowed us to give the players some days off. It’s allowed us to re-set. We’ve also been able to have a good few sessions to focus on what went wrong in the Sydney game and get better.”
In terms of availability for Sunday’s match at AAMI Park, Saskia Vosper, who had to leave the field with a groin strain against Sydney will not make it, although the prognosis is positive: “It looks like she will only miss this game, she went into that game with some tightness. One stretch and lunge and it turned into a strain.” Lewis revealed. “Grace Jale is fully cleared to play. She can start or come on, she is not restricted. Everyone else is OK.”
Looking ahead more specifically to the game against Melbourne City, Lewis revealed how impressed she has been with Rado Vidosic’s team this season: “I’ve really enjoyed watching them this season. Holly McNamara is having a great season as well. Her and Pollicina are creating well for Wilkinson. Stotty (Rebekah Stott) is growing every game. As a unit, they are great. They play very structured which helps because we know how to play against them, but they are very good at what they are doing. They set a trap well, they execute it well and everyone in their team knows what they are doing.
“City like to play out a bit more, but I don’t know if they will do that against us. Our focus is to get more possession into the opposition third. We’ve been looking at attacking out a counter and out a block. We’ve looked at different players in different positions. As City play with wingbacks we’re hoping to get our fullbacks attacking.
“The realism is we are always going to be up against the pump. Player against player, we will always be underdogs this season. We have been close in possession but still not got many shots on target.
In terms of focus for the game, Lewis recognizes that there is a fine balance between deciding whether to spend training time focusing on defending or attacking: “We normally back ourselves defending in the box, but against Sydney, it was really poor. We gave them gifts and didn’t make them earn goals. We had to address that. We have looked at our in-possession stuff. At the moment, we’re not able to press high and turnover ball as they are not playing out from the back. That takes away opportunities for us, so we need to look at how we do that.