Ben Gilby reports on all of the four competing sides’ media events from earlier today (14/4/23).
Melbourne City v Melbourne Victory
Melbourne City head coach Dario Vidosic has revealed that Holly McNamara is “fine” and poised to play a part in his team’s do-or-die Semi-Final with Melbourne Victory tomorrow.
McNamara was withdrawn from the Matildas squad after their game against Scotland in Wimbledon on Good Friday, but Vidosic told the media today that his young star is capable of playing tomorrow.
“She’s fine, she’s good. She came back, it’s just the management of her. She is just back from an ACL injury, and having a long international flight there, reintroducing herself to the Matildas camp. It just gives her (the early return from the UK) the best preparation for the Finals.”
The City boss also has had two of his Football Ferns stars away on international duty in Europe, and has to weigh up their condition. “They are a little bit tired after a long international flight from Turkey. We will evaluate but they are top players. We’ll see how they are. They all want to play tomorrow.”
Whilst having key players thousands of kilometres away and only returning just ahead of such a vital match is far from ideal, Vidosic prefers this to the days when the competition did not include breaks for international matches.
“Last year we lost the Premiership because we didn’t have an international break and we had both our New Zealanders leave and so it is better this way. You can’t prepare as well as you may want, but you have your internationals here, which is a bonus.”
Looking ahead to tomorrow’s big game against cross-city rivals and defending champions Melbourne Victory, Vidosic believes his team are ready to right the wrongs of earlier matches this season.
“When you lose, that’s when you learn the most. From the Melbourne (Victory) and Sydney games, we lost our structure. We’re familiar now with how Victory will play, and all the other teams (in the Finals). We have to be more ruthless, more calm when we’re in the final third. It doesn’t matter how well you play, it’s how well you put the ball in the back of the net.”
Melbourne Victory head coach Jeff Hopkins goes into tomorrow’s Semi-Final derby showdown with the rare luxury of having a large pool of players to select from.
Given the amount of injuries and departure of key players during the season, Hopkins has had to work hard to shape a Victory squad to qualify for the Finals, and the head coach believes that the extra week to prepare for this match benefits his team greatly.
“Most seasons we would have wanted to roll straight into next week (from the end of the regular season). But the way the season finished was a downer (the lost lead at Wellington), we had knocks so it’s helped us to get players fit and back on the field, and get over the disappointment of the last 15 minutes of that game in Wellington and the emotion of the day afterwards (when Finals qualification was confirmed). It’s been of benefit to us. We have everyone fit now.”
Reflecting on those personnel difficulties that Victory have had to overcome during the season, Hopkins said: “If you consider we lost a number of our key players through injury and leaving – ‘Chids’ – we’ve lost KK recently, Zimm with a broken leg, we’ve been up against it, but when you lose players you sometimes can’t replace than and readjust the team to suit the strengths of who you are bringing in. It took a while, but I think we’re getting there now.”
Preparations have been going well, and the defending champions are confident and in good spirits ahead of the time of the season when they step up.
“They are relaxed. They were expecting to be here. Now we are here, we are comfortable going into the game with the experience we had in the past…In training, the first time all season, they were all waiting for me.”
Opponents Melbourne City’s style of play is well known, but with Victory leading the stats for regaining possession, Hopkins sees the key to tomorrow’s battle.
“Those stats don’t come by chance. It’s something we work on, it’s part of our DNA as a team. City are a very good side and play the game the right way. I have a lot of respect for them as a team. It’s is about putting pressure on high up the field. They back themselves to play through pressure. that’s a key part of the game.
“They are a high-pressing team and we want to play out from the back as well. In both back thirds, it is a key area for both teams. If we can play out well against their press and pressure, then I feel once we get through that first line of the press, there are opportunities for us to hurt them.”
Sydney FC v Western United
Charlotte Mclean is back in contention to return this weekend after suffering a fractured cheekbone against Sunday’s opponents Western United during the regular season.
The defender spoke to the media today about the challenging time she had in rehab and how she is overjoyed to be back.
“It was pretty tough. The first two weeks were bed rest and I lost a lot of weight which wasn’t great knowing I had a short turnaround before I could be back on the field. I was focusing on getting back to the gym. This week I started back full contact training. I was a bit hesitant with headers and tackles and that, but it’s fine.
“I think that whenever you have a bit og forced time out, it makes you so grateful to be back, and I’m so excited to play some role on Sunday…I feel happy and confident to slot straight back in. These are the games you want to play.”
Confidence is high in the Sydney camp having just sealed a third successive Premier’s Plate. It’s a situation that Mclean puts down to the sense of togetherness in the squad.
“It’s important to remember we’ve all played a massive role. The girls who have come to training every week but not played, they are all part of it. I love it so much I’m so grateful for Ante (Juric, head coach) bringing me here and the girls supporting me throughout I don’t know how many times in my career I’ll have a chance to be in a team like this.
“We’re confident, obviously they (Western United) are a great team. What they have achieved has been awesome. They have great players but I back us…We’re looking at tactical things that we can exploit from Western United.”
Mclean also feels that the team will benefit from having the week off before the Finals began as a result of the recent international window. Its been a chance to rest some weary bodies.
“All of us have felt it. It’s been heavy on our bodies. We’ve gone from having a 10-game season to a 12-game season to an 18-game season, so that FIFA window came at the right time. We got to re-set ourselves, so it was definitely a good thing.”
The Sydney FC defender ended with some positive news on Cortnee Vine, who left the pitch during the Matildas’ superb win over England earlier this week.
“She is being assessed this afternoon with a scan, but I don’t think there’s too much to worry about.”
Mark Torcaso stated today that his team are “prepared and ready to go” ahead of Sunday’s match at Sydney FC which will see the winner progress straight to the Grand Final.
Looking back over Western United’s superb first season, Torcaso told the media today: “We wanted to make sure in our first season that we were very good straight away. So to finish runners-up and play Finals football is important for us. The club should be proud, the players have been excellent, the staff have been excellent.
Whilst the Victorian side’s head coach recognised that his side has a tough job on their hands needing to beat Sydney FC away, he is confident that his players will pull it off.
“Sydney are one of the strongest sides in the comp, if not the strongest. We’re one and one with them (win and loss) so we’ll just put together what we’ve been working on the last two weeks and put it on the park. Tactically we’re well prepared, and we’re ready to beat them.”
Going into the game, there has been talk about the lack of A-League Women Finals experience among a number of the Western United squad, but Torcaso believes his players are more than aware of what Finals football is like.
“It’s important to look at the fact that some of our girls have been involved in Finals football before, just not at this level. Some of them know how to adjust. Some have played play-offs overseas. It’s about them bringing their skills to make us ready for this Final.”