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Lisa De Vanna, Teresa Polias set for W-League Grand Final showdown

The W-League weekend in 280 characters or less

Melbourne Victory make Brisbane Roar pay for their mini-Matildas exodus after defeating them 6-2 in the first semifinal, Sydney FC clinch their first Premiership in 10 years before defeating Canberra United 3-0 in the second semifinal.


Mother Teresa (Polias)

“It’s hard to describe, really, but I’m just over the moon for the group. Absolutely happy.”

It shouldn’t surprise anyone anymore that the first words uttered by Teresa Polias following Sydney FC’s third W-League Premiership win last week were not about her. True to form, in the afterglow of that history-equalling win, the club’s captain deflected attention away from herself and towards her teammates.

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This is something that, despite having witnessed so much change in the W-League over the 13 seasons she’s been part of it, has stayed the same about Polias: her selflessness. Her role as an ever-present defensive midfielder — a connector, a supporter, someone who is always there when you need her — is one of the clearest metaphors for the more immaterial role she has played in all of her teams, be they at W-League, Matildas or NPLW level.

That reliability was called upon on Wednesday night when Sydney were struggling to create clear opportunities on goal against a stoic Melbourne Victory defensive unit. Having won a (questionable) free kick just outside the area, Polias took the responsibility on her own shoulders to give her side the advantage.

And, as if it was predestined, she did. But it wasn’t just the technical perfection of her free kick (and the fact that it was only her third goal in 155 appearances!) that will stick long in the memory, it’s what she did afterwards. Once the ball thwacked the back of the net, Polias turned to the crowd, clutched the badge on her chest, and roared into the drizzly Sydney night. The crowd, too, erupted as her teammates flew from all corners of the field to celebrate, drawn by the immense gravity of the 5-foot-1 school teacher.

That moment epitomised what Polias has become — not just to Sydney FC, but to the W-League, too. Passion. Determination. Heart. Absolute devotion.

Lisa De Vanna

Like Polias, Lisa De Vanna also knows she is a player that others look to when a game requires something special to crack it open.

Victory’s semifinal against Brisbane Roar, you felt, would be that game. The last time these two sides met in late January, Brisbane put six goals past Victory. De Vanna didn’t play that day, and you have to wonder how differently things would have turned out had she been fit enough to.

Because against the Roar on Sunday afternoon, she was the player holding the sledgehammer. Not only did De Vanna score two of Victory’s six goals and assist a third, but her work off the ball to track back in defence, make tackles, set up passes and continue to encourage her teammates — even when they were light-years in the lead — speaks to the same kind of leadership and character that Sydney has with Polias.

When she was interviewed at full-time, De Vanna spoke about that; about leading by example. Her return to the W-League this season after spending time in Europe perhaps indicates a turning-point for a player who is now fully embracing the bigger role she plays in the footballing lives of those around her.

Indeed, the fact that her response to the question, “What are you most looking forward to next week?” was “I’m more excited to spend one more week with the girls” says a lot about the kind of in-the-moment joy De Vanna has been giving to and taking from the game this season.

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De Vanna, like Polias, is the definition of legendary — both for what she has done off the field and for what, particularly this season, she has done off it: Helping lead this Victory side to their first Grand Final since 2014 and ushering in the next generation of players who, you’d hope, will leave the same mark on the game as she has.


Jake Goodship’s hip pocket, probably

Every time I watch an aggrieved player or coach speak to media, I’m reminded of a famous press conference by former Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch.

In response to every question he received, instead of answering them honestly and risk airing his personal opinions, Lynch responded with the line: “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.”

I don’t know whether Brisbane Roar head coach Jake Goodship has ever seen that interview, nor whether W-League head coaches are threatened with the same financial sanctions as NFL players for criticising league officials.

What I do know is that if there exists an exact opposite to Lynch’s interview, it is almost certainly the one Goodship gave to Fox Sports following Brisbane’s 6-2 loss to Victory. Clearly upset by the result, Goodship did not hold back when asked about how the game unfolded.

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“In my opinion, I thought the game was ruined by the referees,” he said. “In my opinion, I thought we had two goals disallowed and, in my opinion again, they had two set pieces and a penalty […] their second goal was a poor decision. I’m very disappointed in the officials.

“In my opinion, [the penalty] was a disgrace.”

He had a right to be upset. Tameka Yallop‘s phantom goal in the 10th minute, which seemed to hit the crossbar and bounce over the line before bouncing out again, likely would have changed the complexion of the match. Indeed, the two sides should have gone into the break at 1-1 had Catherine Zimmerman not been awarded a soft free kick for what seemed to be her slipping over on her own, which resulted in a second Victory goal.

And while the bizarre penalty decision didn’t amount to anything after Melina Ayres‘ miss, it was the kind of symbolic gesture that told Brisbane that luck was not on their side — a point hammered home when both Mariel Hecher and Yallop had goals disallowed in the final 10 minutes for questionable offside calls.

You can’t really blame Goodship, then, for letting off some steam when the commentators invited him to. Had these calls gone other ways, the game likely would have been much closer than what it ended up being (that is, the most goals Brisbane Roar have ever conceded in the W-League).

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And, while VAR is largely viewed as a blight on the game, there is still something to be said for goal-line technology and the use of video reviews for referee howlers like wrongly awarded penalties. Regardless, one thing is for sure: This semifinal will go down as a classic, and that “in my opinion” interview from Goodship will be remembered as one of the all-time Lynch-esque lines.

