By Tim Klingbiel
The penultimate round of the North Coast Football Women’s 1st Division competition produced another set of results that will lend a sense of intrigue to a blockbuster final showdown on Saturday afternoon. The Eagles kept their perfect season record alive but didn’t have everything their own way in a tough afternoon away to Orara, while another dominant victory to Woolgoolga underlined their finals credentials and victory to Dorrigo kept the possibility of a 4th place finish well and truly alive and turned up the pressure on Urunga after their draw against Maclean.
2017’s Premiers the Eagles kept their winning streak alive but despite the apparent dominance of a 7-3 final scoreline, it certainly wasn’t all one-way traffic as the bottom placed Dingoes put up a gallant effort and threw everything at the girls from Boambee, improving markedly on the previous week’s 11-0 defeat to the same opposition. The fast surface at scenic Dairyville set the tone for an uncharacteristically scrappy display from both sides. Though Glenn Bennett’s girls started well with two goals in the first 10 minutes of the game, the home side stayed in the fight and by the 25-minute mark, the deficit was only 3-2 with the Eagles’ flawless record in some danger. By half time, Boambee held a 5-3 lead but didn’t seem to have hit their stride.
Manager John Walker was more pleased with the second half display and spoke positively of the improved control from both teams and the increased pressure and intensity of the Eagles. Two further goals to the Eagles in the game’s second stanza came as a result of controlled passing and structured interplay, and this will go some way to erasing the minor concerns the closeness of the contest in the first half would have raised.
Walker and Bennett have good reason to be confident of their side’s prospects heading into finals, and while lethal attacker Kylie McDonald continues her excellent form with a hat trick on Saturday afternoon, the Eagles showed their versatility once again with Hannah Steele, Keira Plumbe, Kim Hassett and sweeper Krista Paunovic all contributing on the scoresheet. It is this diversity in attack that makes Boambee such a formidable threat from all areas of the park, but they will need to maintain their own lofty standards in order to stave off the charges of the chasing pack come finals time. They will head to McLean Street on Saturday looking to finish the job of a perfect regular season but will need to keep their wits about them as the Lionesses will have other plans.
A dominant performance on Saturday afternoon at Polwarth Drive saw Woolgoolga come away with a 5-0 victory over the same opposition they had defeated 4-1 the previous week. With 4 straight wins, scoring 21 goals and conceding only 3 along the way, the Wildcats are in menacing form leading up to finals, though those wins have all come against bottom 3 opposition and this weekend’s crunch match against the 4th placed Urunga Raiders will be a good litmus test to see how their current iteration matches up against a top side.
The win over Tigers, in conjunction with Maclean’s draw against Urunga, has seen the Wildcats climb into 2nd position on the ladder, and with a 4 point lead over the Raiders and only one match remaining, the lowest they can mathematically finish from here is 3rd. The gap over the Bobcats, however, is not so clear cut. With the exact same amount of goals scored (47) and goals conceded (25) over the course of 13 games, only a point separates the two clubs, and anything less than a win for the Wildcats is likely to see them drop below their northern challengers once again, with Maclean’s last game against Orara seeing them enter as heavy favourites. The head to head record between the two teams is curiously one sided in the Bobcats’ favour, with 6-1 and 5-2 wins in the two regular season fixtures, so the girls in blue won’t need any extra motivation to get up for an all-feline finals rematch should that scenario ultimately eventuate.
Though Col Stephens’ girls will be disappointed with a 2-2 draw against Urunga that saw them slip out of the 2nd spot that has been theirs for some time, the week off will have given them valuable time to regroup ahead of their final regular season game against Orara Valley. That fixture will offer them the chance to leapfrog Woolgoolga back into 2nd should they fail to take full points against Urunga, though a Woopi loss would mean a draw against the Dingoes would be sufficient by virtue of goal difference.
The last meeting between the Bobcats and Dingoes saw Wherrett Park’s own come away with a convincing 6-1 victory but perhaps smart money would be on it being a more difficult assignment this time around on a quick track at Dairyville, and with the home side turning on a much-improved performance last week to stifle the competition’s top side for the better part of the first half and no doubt desperate to register a win and finish their 2017 campaign on a high note. With a finals appearance already guaranteed, it would be hard to blame the girls in green for having one eye on next week, but the identity of their opponent will be a mystery until the completion of this weekend’s fixtures.
The aforementioned draw against the Bobcats last start has dragged Urunga right back into the fight for a finals position, with surprise packets Dorrigo Cedars breathing down their necks. A win – or draw, due to their excellent goal difference being well beyond the Cedars’ reach – this weekend against Woolgoolga will do the trick but given their Northern Beaches opponents’ recent form, it’s going to take everything the Raiders can muster to secure a result at the Patch. A loss will have them teetering on the precipice, and a Dorrigo win over Coffs Coast Tigers would spell the end of their season should that scenario play out.
It’s been an interesting season for the Raiders, who have picked up maximum points against the bottom 3 sides with a +37 goal difference over 6 games while accruing only 2 points against clubs above them – two draws with Maclean – and splitting their head to head record with Dorrigo 2-0 each way. Following that trend, one would expect them to have a tough time of it against the in form Wildcats, but as last season’s last gasp win to qualify for finals at the Lionesses’ expense, the Raiders are a side capable of turning on some final day magic. The stage is set for a thriller on Saturday afternoon at Morgo Street and it may well be the pick of the bunch for the neutral.
The debut 1st Division campaign for the Cedars could yet yield a maiden finals appearance in what would be one of the more interesting underdog stories of recent seasons. Mick Kelsall’s side ground out a hard fought 4-2 win over Coffs United on the weekend to extend their winning streak to 3 games and put the onus on the Raiders to pick up at least a draw against Woolgoolga to hold them off.
In very warm conditions, the Cedars struck first blood but the Lionesses did not yield. Assistant coach Pete Smith credited a massive effort by Dorrigo’s backline consisting of senior players Barb and Jeanine alongside youngsters Zoe and Maddi with keeping the Lionesses at bay, and the clinical Ash Mackie was also instrumental in ensuring the final result of a hard fought encounter remained in the Cedars’ favour.
With their only remaining fixture to come against Coffs Coast Tigers, the Cedars will fancy their chances to add another 3 points to their tally after running away with a 5-0 triumph in the sides’ previous meeting. Polwarth Drive is one of the truest surfaces in the region and this should suit the Cedars’ playing style, which revolves primarily around rapid counterattacks and fluid passing exchanges as well as disrupting opposition defensive structures.
Coffs Coast Tigers, Coffs City United Lionesses and Orara Valley Dingoes
Saturday proved to be another tough day at the office for the competition’s bottom three sides as all suffered decisive home defeats to their more fancied counterparts. With home games for all three once again this weekend, the difficulty level of the quest for points is unlikely to decrease as Tigers take on a fired up Dorrigo outfit in search of finals football, Coffs United try to stop the Eagles juggernaut as the ladies in white try to complete a perfect 42 point season and Valley host a Bobcats side doing their utmost to reclaim 2nd place on the ladder.
While 2017 hasn’t yielded a huge points tally for the Tigers, Lionesses or Dingoes, each club is strong enough that the rebuilding process is a matter of when rather than if, and the Lionesses, in particular, are only a couple of years removed from some very successful results in the competition. With Orara’s 16 girls squad on the cusp of a finals appearance, and their 12s claiming the Premiership, they look to have a strong crop of juniors coming through the ranks – with a solid retention strategy, they should have the player base to mount a strong push for the title within the next few seasons.