BY any measure Mid Coast Football under 14 players have overcome considerable odds to make the grand final of the Herald Women's Premier League competition.
Mid Coast will play Merewether at Adamstown Oval from 9am Sunday and will be chasing the premiership/grand final double in the age division for the third consecutive year. Teams leading at the conclusion of the competition-proper are named premiers in football, before the start of the finals.
Coach Brenton Doyle said players in the squad come from 'all over the zone,' - from South West Rocks to the Great Lakes. So travel is an issue, with games in Newcastle every second weekend while two training sessions are held a week at Taree and Port Macquarie.
This year the competition went into recess after two games due to the lockdown. Then there was a further drama after play resumed in July.
"With six rounds remaining NSW Health tightened COVID-19 protocols and we were told we couldn't finish the season,'' Doyle explained.
The new restrictions stopped teams travelling outside their zone. Mid Coast is part of Football Mid North Coast. (This also resulted in an early end to the Coastal Premier League.)
FMNC successfully protested the decision to the Northern NSW Football. This would have impacted on all the zone's senior and junior sides playing in Newcastle-based premier league competitions.
"There were plenty of tears at training when I told the girls that we were out,'' Doyle recalled.
"Then three days later we were back in.''
Mid Coast went through the season undefeated, but did have two draws. They trailed Merewether on the ladder when the sides met towards the end of the competition-proper. Mid Coast toughed out a 2-1 win to ensure Mid Coast won the premiership for a third consecutive year.
Doyle explained that the squad changes every year - it's not the same team going through each campaign in a different age division.
"We usually lose half the girls at the end of the season because they're too old,'' he explained.
Trials are then conducted in the off-season and from there the next year's squad is chosen.
Doyle warned that Merewether will be a difficult opponent and matches between the sides have generally been close, although Mid Coast scored a 3-1 decision in the major semi, with Larissa Ryan bagging all three goals.
This will be the third successive year Mid Coast and Merewether have played off in the under 14 decider.
Doyle said captain Jorja Holborrow from Tinonee has been inspirational this year.
"She's a great little player,'' he said.
"But the whole team has been a delight to coach.''
There'll be an added incentive for players to perform on Sunday.
With no State championships this year selectors will closely watch the games to ID talent for Young Matildas' squads.
"I'm sure some of our players will get invitations,'' Doyle said.
This is Doyle's third year in charge. In 2018 and 19 he finished with the Triple Crown, the premiership, grand final and State championship.
"The State championships were cancelled this year, so I can only get the two,'' he laughed,
"But I'll take them.''
Doyle also hopes to stay on board as under 14 coach in 2021.
"If they'll have me, I'm keen to do it again,'' he said.