The previous two seasons have seen teams win the Championship off the back of remaining unbeaten. In 2017, it was the Zebras who set the pace to sweep up all the big silverware on offer. While in 2018, Ulverstone double downed to claim the spoils of the regular season like a boss.
The 2019 season is different. It’s neck and neck. Only goal difference splits the sides with how the table currently sits. Zebras and Olympia, both sitting on 47 points with the 2017 champs having the edge on goal difference.
What’s better? The last match of the season is between these two giants. I’m keen. You should be keen too. As a warm up, here’s a breakdown of each side across the ground, and an insight to how every area of the park shapes up.
THE GUARDS OF THE GOAL
No doubt this season has shown a high quality of keeping across the board. The Zebras and Olympia both have two mighty fine goalies at their disposal.
Expect the Zebras goal to be challenged with balls hit in from the flank, searching for a tap in or back post finish. Shelley Cook’s experience will be on display in dealing with these balls.
While Olympia love to play out of the back, leaving them exposed to a high press. This will be an area the Zebras will look to capitalise on. Given the experience of the season, Jenna Farrow should go in with confidence in her footwork.
THE HEART OF DEFENCE
Through the centre of the backline, both teams will look strong defensively.
Olympia’s captain, Maddie Black has jet off to America, so expect Innocent Michaels to drop into the opening. Such a shake up would ordinarily hit hard, however in Michaels is a ready made replacement.
Next to Michaels is the ever reliable Sophie Leszcynski. This duo will likely be tasked once again with setting the tempo out from the back. How they handle the Zebras high press will be pivotal. The extra experience of Michaels could well be a masterstroke.
The Zebras have a dream team in Kayla Mason and Selina Steventon. Neither really need an introduction. But be sure the duo will be on clean up duty when Olympia breach the first line on the flanks, as well as to intercept that loose pass looking to pick the defence apart.
THE FLYING FLANKS
The flanks is where things get interesting.
Let’s start by looking at Olympia’s left side in attack. Madi Chambers, the stuff of many Zebras players nightmares from the dazzling hat trick last time round.
To stop that danger? This is where one of the matches wildcard could be played. On the one hand, another match up with Rachel Gill could be on the cards. The other, the more unknown is Isabella Ferrier. During the back end of the season the youngster has started at right back at times. She’s got the pace to deal with Chambers, and would bring something different going forward.
To go with the known or the unknown? Whichever way, it’ll be a tough day in the office to contain Chambers.
On the flip side, the Zebras left side is the goal hunter Lily Hulton. Her sides ability to play her on the flank shows the depth they’ve got in attack.
The player to contain her? Raffi Puli. An energizer bunny down the right flank, she’ll be looking to have the tank to both contain Hulton, while pushing forward and lurking for the second ball to pull off a shot, sniffing for a goal.
Whichever way Hulton decides to adjust her game will sway the match on this flank. Leave Puli to attack, thereby having plenty to exploit on the counter? Or play chasies with the fullback.
Heading to the right side for the Black and White, it’s tenacious Dannielle Kannegiesser up against Phoebe Teale.
DK has shown she’s capable of being a match winner. With the mentality of any quality Cup player, it’s going to take good form from Teale to not be caught out by the winger. While Teale works well with Chambers, the pair combining to defend and attack.
Lastly on the flanks, but probably my favourite of the duels, enter Bonnie Davies and Erin Delaney. I’ve marvelled watching this dual in the past, Saturday will be no different.
On paper Davies has the edge purely with her pace. On the contrary, Delaney has found a knack of reading Davies like a book to force the winger to cut into the middle of the park to find any success.
Will it be more of the same? Flip I hope so.
THE ENGINE ROOM
It’s all in trios, with both sides likely to hit the field with three midfielders.
In the Black and White corner there is Georgia Burt, Taylor Rand and Allie Berry. Just like the BRB abbreviation their surnames provide, when on song they’re capable of leaving teams for dust.
Berry brings explosiveness in attack, that can be a game changer. However it’s the pivot of Burt and Rand, with their work through the centre that will be the game decider. Last time out against the Warriors the pair were caught flatfooted. This time round will be a chance for redemption.
In the Blue corner is Olivia Bomford, Jade Williams and likely Heather Russell. With Michaels moving to centre back, Russell looks capable of filling her shoes. Playing a similar role when Bomford had a foray as a false nine, it looks to likely be a smooth transition.
Bomford will once again be the link to get the ball fed out to the wings. While Williams and Russell will be tasked with pestering the Zebras to win the turnovers and play the simple passes the way Olympia enjoy to make dazzling combinations across the park.
THE NUMBER NINE
Gotta talk about the all important centre forward.
It’s the contrasting story of the season between sides.
Zoe Nichols has locked in the number nine role, bagging the goals to prove her worth and edge out her competition for the spot. Add on her uncanny ability to link up with Allie Berry from midfield, with the two capable of converting me from crunchy to smooth peanut butter if they were the said delicious spread, purely based on their connection both on and off the ball.
The thorn in the Warriors side all season is the centre forward position. Missing several through season ending injuries, it’s easy to see why.
An early season foray with a false nine seems to have lost favour. There are a couple options, but none are singing as absolutes. Charlotte Chambers has been lurking around the top end of the park, while Amy Prokopiec has bagged a few good spurts of goals. Still, expect the real attacking edge to come from elsewhere on the park.
WHO’S GONNA WIN?
As the table is level on points, the mental advantage is split. Olympia wholloped the Zebras last time out, while the Zebras only need a draw to seal the Championship. Last time out the winner wound up being the side who was the hungrier. That’s what will be the difference this time.
Both sides have very different ways of going about their game. The Warriors love to build up from the back and then exploit the space on the wings. While the Zebras look to push the ball forward as quickly as possible to their front four and catch teams on a quick transition, springing attacks from the turn over.
All you really need to know? If you’re in Hobart, sure as hell make it to KGV on Saturday at 2pm. If you’re stuck elsewhere? Tune into Slice of Cheese and follow the match. Missing this would be like missing Christmas. Just don’t do it.
Photo credit once again goes to the brilliant Solstice Digital Photography/