It took almost every single minute of every single game of the regular season, but the four sides that will compete in the 2019 National Premier League Victoria Senol Finals Series has finally been determined.
With Calder United, FC Bulleen Lions and Alamein FC having already booked their places in the finals, all eyes on the season’s final day were turned upon Lakeside Stadium; where old foes South Melbourne and Heidelberg United locked horns with the fourth position on the NPLW Victoria table on the line.
By virtue of their one-point advantage heading into the contest, a draw on Sunday would have been enough to see the Bergers advance to the finals, whilst only a win would be enough for Hellas.
When Heidelberg’s Sidney Allen then struck directly from a corner in the 36th minute – taking advantage of the monsoonal conditions to swing a right-footed effort from the left flank inside the far post – the stage appeared set for the visitors to take a place in finals football back with them to Olympic Village.
However, with the wind now at their backs as the second half resumed, South began to return fire and forced the game back to an equilibrium in the 59th minute when Leia Varley curled a sublime, left-footed effort into the top corner of the goals to make it 1-1.
Then, with what was almost the final touch of the game, a 94th-minute free-kick floated into the Heidelberg penalty area by Varley was nodded onward by Kelsey Minton, beyond charging Berger goalkeeper Christine Fonua and into the back of the net to punch South’s ticket to the final four.
That result means that it will be Calder United and South Melbourne that will clash in one of NPLW Victoria’s semi-finals next week, whilst the other fixture will see Bulleen pitted against Alamein with a place in the Grand Final on the line.
For Calder, the coming finals campaign represents a chance to well and truly put a bow on a season for the ages.
Already Premiers and winners of the Nike FC Cup, a Championship secured by Calder would see them become the first side in NPLW history to pull off the Premiership, Championship and Cup treble and become the first side since 2017 South Melbourne to complete the Premiership/Championship double.
At the Veneto Club, thoughts will now turn to Bulleen replicating their efforts from 2018; in which they won through to the Grand Final in a second against third semi-final before knocking off the highly fancied favourites to claim the Championship.
Having defeated Calder United 2-1 in the penultimate week of the season, thoughts amongst the defending NPLW Victoria champions will no doubt be of a confident manner heading into the finals.
Despite playing finals football in every season of NPLW Victoria’s existence, Alamein FC is still looking for their first Championship; Calder lifting the crown in 2016, South Melbourne in 2017 and Bulleen in 2018.
Featuring established talents such as Emma Checker and Melissa Barbieri alongside a host of talented youngsters; the inner Melbourne side will be fancying their chances of breaking that trend and bringing the NPLW Victoria title to HA Smith Reserve in 2019.