In the concluding second part of her chat with Impetus’ Ben Gilby, Balcatta Etna defender Tahlia D’Opera outlines why the Western Australian NPL club is so special to her, discusses coaching the next generation, and outlines her aims for this season in this week’s WA On Wednesday feature (27/4/22).
Above: Tahlia D’Opera (3) celebrates with her teammates after winning the 2021 NPL WA Women’s Night Series. Photo: Fotoenzo. Supplied by Tahlia D’Opera.
The sheer love and pride that Tahlia D’Opera has for Western Australian NPL club Balcatta Etna is infectious.
“Without a doubt, the chemistry and unity amongst the Balcatta Etna girls is indescribable and we share such a unique bond. Most of the girls there I have known for up to 10 years who I share such a special relationship with – Gabby Dal Busco, Monique Godding, Kim McCartney, Alanah Veroni, Epril Nossent, Cass Harvey – we have tackled the highs and lows together, created lifelong memories and celebrated life’s milestones. I’m not sure you could find this anywhere else.
I played my first ever game for the Red and Blue alongside Alanah Veroni, and I played my 100th in the same position. I’d do anything for the girls at Balcatta Etna and it is an honour to play and train alongside them each week.
“This year marks my tenth year at the club. I am honoured and grateful each time I get to play in the Red and Blue – This club will always be special to me.
“I’ve been brought up in a family that value community, inclusiveness, and relationships, and have always been generous in their support. My Mum’s family are from a small country town, so being active voluntary members of sporting clubs and giving back to the community through time and charity is indoctrinated in us.
“Furthermore, in 2016 myself and my twin sister Monique played a role in establishing the Soccer Bambini Program at Balcatta Etna FC, a program designed to introduce children aged three to five years to football.
“What started with a handful of players, has grown to near 50 enrolments with a waitlist, being the most profitable element of the club. Completing this voluntarily for five years, Monique and myself officially handed over duties to focus on our careers as physiotherapists and tackle other projects.
“We were very fortunate to complete this with former Perth Glory W-League Assistant and NTC coach Jessine Bonzas who projected her knowledge and foundational coaching skills.
“Balcatta reverting back to Balcatta Etna for this season has also been special in recognising the club’s founding Italian members. From an Italian culture and background myself, this piece of history is very strong in acknowledging those families who migrated and established such a club on the basis of loving the game and being together with friends and family.”
Balcatta went into last season on the back of winning the pre-season Night Series – a period which Tahlia describes as “simply phenomenal.”
“Tim Cash was appointed as Head Coach after Lisa Tana’s retirement, and we had only a short time frame to implement a new structure and tactic. The girls trained hard and responded really well, and we were rewarded for our efforts in the pre-season. Coming from behind to beat Fremantle City in the Semi-Final, and then to go 2-0 up in the opening 10 minutes and beat Murdoch University Melville in the Final was incredible.
“We had mixed results throughout the 2021 season and at times we struggled to find consistency. Looking back on the season, we were affected by injuries that impacted our depth on occasions. Having said this, we displayed some excellent execution of tactics and structure throughout the season.
“Kim McCartney was influential for us consistently all season and we had a few individual achievements, including Ash Panaia’s Goal of the Week recognitions. Despite finishing runner’s-upp in the State Cup, it was credit to the team for performing in another knock-out tournament.
“The appointment of Tim Cash has been important for the NPLW at Balcatta Etna. He has steered us in a promising direction with his philosophy, values, and pillars for female football and his expertise is invaluable.”
This year saw Balcatta Etna take their defence of the Night Series trophy all the way to the Grand Final where they took on the Northern Redbacks. It was a challenging few weeks for Tahlia and her teammates.
“We had a tough Night Series campaign, which opened with a 3-0 loss to the Northern Redbacks. We were quick to learn that this season was to be like no other, with players ruled out to due COVID-19 isolation requirements and having to quickly adapt our positioning and formation.
“The final against Northern Redbacks was gruelling, lasting the duration of 120 minutes into extra time where we couldn’t hold on against a strong and experienced Redbacks side. We pressed well at the start, scoring two goals again in the opening 10 minutes, but I think we lacked the game management and experience to see out the match.
“As a team, we grew exponentially during the campaign and gelled really well together. We can’t forget the efforts displayed to get to the Final, such as the equaliser from substitute Angelique Alberts, and jaw-dropping freekick from Georgia Cawley in the Semi-Final against Fremantle City.
“We’ll take the lessons from the Final, both physically and mentally into the season and look to build in these areas, particularly as our young players mature and develop more experience in those situations. We know as a team the level we are capable of playing and it’ll be up to us to find that form and consistency during the season with the coaching staff.”
Tahlia believes that Balcatta Etna are in a good place to build on two successive Night Series Finals and aim for a place in the top four this season.
“As an NPLW Club, we are really pushing for a top-four finish, which I believe is certainly achievable with our playing group, coaching staff, and support from the club.
“We have had a few coaching changes with the appointment of Steve Atkins and Yash Pratap, and the transition of Tim Cash into a Board Member role, which has been very positive in promoting women’s football at Balcatta Etna.
“Steve prioritises team culture, which we know is essential in any team’s success and Yash brings a wealth of world-class tactical and technical knowledge which he has gained from his own experiences playing at the highest level in several Premier Leagues worldwide. Together they complement each other well and I believe they can develop and bring out the best in our squad.
“We have recruited really well with several signings into the squad that all bring unique flare and different elements to the team. For example, Monique Prinsloo is an emerging young player with a spark and hunger for goals, Georgia Cawley brings such composure and experience to our defence line.
“I think if we take each game in our stride, trust each other and work hard together, then the success and results will take care of themselves.
“My personal aims are to improve my distribution capability, composure on the ball, and presence in defence, together will maintaining my health for the duration of the season.”
In terms of the wider WA NPLW competition this season, Tahlia believes that it could well be more wide open than ever.
“The Night Series proved, at times it will be unpredictable with clubs relying on their depth and player versatility to play different roles. Having said this, Perth RedStar (formerly Northern Redbacks) are looking strong, with Fremantle City and Perth SC also being the teams to beat.
“A lot of conversation has been around the departure of many skilled players from Murdoch Melville University, Baxter Thew and Ellie La Monte to name a couple. This calibre of players bring so much experience and class to the league so their departure to pursue their own football aspirations has certainly diluted some of the talent here in Western Australia. It definitely sparks conversation about the pathway of female football in WA. However, this leaves an opportunity for competitive young players to step up and play at the NPLW level.”
The first part of this interview can be read here: https://impetusfootball.org/2022/04/20/tahlia-dopera-balcatta-etna-through-and-through/
This week’s weekly round-up of all the NPL WA Women’s competition on Impetus can be read here: https://impetusfootball.org/2022/04/25/npl-wa-women-round-four-wrap/