On Sunday, teams from the Northern Beaches will be planting the MWFA flag at Valentine Sports Park. It’s been a brilliant year for us, with 11 MWFA teams set to play for silverware in the Champion of Champions Finals. We spoke to people who have been part of this journey, ahead of what will be a huge day for our clubs!
“2023 has been an amazing season for the MWFA teams and clubs in the Football NSW Champion of Champions tournament with 11 teams qualifying for the finals,” said MWFA CEO David Mason. “This illustrates the strength of our competitions and all credit goes to our teams, players and coaches who have made it through to the Final.
“To have 11 teams in the 17 finals is a tremendous achievement and something we should all be proud of, especially considering the next highest number for an Association is 5 from Sutherland.
“We have teams from 8 of our clubs present on Finals Day at Valentine Sports Park and it is also fantastic to see the MWFA represented in 6 of the 7 girls/women’s finals. What a great way to cap off what has been a breakthrough year for female football on the back of the FIFA Women’s World Cup!
“To win a Champion of Champions competition is a great honour and we would like to wish all 11 teams, their players, coaches and families the best of luck on Sunday.”
CC Strikers W14 coach Marcus Wilkinson has been relishing the task and recognises the value of playing teams from other associations.
“I think the Champion of Champions is a great concept because the standard is very good. I’m a big supporter of that as an end-of-season tournament. It’s been a great experience for the players and they’ve really enjoyed it because they play in the right way and they have a great attitude. I think it’s been a positive challenge, rather than a daunting one.”
Wakehurst President Greg Dick is delighted to have two teams in Sunday’s Finals and is expecting a big crowd of Wakehurst fans on the day. He was full of praise for the Wakehurst 15 Girls team, who had a 100% winning record during the league season.
“That was a phenomenal effort from the players, you don’t expect that at the start of the season.
“This team has played together for a few years now, so they know each other very well. They’re just a fabulous group of young ladies, they play very good football and they play in a fantastic spirit.
“We have two teams in the Finals. Luckily, the 18 Men are playing at 12:15pm and then straight after that, the 15 Girls play, so I expect we’ll have a lot of supporters there.”
Meanwhile, Wakehurst 18 Men coach Shawn Addison reflected on how the club went close to not even having an U18 Div 1 team this year. He also spoke about how defeats in the State Cup and Grand Final have motivated the team.
“Wakehurst, unfortunately, weren’t looking like they were going to have an U18 team at the start of the season, players were umming and aahing about whether they wanted to play. We managed to get the team together and the rest is history.
“I think those two losses have galvanised the guys, they’ve got so much spirit and they totally believe in themselves.”
One of the feelgood stories from this tournament has been the Forest Killarney O40 Women’s team, who earned the right to represent MWFA in the Champion of Champions Over 30 competition and have beaten younger teams to make the Final. Forest player Jarka Rey is understandably thrilled by the occasion.
“It’s hopefully not our last hurrah but we’re pretty excited, a lot of the team haven’t made it this far previously.
“We’ve got a new coach this year, he’s built our confidence and belief in ourselves to go all the way. We’re super excited to walk out on the park and represent Forest Killarney & the MWFA on Sunday. Hopefully we’ll make everyone proud.”
Another standout story is the Pittwater W16 team, who are gunning for their fourth trophy of the year, despite having to play their first Champion of Champions match with nine players. Coach Chris Natoli has been leading the team, along with his daughter Mikayla.
“My daughter’s brought an enthusiasm that’s helped the girls bond more, and the manager, his daughter is also helping to coach. I’ve got two good assistant coaches on the sideline.
“They’ve been a dream to coach. The talent coming from Pittwater is amazing, especially in Champion of Champions, where we’ve had to rely on a couple of younger players from the U15s and U14s.”
BTH Raiders U13 coach Nate Gray is grateful for the chance to play in knockout competitions such as Champion of Champions and State Cup, realising how helpful these games have been for player development.
“We’re very thankful to MWFA and Football New South Wales for giving this opportunity to participate in competitions outside the normal local comp, which has been great for our kids. For two and a half months of the year, playing locally [on Saturday] and then playing on the Sunday in the State Cup has definitely given our kids an opportunity to play in different games.”
The Forest Killarney U15s were another State Cup winner and they are set to play Banksia Tigers, the team they defeated in the State Cup Final. Despite this and the team’s Kanga Cup success in Canberra, coach Jay Alcock isn’t getting complacent.
“We respect Banksia, who are a very strong team, and we’ll need to play really well to get the win, it’s just about staying focused.
“The boys enjoyed the week in Canberra. We played against a couple of very strong Academy teams and NPL teams. We ultimately remained undefeated and won the Grand Final against Lindfield [from Northern Suburbs FA] in a penalty shootout.”
One person who will be extra busy on Sunday is Chris Wood, who coaches both the Seaforth All Age Women team and the Pittwater All Age Men team. For Seaforth, this is a chance to defend the Champion of Champions title they won last year.
“We’ve got about ten players who were heavily involved last year and are still involved this year. We’ve got new blood in the team who have wanted to get this title. The players are super motivated and it’s just been a matter of starting the first 15 minutes of the game at a really high tempo.”
Wood took on coaching duties at Pittwater after the start of the season, and this Final reflects how the team has bounced back from a tricky start to 2023.
“The group was already competitive, they’re used to winning things. It was just about shifting back to the culture that had already been in place for a while but hadn’t been there at the beginning of the season. That was probably the most important thing, going back to what worked for us as a group.”
His teams are playing at the same time – how will Wood manage the situation?
“There’s a tunnel that connects the two fields, I’ll be running between them!
“Both teams have got great support, it’s not been a major issue. We’ll just play it by ear based on what each game needs, but both teams can cope fine without me.”
For Brookvale’s U21 side, reaching this game is the result of planning over two seasons, as Wesley Ryder explained on behalf of the coaching team.
“Following on from MWFA’s decision to create an U21 competition in 2021, Brookvale created an U21 Div 1 team in 2022 as a combination of players transitioning from our U18 Div 1 side and others who had Saturday work commitments. Finishing fourth in 2022, we continued to build on our success with an unbeaten record in the home and away season in 2023.”
As for Marilinda Mauro Winter, coach of the Manly Vale W18 team, this game could be the end of a journey in one sense, but she is honoured to be involved.
“After COVID and years with our age group not being included in Champion of Champions, this is quite important to us, as it may be one of our final years in Champion of Champions as a team. It’s really a culmination of many seasons of hard work.
“I’m so proud of my players, I’m so proud of their talent, their spirit and their heart.”