Michelle Heyman

You could sense the sigh of relief wash across the Sydney FC squad when, an hour before their game against Canberra on Monday afternoon, word spread that their semifinal opponents would be without their most lethal attacking player.

Michelle Heyman, it turns out, had picked up an injury during training mid-week and even though she had travelled to Sydney with her side, she wasn’t passed fit in time to make the bench. Of course, these things happen in football, and Canberra United — to their credit — did not let on in the pre-game discourse that losing Heyman was a death sentence for their Championship hopes.

But, as Brisbane Roar experienced, losing your top goal scorer — as well as a player with big-game experience — right when you need them is a body-blow to any side, no matter how well-rounded or flexible they are across the rest of the field. Heyman had scored half of Canberra’s 20 goals this season and assisted three more, as well as creating 22 major chances and taking the second-most shots across the league.

And while Canberra had time to adapt to a Heyman-less attacking side, bringing Demi Koulizakis into the No. 9 role, it was clear as the game unfolded that the natural chemistry and teamwork that had built up between Heyman, Nicki Flannery, Grace Maher and Laura Hughes over a number of years was missing — particularly in those final-pass/final-touch moments in and around goal.

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That’s not to say Canberra didn’t take it to Sydney FC, though — they dominated possession, crosses, corners, passes and shots — but in the key moments where United needed a finisher, the player who had done it for them all season was watching on from the sideline.

Sydney coach Ante Juric said post-match that, even though they had dealt with her in the past, Heyman “is a world-class player and you’d rather not play against them in terms of trying to get into a final.”

So, while it may not have been the conclusion to the fairy-tale comeback story that Heyman (and we!) were after, it is hopefully not her final chapter — just the turning of a new page.

Here’s the tea

The 2020-21 season will be remembered for a lot of positive reasons: The emergence of the next generation of Matildas, historic crowds, viral love stories, inspirational veterans, sensational goals and saves, and edge-of-your-seat chaos.

But it will also be remembered — perhaps even more strongly — for the negative reasons. Unsuitable pitches, stadium-hopping, season-ending injuries and, most memorably of all, diabolical broadcasting issues.

This is, hopefully, the last time I will have to write about it. Because, after this season, the W-League will have found a broadcaster that will treat the players, the fans, and the game with the respect and professionalism it has always deserved.

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As if the coffin wasn’t already covered in nails, Wednesday night’s Premiership decider between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory — arguably the most important game of the season — was yet another rusty shard hammered into the wooden casket that is Fox Sports and their W-League coverage this season.

And while the game’s broadcast coverage was likely affected by the last-minute nature of the game’s rescheduling (being moved to Cromer Park from Jubilee Oval after Sydney’s wash-out round — even though Cromer Park has hosted the full broadcast suite in the past), the issues none the less highlight the endemic issues the league continues to face.

On Wednesday, there were just two small to medium-sized cameras being used for the game’s broadcast: one wide-lens camera in the grandstand, and one zoom lens on the sideline. Half an hour before kick-off, there were no screens set up in the commentary box to allow the broadcast commentators to watch vision and access replays (one suggestion from the crew, at one stage, was for someone to use their personal mobile phone to stream Kayo and call the game — the live game — off the delayed stream.

Then the Princess Ibini goal happened. Or didn’t happen, as far as fans at home knew, because the stream cut out just as the Sydney winger struck the ball on the penalty spot. The footage shows the ball on the white dot and then, all of a sudden, in the back of the net, as if by magic.

Pauses, buffering, colours bleeding across the field — it was another appalling advertisement for a match that was intriguing and important in all other ways, particularly for the impact it had on the rest of the table and the finals series that preceded it.

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Indeed, it’s the finals series that has provided the most telling contrast in terms of broadcast coverage. Both semifinals were given the full treatment — a half-hour pre-match discussion between commentators and experts, interviews with players and coaches, footage from previous games to aid in analysis. The games themselves had multiple high-definition cameras, crisp audio feeds, in-match replays — the works.

It was, in other words, what the A-League gets every game. And that is, perhaps, the most telling sign yet that the W-League continues to be seen and treated as a second-class competition: That standard coverage for the men’s competition is reserved for “special” W-League games like finals series or Sunday afternoon television games.

In light of the major broadcast deals being struck with women’s football leagues elsewhere in the world recently, Australia’s professional clubs would be insane to not use the momentum behind women’s football to its maximum advantage when negotiating its next major broadcaster.

Because to not find an alternative after the past four months of “one-off” disasters would paint the league’s clubs as either ignorant or deliberately self-sabotaging. There has never been a clearer sign than this season that the current broadcaster does not want the W-League to grow — and is, in fact, actively working against that growth by continually providing substandard coverage.

If clubs really do care about the W-League, as they say, this is the opportunity to prove it. Not looking elsewhere would not only betray their own principles, but also betray the players, the staff, the media and the fans who have worked tirelessly (and often thanklessly) to get this league to where it is today. After the sensational season that we’ve had, coupled with the rising stock of the Matildas and hosting the 2023 Women’s World Cup, there has never been a better time to make decisions that put the league on a path to where we’ve always believed it could be.

Is there a gif of that?

There are debut goals and then there are debut goals. While it may not have been a classic semifinal match, Ally Green‘s 35-yard screamer to seal Sydney FC’s fourth consecutive Grand Final appearance — and the gif that the club’s social media account uploaded in its wake — is something that none of us will forget in a hurry.

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