GRAND FINAL PREVIEW – NPL 2 NSW WOMEN’S
Wise Philosopher Hayley Williams once wrote “it isn’t real unless you can hold it in your hands”.
For either APIA Leichhardt Tigers or Gladesville Ravens, Championship glory will be real come Sunday night.
The National Premier Leagues 2 NSW Womens competition comes to a conclusion this weekend and will be a fine finale to a fantastic season.
APIA Leichhardt Tigers vs Gladesville Ravens, Sunday 1 September, 5:15pm, Valentine Sports Park #1
This is it for APIA Leichhardt Tigers and Gladesville Ravens. All the hard work this season comes down to Sunday night where the two sides do battle at Valentine Sports Park #1 for the Championship trophy in our National Premier Leagues 2 NSW Womens Grand Final.
How they got here:
The Grand Final will be APIA’s second game in a month due to being Premiers. They won their semi-final against Sutherland Shire FA 4-1 in week 2 of the finals helped by a mesmerizing brace from Amy Dahdah with additional goals from Ash Palombi and Kerrie Ryan. The Tigers were active despite the break with their 17s and Reserve Grade going out in tough fashion last week.
Gladesville have walked a hardest road but is the only road they have ever known this season. A rollercoaster season gave them two bites at the cherry in the semi-finals which was needed after losing to Sutherland Shire FA 2-1 in week 1. They went on to defeat Central Coast 2-nil then avenged their week 1 loss to Sutherland Shire FA in a seven-goal thriller.
Head to Head:
Round 1: APIA Leichhardt Tigers 1 (Ryan) defeated by Gladesville Ravens 2 (Diaz, Vitek)
Round 12: Gladesville Ravens 3 (Ikonomou 2, Zaczek) drew with APIA Leichhardt Tigers 3 (Bridges 2, Palombi)
These two have played two wild encounters this season. Round 1 was an ‘upset’ where Gladesville Ravens brought the curtain down on the festival of football with their late goal. Round 12 saw APIA explode out of the blocks to a 3-1 lead at Christie Park before the Ravens soared back with two Carlie Ikonomou bombs to be the only side undefeated against APIA this year.
Where to start with this star-studded APIA Leichhardt Tigers line-up. Their forwards have combined for a mammoth 68 goals this season – led by Golden Boot Ash Palombi who has relished playing in a side that in her words “set her up with so many chances this year.” Alongside her, Georgia Bridges and Amy Dahdah in their first season mean when they click APIA are in the business of misery for the opponents.
Behind them, is a tireless midfield and defense. Jessica Fallah, Carla Canini and Rebecca Watts that becomes the engine room for the APIA machine. They can chip in with goals as well with Canini’s only goal this season was a bomb against Central Coast Mariners in Round 9.
Last but definitely not least, is their defense. It was the tightest in the competition with 17 goals against in the regular season. Jennifer Bissett is the typical fullback who lunges forward while Jennifer Bennett her partner at the back doesn’t get the headlines.
Palombi earlier this week praised her ability to “never stop working and run her heart out. She won’t let anyone down,” alongside the versatile Kerrie Ryan makes them a tough nut to crack.
Moving onto the Ravens. Much like APIA, their forwards have taken the headlines this season. Emily Diaz piled in 24 goals but her work in concert with Annalise Schiraldi and Kasia Wojtowicz is what makes them tick. The dynamic nature allows Zoe Zaczek to pop up with a goal like the match-winner last weekend and go toe-to-toe with the Premiers.
The Ravens midfield is patrolled expertly by the experienced Carlie Ikonomou. The former W-League star is a threat from anywhere. Long distance bombs have become her trademark this season particularly the pair that helped them to a 3-3 draw against APIA. Next to her, Yume Kashima glides across the field effortlessly and can unlock the defense with her passes.
20-year Ravens veteran Ashleigh Smith is the leader of the defense for Gladesville and puts their success down to “a lot of yelling and strong work from five girls she has beside her.” One of those, Eloise Taylor tasted Grand Final success last year with Sydney Olympic FC and will be keen to repeat the dose on Sunday night.
Now we’re left with the two custodians – Courtney Halpin for APIA and Eri Arikawa for Gladesville. Both are superb shot stoppers with copious amounts of highlight reel saves across the season. Halpin is a mainstay at APIA who has been with them since their time in State League Womens and hopefully Sunday ends better than their 4-2 defeat to SD Raiders in the 2017 final.
Arikawa joined Gladesville Ravens in 2018 and quickly established herself as one of the top custodians in the NPL2NSW Womens competition. This year saw her continue that reputation with her saves and voice from the box important to the fact Gladesville only conceded 18 goals this season.
What the coaches said:
APIA Leichhardt Tigers coach Matt Constantini: “I think Ravens are red hot favourites and should feel confident for the weekend. For us, we’ll have a plan in place like we have every other week. Sunday is considered Round 24 for us as we chase the final trophy.”
Gladesville Ravens coaches Albert and Alex Disciascio: : “Credit goes to my Ravens side as they have raised their standard to the required level this year and we’ve achieved much more than expected. We look forward to the challenge and will stop at nothing to come home with the trophy. Credit to APIA for a tremendous season and we look forward to the encounter.”
Sunday shapes up to be a wonderful finish to the APIA vs Gladesville trilogy. The two sides are packed with talent that are credit to the women’s game. Get down to Valentine Sports Park for the Festival of Football and enjoy!
By Justin Davies (@JustDavies90)