*Remember on your phone, you can swipe on the photos!
They’re fresh from claiming the Premiership with a win against fellow finalists Melbourne Victory. Next up is a Canberra United team who recently held the Premiers to a goalless draw to qualify for the semi-finals. Do Canberra stand a chance in this cut-throat do-or-die thriller at Kogarah? Of course, anything can happen. A four-goal haul last time the two teams met at Netstrata Stadium must make the Sky Blues clear favourites, but that latest stalemate at Viking Park shows that this is not quite the all-conquering, free-scoring Sydney FC that we saw at the beginning of the W-League campaign.
It’s a hot morning at the Macquarie University sports fields in the North Western suburbs of Sydney. It may be Good Friday and well before 9am, but the car park is filling up. Players from both the men’s and women’s teams are filtering in casually, all looking relaxed. The women’s team is kitted up and ready for training, and make a start in the gym, loosening battle-bruised bodies from Wednesday night’s Premiership success. There is a spring in their step as the team make their way up the steep hill towards their training venue for the day. The Ross Gwilliam field, named after a long-standing president of the University cricket club in the 1970s, is not the pristine field you would expect to see an elite football team playing on, but this is not a session requiring intricate ball work on the floor.
The eloquent Natalie Tobin stays back at the club house and answers questions for the equally articulate Hugo McWilliam of Fox Sports before racing off to join her colleagues. Ryan McGowan then follows her in to shoot a piece about the big blue A-League encounter with Melbourne Victory on Easter Sunday. It is clear that both sets of players have the utmost respect for each other. The sight of Courtnee Vine, right leg in a restrictive knee brace, limping up the hill to follow her teammates brings it home that she will be missing when it counts. She is in good spirits though. She is part of a tight-knit family of players and coaching staff.
Training looks like a lot of fun. This is not intensive fitness or tactics, head coach Ante Juric, standing a good six inches above the majority of the players, is interested in getting bodies moving and giving the team a good run out. Ball work of volleys and headers turns into a full-blooded game of netball, with goals only to be scored with a header. The players are all into it. There are definitely netball skills from years gone by on show and the players are shrieking and encouraging each other to move the ball quickly. Players are smiling, there is laughter from the side lines, this is as good as training gets, surely.
We leave the session as the players grab a drink. They’ve been running constantly for fifteen minutes without really realising it. The mood is upbeat. This is a team with focus and with one goal on their minds. So, who is going to stop them? Are we going to see Canberra throw caution to the wind and relish in their underdog status? If it’s not Canberra, we only have six days to wait for the Grand Final, and that will be in Sydney too if the Sky Blues make it through. With Brisbane Roar being stripped of some of their major assets ahead of the finals and Melbourne Victory already a scalp in the last week, surely this is a great opportunity for Sydney FC to wrap up the double.
Find out as the semi-finals take place over Easter, with the final next Sunday at 4pm.