Sunday sees the A-League Women Grand Final between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory. Impetus’ Ben Gilby heard from the Sydney FC pair of Sarah Hunter and Charlize Rule along with Melbourne Victory’s Courtney Nevin, Alex Chidiac, and head coach Jeff Hopkins (23/3/22).
Sydney FC’s 18-year-old star Sarah Hunter is just days away from playing in her first Grand Final and spoke about her emotions in the build-up.
“We’re all pumped. I’m very excited and want to get the win but I also want to enjoy the moment too. The atmosphere and build-up is amazing, but I just want to help the team. This experience helps my confidence as it makes me realize that I can contribute to the team and to the Premiership and making this team better. An individual’s confidence can help lift a whole team.”
Hunter revealed that her team has been zeroing in on Sunday’s game from the very start of pre-season.
“We’ve been preparing for the whole season. From the very first day, Ante (Juric, head coach) said that our final game will be the Grand Final this season. We’ve looked at every little thing and in reflection we’ve worked on putting things right for a Grand Final. These last few weeks we’ve been de-loading our bodies in order to prepare. There’s been lots of light gym work and tactical tweaking.”
Sydney’s teenager emphasized how focused her team are on getting revenge for last season’s heartbreaking Grand Final loss to Melbourne Victory.
“I think the Sydney team were hard done by in the Grand Final last year after the great season they had, losing and the way they did was tough. Coming into it this year, I am focussed on helping the team right the wrongs of last season.”
Sydney FC midfielder Charlize Rule highlighted the importance of the game against Victory in February for providing her side with additional motivation on Sunday.
“We dominated pretty much 88 minutes of the match (leading 2-0) but they scored an equalizer right at the end. After that match, Ante said to us, ‘We’ll see them in the Grand Final and get revenge!'”
Rule outlined how she believes that her teammates can use the experience of last year’s Grand Final to help them go one better. “Our group has been together for a couple of years now and we are excited for this. Last year we stood off a bit in the Grand Final and we were nervous. This season we’ve been focussed on it from the very start to put things right.”
“The Semi-Final (against Melbourne City) was the most exciting match I’ve ever been involved in and the Grand Final will be even better. Everyone needs to come down and watch!”
Melbourne Victory defender Courtney Nevin outlined the importance of her team’s lighter load in recent weeks in putting them in the best possible place ahead of Sunday’s showdown.
“We’ve got good experience – as have Sydney – we’ve both played lots of Finals footy. We’ve had a chance to have a bit more of a rest going into this game after that spell of playing two or three games a week for a few weeks. It’s allowed us to get over the injuries and Jeff (Hopkins, head coach) has had a hard job selecting a starting eleven as we’re all doing our job.”
After a spell of defensive difficulties after the injury of captain Kayla Morrison, Nevin emphasized the importance of Brooke Hendrix’s arrival at the club.
“Having Brooke (Hendrix) come in alongside me and done a really good job. She allows us to have AJ (Amy Jackson) in front of us as well, which really helps.”
“We know that at times this season our football hasn’t been the best, but we’ve overcome that now. Lia (Privitelli) has really stepped up for us and scored some vital goals.”
Victory have had to do it the hard way to make the Grand Final – travelling to Adelaide United for an Elimination Final a fortnight ago before taking on cross-city rivals Melbourne City last weekend. Nevin feels that these tough tests could stand them in good stead.
“The last two games have been massive for us, especially coming up against City last week, but Sunday will be the biggest all season and the toughest. We know how Sydney are going to play. They are a strong team, but if we play at the same intensity that we played in the semi-final, we’ll be fine.”
Melbourne Victory midfielder Alex Chidiac was in outstanding form in Sunday’s Preliminary Final win over Melbourne City, and admits the experience of last year’s Grand Final against Sydney FC is a major plus for her and her team.
“It’s massive. You can’t compare a Grand Final to any other game. It all comes down to who shows up on the day. Having played in one last year, I know what to expect, the nerves, and how to deal with it. We have a lot of girls who have the experience and they can help those who haven’t.”
Focussing on their opponents Sydney FC, Chidiac outlined what she believes Victory need to do to thwart the Harbour City side’s threat on Sunday.
“We know that their players thrive on confidence, so we know me just must not let them get too far forward. We have to shut them down early to prevent them from getting on the front foot and getting ahead early.”
The 17-cap Matilda reflected on the greater defensive organization that the team have now and how it can provide a foundation to a win in the Grand Final as well.
“Losing Kayla (Morrison) so early (through injury) was a massive loss. It took us quite a while to get some structure back. We spent a lot of time in training working on organization but we’ve got it together at the right time.”
“After last year, we came back focussed on wanting to do the same again. We’re so keen for that.”
Melbourne Victory head coach Jeff Hopkins praised the quality that his players have shown in recent weeks, particularly defensively. “I would not swap any of our players at the moment, they’re all in such good form. The back four are so solid and have Casey (Dumont) playing well behind them.”
“Casey says it as she sees it on the pitch. She will hold people accountable around her, and I really like that in a goalkeeper. She’s come off an injury with her Achilles tendon that kept her out for a while and then got COVID. She hasn’t had much time to prepare and play. As the weeks have gone by she’s got better and better – training session after training session, game after game. The save she made on Sunday from Stotty (Rebekah Stott of Melbourne City), how she got to it, I just don’t know.
“We lost our captain (Kayla Morrison) in the first game this season. She has been around the place all season, but you do need a leader out on the field. Lia (Privitelli) has been that person and she has really taken the role on with open arms. I’m not sure if she realizes how important she has been and the way she has encouraged the players. She is very much team first and puts everyone else before her. I really admire that trait in a leader and the girls all look up to her. She’ll be vital for us.”
In terms of preparations for the Grand Final, Hopkins said: “The players have had light sessions at the start of the week and get some tactical work done later in the week. We’ll travel in the same way and at the same time, just add one or two things in terms of making the week and the game a bit more special. We want to enjoy this week, remembering what we do and how we do it.”
The former Crystal Palace and Fulham defender recognized that, despite facing a hard task on Sunday, his team has every right to be confident.
“We’re really looking forward to the game. We understand it will be a tough ask for us. Sydney are a very, very good side. I have a lot of respect for their coach and their side. If you go back a few weeks to the game against them here, it gives us a lot of confidence from the way we came back from 2-0 down and the Grand Final last year, it is something to hold onto and get a boost from.”
He also had some positive news about player availability for the game. “We came out of a very difficult and heavy period on our bodies and over the past three weeks we’ve come out with no injuries and the same again ahead of the Grand Final. There’s some stiffness as the performance last weekend against City saw them have to go to another level.
“To beat Sydney we will now have to go to a place we’ve never been before. We have a great group of players though and we’re doing it for each other.”
This is the start of six days of Grand Final coverage on Impetus. Kieran Yap and Kris Goman will be spotlighting both finalists, Ben Gilby will be reporting on the Grand Final, with Kris Goman pitchside providing EXCLUSIVE photos from the game. Next week, don’t miss Kieran Yap’s Grand Final analysis.