The North Coast Football Women’s First Division is coming to a close, and once again the Boambee Eagles have dominated the competition, securing the Premiership with 3 rounds to go, and looking the most likely to win the grand Final based on the results this season.
Glenn Bennett’s side have passed every test they have faced in 2017 with flying colours. As it stands, they have 12 wins from 12 games, with 68 goals scored and only 12 against. Though the Eagles went into the season 4 players light of the squad who authored a commanding 6-1 grand final triumph over Maclean in last year’s grand final, they have retained the same core nucleus of players that have delivered the club much success in this competition over recent years.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing for the Eagles, who experienced some teething problems during the competition’s nascent pre-split stages as numbers proved hard to come by due to mounting injuries. Coach Bennett credits the willingness of the 2nd division players to back up as being integral to keeping the club in a strong position and has sung the praises of his squad’s character, remaining supportive of one another and engendering a spirit of encouragement around the traps each week. Beyond the obvious talent throughout the squad, Bennett believes his players’ communication and willingness to be there for one another have been the key factors in elevating them above their rivals throughout the season so far.
“We had a hard time with the structure of the competition at the start of the season before the split due to the amount of players we had, girls playing with injuries and playing short. Once the full season started it made it easier having the 2nd Div players coming off the bench. We would probably not be in this position if it wasn’t for those girls helping each week.
“It was definitely hard keeping the girls motivated at the start and middle of the season but now they have their sights set on the Grand Final. Unlike last year, this year we are undefeated and would like to continue that with the last 2 games for the year. The girls are very talented and play well as a team each week. I believe the reason they win is due to them being there for each other, supporting, encouraging and communicating.”
With the leadership of Krista Paunovic in the backline and the potent attacking threat of Kylie McDonald providing constant headaches for opposition defences, they will be looking to continue their momentum into their final two regular season fixtures against Orara, who they put 11 past without reply on Saturday, and Coffs, who they recorded a strong 7-0 victory against last time the two sides met at Ayrshire Park.
Heading into the final two rounds, there is still a real tussle for finals positions as Maclean, Woolgoolga and Urunga could all still snatch second, while the unsung success story of this season’s competition, Dorrigo Cedars, are still in with a genuine shout for fourth spot. Last season saw second and fifth separated by only 3 points, and it looks as if we could be in for a similar jostle for positions this time around, with second and fifth separated by 3 points as things currently stand – interestingly, with the top 4 positions exactly the same as those of 2016, in order.
Last season’s grand finalists, Maclean Bobcats, continue going from strength to strength and will be looking to secure a second consecutive appearance at the big dance. Going from a season total of 7 points and a -44 goal difference in 2015 to a being the Eagles’ closest challengers in 2016 is one of the more remarkable stories of the competition in recent seasons, and the Bobcats have proven they are no one season wonder by backing up with a strong season that has included 5-2 and 6-1 wins over Woolgoolga as well as a narrow 3-2 loss to Boambee in what was one of the Eagles’ toughest assignments thus far in 2017.
Woolgoolga too have had a strong season up to this point, despite dealing with a lengthy list of players on the treatment table and reserves unable to back up. Wildcats captain-coach Kim Batty believes the change in competition structure has been difficult for the Northern Beaches side to overcome, but there is certainly still much to be proud of – though they will no doubt be disappointed to have dropped both games against close challengers Maclean by convincing margins, these have been their only hiccups in an otherwise very consistent season.
Urunga too will be desperate to secure full points from that game as they have a potentially treacherous Maclean-Woolgoolga diptych to navigate in order to close out the season on a high note and secure finals football. The Raiders too have strung together a couple of excellent performances against the Eagles to stay in the hunt with narrow 2-0 and 3-1 defeats, as well as going one and one with Dorrigo and drawing their game against Maclean.
Despite their current table position of fifth, the Dorrigo Cedars may well be the best success story of the competition this season aside from the Eagles. Making their first appearance in the Premier League competition – jumping up from the third tier after an imperious 2016 season that saw them win 23 straight games, scoring 183 goals and conceding only 8 en route to a Premiership/Championship double – the club have no reserve grade side to draw upon and a number of young girls who have stepped up to the pace and skill of the top grade, improving in leaps and bounds over the course of the year.
Drawing upon a comparatively tiny catchment, Mick Kelsall’s girls from the 2453 have held their own against their much more established and fancied Coffs Coast opponents, only failing to beat two clubs – Boambee and Woolgoolga – so far this season. Despite a few injuries to key players, Kelsall says the main focus this season was to develop structure on the field, and the Cedars have certainly done that with aplomb, showcasing a pacy brand of football along with slick passing interchanges and quality finishing in their recent victories over Orara, 3-0, and Coffs United, 4-1.
Tigers will be less satisfied with how their season has panned out results-wise but still pleased to make their Premier League return. After withdrawing from the competition at the end of the 2012 season, many of the Tigers players went across to Northern Storm – as Sawtell’s players mostly migrated to Boambee that same year – and played key roles in the Cyclones side which in turn folded at the conclusion of the 2016 season. Now Tigers are back in business in the top grade and it’s reasonable to expect it will take some time to rebuild before they will be challenging for finals positions.
In any case, the competition is better off for having them here and they should be proud of a season that has at this point seen them outperform two clubs in Coffs and Orara. It will be a tall order to try and pick up results against Dorrigo and Woolgoolga but they will be doing their best to spring a late season surprise.
Long time competition heavyweights Coffs United Lionesses will be disappointed to go a second consecutive season without finals football and things won’t get any easier with games against Dorrigo and Boambee still to come. In a strange quirk, the Lionesses were the only side in the 2016 competition other than the Eagles with a positive goal difference, but were desperately unfortunate to miss out on a finals appearance entirely after suffering a last gasp 2-1 defeat to fellow challengers Urunga courtesy of a stoppage time penalty on the final day.
This time around there will be no such down to the wire action for Coffs, but they will be looking to salvage some pride and build towards next season after losing many of their standout performers over the last couple of years. With no 2nd division side to draw on, it was always going to be a difficult assignment for the Lionesses but if they can muster some canny off season recruitment, they should be right back there amongst the contenders by the time a ball is kicked in 2018.
Another club who have returned to first division after some time away is Orara. The Dingoes haven’t been seen in the top grade since the 2014 season but had a strong 2016 in 2nd division, finishing 2nd in the Premiership with a +80 goal difference over 19 games and going down 4-2 to Dorrigo in a closely contested grand final. Unfortunately for the Dairyville side, this success hasn’t yet translated to the upper echelons of the local women’s game, but they will undoubtedly be gaining a lot out of the experience and will hope to mount more of a challenge next season.
Like the Lionesses and Tigers, the Dingoes have had to contend with the difficulty of not being able to draw on a 2nd division side for squad depth, so the 2017 season was going to be an uphill battle from the outset. Closing out the season against the competition’s top two sides, Boambee and Maclean, is a rather unenviable task, but the Dingoes should use these games as a learning experience and take note of how the title contenders are operating.