The prodigious skills of Briar Palmer have already been on show in some far-flung locations, such as Azerbaijan, Canada and Australia. But tomorrow she will look to dazzle a bit closer to home as her Capital side take on WaiBOP for a place in the National Women’s League grand final.
The former New Zealand age-group international is sure to be a key figure in the preliminary final at Petone’s Memorial Park after being at the heart of much of Capital’s best attacking moments throughout the season.
Both sides have almost identical records going into Sunday’s match after winning four, drawing once and suffering only one defeat in their six round robin games. The previous encounter between the pair resulted in a 2-2 draw but Palmer believes Capital have every reason to be optimistic of a victory this time.
“To be honest, we’re really confident going into it,” she says. “We know they have a few key players that we’ll definitely have to watch out for but I don’t think there’s anything to be too scared of – we’re all really excited.”
WaiBOP are coming off the back of an energy-sapping win over defending champions Northern while Capital were able to take things a bit easier last weekend with the bye – a turn of events Palmer feels could prove to have been in Capital’s favour.
“It was nice to have the weekend off, we did a bit of rehab and some training on our own but we’ve worked hard at training this week. We’re all really focused and know what we have to do to get the win on Sunday so I think having that bye will prove beneficial.”
Something that has certainly been beneficial to the Capital cause so far is the presence of Palmer, who has returned to her roots after time in Auckland and Australia. A native of Wellington, Palmer represented her country at the 2012 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Azerbaijan before moving to Auckland prior to the U-20 World Cup two years later in Canada. She then headed across the Tasman and linked up with Melbourne Victory for a one-season stint in the W-League before taking time out from football to add a few more stamps to her passport.
“I took a year off and just went travelling,” she explains. “That was really nice and I guess having that break is what made me more excited to get back into it. So when I did come back I was super motivated and ready to go.”
Capital have reaped the rewards of that motivation and co-coach Emma Evans says the attitude of a rejuvenated Palmer has set the benchmark for the rest of the squad, both on and off the pitch.
“It’s been great having her back involved and a lot of people talk about her on-pitch performances,” Evans says.
“But what’s made even more of an impact is the younger girls being able to see how hard she works at training and what she does away from the field in her own time. She’s always at training early, communicates with all the players and is a real role model. We’ve got a lot of value out of that side of her and you can’t really fault her as a leader amongst our group.”
The 21-year-old is humble about the influence of her personal contribution but is pleased with how things have unfolded in her homecoming.
“Coming back into it, I was just really keen to get fit again. I wasn’t too fit coming into it but I think progressively I’ve gained more fitness and I’ve been stoked to be coming into training every day because we’ve got great coaches and the girls are all really self-motivated, which is always good to be around. I hope I’ve added a bit to the team but the girls have all done really well so it’s a credit to them,” Palmer says.
As much as she has enjoyed being back on her old stomping ground, her sights are set on another stint overseas and the lure of a professional contract – not to mention pulling on the silver fern at senior level one day.
“I’m definitely thinking about playing overseas again, it was a good experience in Australia but I’ve already been there now so I’m pretty keen to try somewhere else. I’d probably be looking at going to Europe, I haven’t worked it out yet but I do enjoy being in that sort of environment,” she says.
“That’s what I’m striving for at the moment but the Football Ferns is obviously always a goal. Playing for my country would be amazing and an awesome experience.”
The perfect way to catch the eye of selectors and scouts alike would be to inspire Capital to the National Women’s League title, the next step towards which takes place tomorrow against WaiBOP.
Capital midfielder Briar Palmer
National Women’s League Preliminary Final
Capital vs WaiBOP
Memorial Park, Wellington
Sunday 4 December, 1pm
Capital: 1. Anna Wittmann-Wenzel (GK), 2. Francesca Grange, 3. Tessa McPherson, 4. Michaela Robertson, 5. Ella Wilson, 7. Emily Morison, 8. Katie Barrott, 9. Jayme-Lee Hunter, 10. Emma Main, 11. Briar Palmer, 12. Kennedy Bryant, 13. Lena De Ronde, 15. Maggie Jenkins, 16. Mikaela Hunt, 17. Asha Strom, 18. Natasha Ingram (GK)
Co-coaches: Emma Evans, Sam Morrissey
WaiBOP: 1. Georgia Candy (GK), 2. Kate Williams, 3. Serena Murrihy, 4. Hannah Reid, 5. Michaela Foster, 6. Leanna Ryan, 7. Helen Talbot, 8. Sarah Krystman, 9. Leah Gubb, 10. Naomi Courtney-Tennent, 11. Katherine Robinson, 12. Ella Golding, 13. Helen Arjomandi, 15. Emma Cawte, 20. Chelsea Elliott, 21. Amanda Wilshier (GK)
Coach: Barry Gardiner