Pride on the line in first football final
Coach Gareth Turnbull says the Mainland Pride's first national women's league grand final could be their best chance of winning the title.
A Mainland win over two-time champions Northern in Auckland tomorrow would crown the most memorable year in Canterbury women's football history.
Coastal Spirit created the clamour by becoming the first Canterbury team in 19 years to win the National Knockout Cup title with a victory over North Harbour club Glenfield Rovers at English Park in September - on the same day the Cashmere Technical men's team won the Chatham Cup.
Nine of the cup-winning Coastal team are in the Mainland Pride representative squad for the national league grand final.
''It would be hard to emulate if we win the National Cup and the national league in the same season,'' Turnbull said.
''We'd be the toast of the town, I would hope.''
He's also mindful it could be the end of an era with some players, including goalkeeper and captain Lily Alfeld, likely to leave next year to train in Auckland with the New Zealand under-20 World Cup squad or to pursue college scholarship opportunities in the United States.
''If we are going to win it, there's no better opportunity than this weekend, that's for sure,'' Turnbull said.
Northern have won the last two grand finals and inflicted Mainland's only defeat of the season with a 3-1 victory at English Park last month.
Mainland took the lead in the 75th minute but conceded an equaliser immediately and were twice caught on the break as they pushed forward in a bid to wrest back the lead.
But Turnbull is backing his defence, who shut out Capital 2-0 in last week's semifinal, to contain Northern tomorrow.
''Northern are a strong, physical team and they've got a lot of threats with plenty of pace up front. They have a very direct style, they don't play out from the back very often.
''But I think we've got enough back in our backline to combat that.''
Turnbull is a firmer believer that defence wins championships and he has a useful unit in front of keeper Alfeld. Centreback Meikayla Moore and fullback Laura Merrin have plenty of skill and speed.
Football Fern Annalie Longo, who played for beaten finalists Auckland last season, is the key to making the Canterbury midfield tick and New Zealand under-20 international Lauren Dabner adds a creative edge since her return from a knee injury.
The Northern attack will be led by former Football Fern Katie Rood, supported by Hannah Hokesema and Tiffany Paterson.
* A Canterbury women's football team has only once won a New Zealand title - in 1996 when they beat Waikato 2-0 in the tournament final in Christchurch.
* Canterbury were beaten finalists in 1980, 1982, 1993, 1995, 2001.
* This is the first time the Mainland Pride has made the national league grand final since the concept was introduced in 2002.
* Auckland (6), Northern (2) and Capital are the only previous grand final winners.
* Tomorrow's final will be played at North Harbour Stadium in Auckland. Kickoff: Noon.
Mainland Pride: Lily Alfeld (c, gk), Geena Gross, Emily Jensen, Meikayla Moore, Laura Merrin, Whitney Hepburn, Emma Proctor, Annalie Longo, Lauren Dabner, Bel van Noorden, Aimee Phillips, Maia Vink, Chloe Webster, Tessa Lewis, Liz Gilchrist/Johanna Hamblett, Briar Guyan (res.gk). Coaches: Gareth Turnbull, Alana Gunn.
Northern Football: Pam Yates (gk), Hannah Hoeksema, Casey Ridsdale, Tayla O'Brien, Kate Seatter, Chloe Knott, Stacey Hallford, Katie Rood, Tiffany Paterson, Brittany Coleman, Dallas Olsen, Liz Milne, Estelle Harrison, Briar McNamara, Nicole Stratford, Elise Donovan (res.gk).
DID YOU KNOW?
Defenders Emily Jensen and Geena Gross live and train in Nelson and commute to Christchurch on Fridays to link with the rest of the Mainland Pride squad. Jensen has been playing in a national secondary schools touch tournament in Auckland this week.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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