Over the last four years, Canterbury United Pride have taken out a mortgage on a place in the National Women’s League final but are not currently in possession of the trophy – something coach Mike De Bono says his side are determined to put right against Capital on Sunday.
The Pride are set to meet the Wellingtonians tomorrow afternoon at English Park in Christchurch and will go in as favourites after topping the league, as well as defeating Capital 3-1 in the regular season meeting between the teams.
If they can justify that favouritism, they will earn a third National Women’s League crown in four years and reclaim the title from Northern, who missed out on a place in the play-offs on a dramatic last day of round robin action a fortnight ago.
“There’s a number of girls looking to get back what they lost last year in terms of the trophy,” De Bono says. “Our preparations have been great, we’ve just been focusing on how important this weekend is but not overstating it. We don’t want the girls to go in too hyped up because then they’re not going to last more than 10 minutes. This is our fourth final in a row and it’s been a special week.”
Canterbury United Pride coach Mike De Bono
Reclaiming the title they feel is rightfully theirs is a massive motivating factor for the Pride and De Bono is pleased to have the chance to pull it off on home soil or, more specifically, the artificial turf of English Park.
“It’s huge and it’s even bigger to have it here at home,” he says. “That day two weeks ago was enormous with how it transpired. To have the final here in front of our supporters and sponsors is great – with the work that everyone does it’s nice to have it here to say thanks. Now we need to put on a performance to be able to do that properly.”
Home advantage didn’t count for much a year ago though as Canterbury played host to Northern but couldn’t prevent a 4-3 loss. De Bono’s side will do all they can to avoid a similar outcome on this occasion and their chances of doing so have been boosted significantly by the return of Meikayla Moore.
The Football Ferns defender and New Zealand U-20 captain was named in the Pride squad for the National Women’s League campaign but is yet to step on the pitch in Canterbury colours after needing to first take care of business for her country at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea.
The presence of such a top quality player is likely to prove inspirational for her team mates and Moore is delighted to finally be able to line up alongside them.
“It’s always a true honour for me to come back home and be able to play for Canterbury,” she says. “I’ve been playing for Canterbury since I was 14 and I always take pride in playing for my region. I’m really pleased to be back for the final and the girls have done so well to get this far, I can’t wait for the game.”
Canterbury United Pride defender Meikayla Moore
Fellow defender Emma Clarke took part in last year’s final and is desperate to avoid going through the same disappointment as in that heart-breaking loss to Northern.
“It’s definitely a chance for redemption,” she says. “We slipped away a bit last year but this time we’re really raring to go and are ready to bring back that silverware. Defensively, we need to be sound but we can also exploit wide in those attacking moments as well, I think we can really win it out there.”
As well as the return of Moore and the playmaking qualities of another Fern in captain Annalie Longo, the Pride potentially have a lucky charm on their side. Aimee Phillips appears to be synonymous with National Women’s League success after earning three titles in a row – two with her native Canterbury and then another for Northern during a year-long stint in the City of Sails last season.
Phillips even scored from the penalty spot against her old team in that Northern triumph and will be looking to get on the scoresheet again, this time for the region of her roots.
One particularly interested onlooker at English Park will be Gareth Turnbull, who has links to tomorrow’s final in several different capacities. Turnbull is a former coach of the Pride – leading them to back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014 – and is now Athlete Development Manager for New Zealand Football, as well as coaching the national U-17 women’s team.
He will therefore be keen to cast his eye over the talent on show but also has other matters to attend to as commentator of the live online streaming coverage.
“It’s an exciting week for all involved,” he says. “The players will be buzzing around and wanting to put their best foot forward.”
Turnbull has been impressed by what he has witnessed so far in this year’s edition of the National Women’s League.
“I guess we’ve seen a bit more of a condensing from top to bottom across the board and the results have reflected that,” he says. “A lot more goals have been scored across the league so there’s a more attacking brand of football and a lot more individual play than in the past. That’s exciting when we’re trying to identify key game-breakers who can go on and play international football.”
New Zealand Football Athlete Development Manager Gareth Turnbull
LIVE STREAMING of the National Women’s League final will be available via the New Zealand Football website.
National Women’s League Grand Final
Canterbury United Pride vs Capital Football
English Park, Christchurch
Sunday 11 December
Referee: N Browning
Assistant Referees: S Jones, C Bremner
Fourth Official: D Stevens
Canterbury United Pride: 1. Victoria Esson (GK), 2. Emma Clarke, 3. Rebecca Lake, 5. Meikayla Moore, 6. Chloe Jones, 7. Aimee Phillips, 8. Tahlia Herman-Watt, 10. Annalie Longo, 11. Britney Lee-Nicholson, 12. Gabrielle Rennie, 13. Whitney Hepburn, 16. Ashleigh Ward, 17. Holly Pascoe, 20. Macey Fraser, 22. Jordan Woodward (GK), 24. Sophie Williams
Coach: Mike De Bono
Capital Football: 1. Natasha Ingram (GK), 2. Francesca Grange, 3. Tessa McPherson, 4. Michaela Robertson, 5. Ella Wilson, 6. Nicole Baird, 7. Emily Morison, 8. Katie Barrott, 9. Jayme-Lee Hunter, 10. Emma Main, 11. Briar Palmer, 13. Lena De Ronde, 14. Sarah Marsden, 15. Maggie Jenkins, 16. Mikaela Hunt, 17. Asha Strom
Co-coaches: Emma Evans, Sam Morrissey