PHOTO: Valentine Sports Photography
Warners Bay 1 (Sass Seaborn) defeated Wallsend 0 at Rockwell Automation Park, Weston. Half-time: Warners Bay led 1-0.
Warners Bay completed a remarkable turnaround in Herald Women’s Premier League to go from last year’s wooden spooners to this year’s champions when they downed Wallsend 1-0 in the Grand Final at Weston yesterday.
Warners Bay struggled with depth and personnel in their maiden WPL season last year and collected the wooden spoon despite playing some good football in the latter stages of 2015 under stand-in coach Leon Davis.
Davis stayed on board for 2016 and assembled a team which included several players from last year’s side in the likes of Grand Final hero Sass Seaborn, Airlie Davis and the Smith twins, Tayla and Maddie.
He signed his daughter Cassidy Davis and her Newcastle Jets W-League teammate Adriana Jones along with reliable centre-back Laura Raply, steely defensive midfielder Nadja Squires, inspirational shot-stopper Nikki Deiter and former Emerging Jets striker Kally Lewis.
It took some time to gel but once Davis got the combination and system right there was virtually no stopping Warners Bay.
They beat every side on their way to finishing the season proper in the second spot then booked their first Grand Final appearance with a 3-1 win over defending champions Merewether in the two-legged semi-final.
Warners Bay were under pressure early yesterday though when they gave away a penalty in the third minute of the match.
But Deiter, who was outstanding yesterday, made a diving save to deny Libby Copus-Brown from the spot.
Davis felt “it was the turning point of the game”.
“Even though it was so early it gave everyone the confidence to rise to the occasion,” he said.
“I thought we played good football and dominated the first half and I thought at half-time we were well and truly on top.”
Both sides had chances to get on the score sheet before Seaborn broke the deadlock in the 32nd minute when she scored what ended up being the match winner from a goalmouth scramble off a corner kick.
There were plenty of chances at either end in the second half but both Deiter and her opposite Bek Saunders were steadfast in protecting their goals.
Wallsend were forced to play a more direct game as the match wore on and Jets player Jenna Kingsley caused some headaches for Warners Bay down the right side of the field but several of her pinpoint crosses were left to go begging or cleared by the opposition defence.
The Red Devils finished the match with 10 players after Kalista Hunter was sent off for her second yellow card offence of the match when she felled Seaborn just outside the 18-yard box in the 85th minute.
Davis could not have been prouder when the final whistle blew.
“From where we started the year, with a fresh squad … we hadn’t won after four rounds and I had to find a system that worked for them,” he said.
“Once I found that, I think we were probably the most attacking team in the competition.”
Wallsend coach Marc Hingston said “it was probably not our best game” but praised the efforts of Warners Bay in winning.
“We missed the penalty early, which obviously didn’t help and things like that can change the game,” Hingston said.
“I think we played our Grand Final last week.”
Wallsend, who ended up second from the bottom in their first season in the competition last year, finished fourth this year and powered their way into their first decider with an emphatic 7-3 win over premiers Adamstown in the semi-finals.
“In the second half I couldn’t fault the effort of our players and in the big picture they can all be proud of what they achieved this year,” Hingston said.
“It’s frustrating because we scored 12 goals in the past three matches … but they deserved to be champions as well.”
In the earlier games, Thornton 18s powered to championship glory in an 8-1 win over Warners Bay, Adamstown 16s defeated Mid North Coast 1-0 and South Wallsend 14s won 2-1 against Mid North Coast.