Hobart Zebras will be aiming to continue their winning ways and claim their fourth consecutive trophy as they prepare to defend their crown in the Summer Cup final against South Hobart on Friday night.
Following last season’s treble, the Zebras have picked up right where they left off by advancing to another final courtesy of their nail biting 1-0 win over Taroona in the Semi Final. In a pulsating game that went from end to end, new recruit Lucy Johnson scored the game’s only goal midway through the second half and from there they held on.
Zebras were initially set to play Olympia in the decider, but after Olympia were found to have fielded an ineligible player in their 5-1 Semi Final victory over South Hobart, the result was consequently changed to a forfeit in favour of South Hobart: changing the final match up. Just a quick thought on that before moving to the game at hand. Obviously the situation sucks, but obviously letting it slide simply would have opened up a Pandora’s box so its a decision that had to be made. It’s cruel to the Olympia girls though and I have a great degree of sympathy for them as they had certainly earned their shot at the Zebras. They were outstanding on Sunday, especially the midfield pairing of Crawford and Bomford who were truly a joy to watch. It’s a shame they don’t get their chance on the big stage and that the players are again paying the penalty for others mistakes.
Anyway to the final we do have; the lifeline gives South a chance for redemption but they will head into the contest as big underdogs against a Zebras side that has not lost a game since August of 2016. For South, this is essentially a free shot at the champions. This is Rocky Balboa taking on Apollo Creed. It’s an unexpected, fortuitous, opportunity for them, but here they are and they get the chance to write themselves into the record books.
They met in the group stage of the competition and it ended 4-1 in Zebras favour. What stood out to me in that contest was that South did not look intimidated, they didn’t’ take a backward step and really looked to take the game to them. It would have been so easy for a young side against the undefeated Champions to go into their shells but they really looked to take the game on. As it wore on they tired and the Zebras class shone through, but it was a defiant performance that can give them hope for this game.
There was a similar defiance to Sophie Westwood when she responded to the question put to her of whether they could win the final.
“Yes! of course we can!” she replied instantaneously, adding “We’ve got nothing to lose really, so we’re going to go and give it all we have.”
A team with nothing to lose can be a very dangerous opponent but Westwood knows that boundless enthusiasm will only get you so far. It was a more cerebral blueprint that she lay out for how her side could cause the upset.
“They’re the best team in the comp, so we know we are going to be playing a top quality team. We just have to play simple football and stay composed. We needs lots of combination play to work around the tight knit structures they have. Sometimes we have a habit of forcing it forwards so we just have to make sure we are playing strategic and smart.”
For Kayla Mason, the Zebras utility who was the hero in the final 12 months earlier, it’s business as usual. She knows they can’t afford to rest on their laurels if they are to open 2018 as they finished 2017; by clasping silverware.
“We need to go into the game without getting too confident and to respect the South Hobart players. They are a quality team and we can’t take them lightly.
The big focus for us has been working together as a team. Our coaches have really been drilling into us that we need to work better as a team, not as individuals.”
Undoubtedly a large key to the game will be Lucy Johnson. The most dominant attacking player in the state has settled in well to the Zebras group along with their other new signings Caitlin Roberts and Lucy Macgregor according to Mason.
“Zebras are a very welcoming and open armed group. The club will always welcome in new players and they’ve been settling in really well and it’s been a great environment.”
For South to win this they simply must slow Johnson down and a former Zebra in Eleni Moutsatsos who was fantastic against Olympia at the back will play a key role in this. Just as important will be cutting off the supply from the likes of Burt and Bowden in midfield which is what Taroona did a good job of last week. South will need to be more clinical than the Pirates were though and take the chances that fall to them if they are to claim the cup.
South certainly have the quality to score goals. With players like Elaine Fader, Eve Fulton, Georgie Carter and goal machine Phoebe Djakic, they carry a real threat to them and they will create chances. But getting past the imperious defence led by Mady O’Brien is something teams have simply been unable to do in the big game against Zebras. In the big moments they have shown the maturity and mettle that only champion teams possess. That is something that comes with big game experience so its an advantage for Zebras but it’s also why this is such a tremendous opportunity for the South side’s development. They arrive at this final, ahead of schedule and with nothing to lose. If they are defeated it’s expected, if they win, it’s a famous victory! Zebras will rightly be expecting to win this decider, and probably will comfortably, but anything can happen in a cup final, if South can hang in there long enough then you just never know.
For competition coverage throughout the season head to sliceofcheese.net The official Tasmanian Football Blog.