Calder United NPLW Champions of Victoria

It may not have been in a thumping manner, but Calder United etched themselves into the history books yesterday in capturing the 2019 NPLW Victoria Championship with a 1-0 win over FC Bulleen Lions.

Already winners of the 2019 Nike FC Cup and the 2019 Premiership, the Championship secured at AAMI Park means that, led by Head Coach Mark Torcaso, Calder has become the first side of the NPL-era to secure the Cup-Premiership-Championship treble.

Scoring 133 goals in league play, Calder also set the record for most goals scored in a regular-season campaign during 2019, pipping 2000’s Ringwood City by two goals (with the important caveat that Ringwood did it in just 17 games.) Add that to a Community Shield won against Bulleen prior to the season beginning and it means that the 2019 Calder side can rightly be held up alongside some of the dominant Ringwood, Box Hill Inter and Cranbourne Comets sides of the past.

Entering into the contest knowing that they were the underdogs, Head Coach Paul Kilpatrick’s Lions task was made even harder in just the seventh minute of play when goalkeeper Emily Shields charged off her line in an attempt to clear a free-kick looped into the penalty area by Angie Beard.

Unable to properly clear the ball, however, 2019 NPLW co-Goalkeeper of the Year Shields could then only watch on as Calder defender Alycia Eicke, who had wandered forward for the set-piece, got to the loose ball and fired it home to make it 1-0 for her side.

Bulleen was able to settle into the contest and play some nice combination play in the aftermath of the goal, star attacker Caitlin Friend rattling the frame of Calder goalkeeper Alyssa Dall'Oste’s goal on two occasions as the half wore on, but was unable to break down a resolute defence marshalled by former Turkish international and Melbourne Victory stalwart Gülcan Koca.

Calder had a golden chance to double their advantage just moments before the halftime whistle when a long-range effort from Stacey Papadopoulos just failed to dip low enough to sneak under the crossbar and instead bounced back into play.

Getting to the subsequent loose ball, Beard had a golden opportunity only to be denied by a piece of brave goalkeeping work from Shields, who hurled herself off her line and into the path of Beard’s close-range shot to keep it out and keep her side in the contest.

Bulleen’s best chance of the game arrived in the 60th minute when, moving forward in transition, Friend slid a pass through the defence of Calder and into the path of forward Rachael Quigley.

One-on-one with Dall'Oste, many would have backed the lethal Quigley to tie things up but, in doing so, would have lost their bets as the teenage goalkeeper, springing into action, got out quickly to deny the Quigley’s shot and ensure the lead remained intact.

Looking to counter quickly, Calder should have had a penalty up the other end moments later when Beard broke containment and burst in on goal, flicking a ball over the top of Shields and looking to run onto it only to be brought down by the Bulleen custodian.

A penalty, though, was not forthcoming and defender Claudia Fruscalzo got back in time to clear the ball off the line and keep the game at 1-0.

That lead, though, would be all that Calder would end up requiring; holding out for the rest of the game as Bulleen threw everything they had forward and becoming the first side of the NPLW-era to win multiple championships.

Fittingly, it was the heart and soul of Calder United in Aleksandra Sinclair that was awarded best afield for the final. The 2018 and 2019 NPLW Victoria Player’s Player of the Year was immense in her work rate on Sunday, with no loose ball too far to chase down and no opponent able to escape her fierce press.

It was a performance made all the more inspirational by the news that Sinclair was playing just days after the passing of her father, the Calder attacker dedicating her best-on-ground performance to his memory in an emotional on-field interview post-game.