Thirroul Thunderbirds demonstrated the benefits of forming a women’s Youth Grade team this season in a hard fought U21s Champion of Champions grand final loss at Valentine Sports Park on Sunday.
After failing to stave off an early onslaught from Epping FC, the Thunderbirds went down 4-0 but the score line did not reflect the quality of the match or the ability of the young Thirroul team.
With four of the players who took the field in the grand final not yet having turned 16 years old and only four being over the age of 18, the future looks bright for the Thunderbirds in coming seasons.
As the only Under 21s team in the Football South Coast women’s competition this year, Thirroul played Division 2 and were competitive but often had to supplement their side with players from the club’s junior ranks.
In total, 10 players from the U15s, U16s and U17s girls teams were used during the season and they benefitted from the experience.
Playing Champion of Champions has been another significant step in the development of those girls and the entire 18-strong squad who spent seven weeks training together for the tournament.
After a dramatic 2-1 golden goal defeat of Canterbury FC in the quarter-finals and an 11-0 win over Blacktown champions Riverstone, the Thunderbirds faced a much tougher opponent in the grand final.
Epping FC had been undefeated this season in the North West Sydney Women’s Division 2 competition, and demolished Southern Tablelands 13-0 and Miranda Magpies 5-1 to qualify for the decider.
Little separated the teams in ability but Thirroul struggled to cope with Epping’s physicality and their finishing was better, with left forward Caitlin Wood claiming a hat-trick of goals and striker Mia Axe scoring in the 82nd minute.
Thunderbirds goal keeper Shahne Hocking was one of the team’s best but was powerless to stop Wood pouncing to score in the sixth and 11th minute after she had palmed away shots at goal.
Thirroul’s best chance came just before halftime when a powerful strike by Kirsten Ward rebounded off the post and the game may have turned out differently if the ball had found the back of the net instead.
Wood claimed her third goal in the 51st minute but the Thunderbirds never gave up and stuck to their possession-based passing game in a bid to create more scoring opportunities for Ward and fellow forwards Beth Grew, Veronica Calderon and Bryony Loosemore.
The mid-field rotation of Jenna Rose, Zoe Grew, Cara Baker, Arlena Mackenzie and Ashleigh Walter were tireless, while defenders Amy Panteli, Emily Pannell, Mae Gibbeson, Sarah Hanlon and Lily Clarke worked themselves to exhaustion in the high intensity match.
Thirroul JFC would like to thank Football South Coast and the Women’s Council for their support of the Thunderbirds U21s in the Champion of Champions.
Thanks also to the Woonona club for allowing the team to train at Ocean Park while Thirroul’s grounds were unavailable due to drainage works, and to Tarrawanna AAW, Russell Vale Over 30s and Woonona U16s Girls teams for practice matches.
A special thanks to the coaching staff of John Paegle, John Cropper and Amy Ziebell for their efforts with the team and to Tina Siskoska, Michelle Carney and Jason Hegarty for their help and support.
Thirroul: Shahne HOCKING, Sarah HANLON, Mae GIBBESON, Amy PANTELLI, , Emily PANNELL, Jenna ROSE, Bryony LOOSEMORE, Arlena MACKENZIE (c), Beth GREW, Zoe GREW, Veronica CALDERON, Kirsten WARD, Ashleigh WALTER, Cara BAKER (c), Lily CLARKE, Matilda DAVIS-RAISS, Chrissie FEDELE, Ebony STARLING
Epping: Taylor JOHNSON, Alice GRIERSON, Lauren EVANS, Caitlin WOOD, Emily DE FREITAS, Chloe BOUDIB, Samantha FARQUHAR, Maddison SMAIL, Mia AXE, Julia TIMMINS-SMITH, Jasmin BOUDIB, Carmen FONG, Kathryn RAMSAY, Kate BRADLEY, Katherine GALLAGHER, Clare LAWRENCE, Kirra-Lee SCOTT