by Kieran Yap (5/8/22)
Above: Grace Taranto gets a shot away against Bayside United. Photo: Gold Leaf Creative.
The Nike FC Cup final between South Melbourne and Calder United promises to be one of the best games of Victoria’s women’s season. The statewide knockout competition has come down to traditional powerhouses South Melbourne and 2022’s most consistent side, Calder United.
Based on league standings, the seventh-placed South Melbourne come into the final as underdogs. However, their strong cup form and incredible semi-final win, and quality on the pitch, gives them a good chance of lifting the trophy.
After trailing 2-0 to an in-form Heidelberg United, South Melbourne staged a remarkable comeback to score three times and reach the final. Goals from Janna Lawson, Georgia Kandilas, and Grace Taranto helped to shape one the most remarkable comebacks in the history of the competition.
“It was a very exciting, intense game,” Taranto told Impetus.
“Being 2-0 down is always a bit of a sickening feeling. But throughout the season, South as a team have proven our resilience multiple times, and we all love each other and know how capable we all are of absolutely anything and won’t give up until the 90-minute whistle sounds.”
Taranto is still just 19 years old but has built a reputation as one of Victoria’s best defenders. In the Semi Final win, she moved into midfield, her composed finish levelled the scores just a minute into the second half, setting up an epic win.
With nothing to lose, South Melbourne surged to victory, according to Taranto it was built on belief, determination, and support.
“It was a high risk, high reward game for us,” she said. “That’s how we played and at the end of the day that’s what got us the result.”
Although South Melbourne’s league form has been inconsistent, they have been compelling viewing. Dramatic moments and tight contests have been hallmarks of their season.
Salvaging a draw from the jaws of defeat in the last second against Alamein was another example of their belief and grit. Despite being a goal down and a player down, they found a way.
“The best thing for Cup finals and any game in fact is just having an array of experience in different games,” says Taranto.
“From this you learn how to play based on the situation. The Alamein game is just another example of not dropping your heads and keep pushing to the last minute. The Semi-final was an enthralling contest. After South Melbourne took the lead through Kandilas’s 73rd-minute strike, they had to survive Heidelberg’s star studded attack at their most intense.
Some stunning team and individual defending saved the day for South Melbourne. Holly Murray and Claudia Mihocic held firm at the back. Mihocic in particular was impressive with some spectacular, perfectly timed sliding tackles that have become her trademark.
In front of a fired-up crowd and against one of the best attacks in Victoria, South’s defence stayed composed. According to Taranto, knockout football has a different energy to league games.
“There’s something about Cup games that builds a different atmosphere on the field. Especially night games. South more than anything wants to win this final, so training has been awesome and the team spirit just incredible.”
Taranto’s form with South Melbourne this season has continued her upward trajectory in the game. She earned a contract in Adelaide United’s history-making A-League women’s squad in 2021/22. After a season in the elite environment, she has returned to South Melbourne as one of the NPLW’s star performers.
“Adelaide United has been a major part of my development this year. Training in that environment with such dedicated coaches and talented players, I learnt so much and re-gained confidence that I feel I had lost after two years of lockdown and injuries in Melbourne.
“I came back from Adelaide feeling so motivated and determined to just keep working hard and doing everything I can that would make me a better footballer. I’m so grateful for that incredible experience.
Taranto’s versatility and form this season has earned her another chance at A-League level. Canberra United announced her as one of Njegosh Popovich’s first signings as the club aims to bounce back after missing the finals in 2021/22.
She joins Mihocic, and Murray as South Melbourne players in the top tier. Her return to the club has helped prepare her for this step.
“South has been a great team for me this year, with the coaching staff and players constantly supporting and teaching me. This season South has exposed me to different positions and made me a diverse player, having played in centre back, full back, and now midfield.
“Knowing how to play different positions has strengthened my awareness of the game and this is something that I feel will be very helpful for the upcoming A-league season.
When asked what she is looking forward to most at the three-time premiers, her excitement is obvious.
“Everything! I am so excited to work with Gosh, he’s an amazing coach, and having worked with him before, I know how much he has to offer and I can really see him being a crucial part in my footballing career.”
In the immediate future, there is the Nike F.C Cup Final and a meeting with Calder United. South Melbourne’s opponents this weekend have only lost twice in 2022, but South Melbourne has the weapons to win.
Francesco Iermano, Lawson, and Kat Goff provide pace and creativity, while young striker Bella Stringfellow has hit form at the right time.
According to Taranto, there is no fear of the occasion or opposition.
“Calder is a talented team but so are we. The fact that they are top of the league table doesn’t scare us but more so excited us. We know we are so capable of winning this Final and won’t stop at anything. It would seriously be incredible. South has given me a lot growing up being my second ever football team.
“Being the only girl in an all-boys team, the club always supported me. Now being back years later I would love and do everything I can to give back to the club.”
South Melbourne and Calder United face off for the Nike F.C Cup trophy on Sunday afternoon at Valley Park Events Centre at 4pm.