7 April 2023

Will the new ownership model for the A-League Men's team impact Canberra United women? Hopefully not!

| Tim Gavel
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Canberra United

Canberra United’s season has ended but the future looks bright. Photo: Canberra United.

There were a few tears in the Canberra United dressing room after their gallant quest for a place in the finals came to an end on Sunday.

A win against Melbourne City in Melbourne would have assured the team a place in the playoffs in the A-League Women’s competition.

As it turned out, the 3-all draw wasn’t enough to complete the dream – they finished outside the top four on goal difference.

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In analysing the season, coach Njegosh Popovich didn’t dwell on the two 5-0 losses to Wellington and Western United in January or the 4-0 loss to Melbourne City in December.

“We probably lost a few close games that we should have won,” he said.

“In the first home game against Perth, we led, but it finished in a 2-all draw. We then lost to Perth away 3-2 after leading 2-0. They are the games that hurt us.”

Njegosh Popovich. Photo: Canberra United website.

Njegosh Popovich focussed on the team’s remarkable eight in a row. Photo: Canberra United.

Canberra United went on to have an eight-match unbeaten run, setting the platform for next season. And that was the focus for Popovich after the game.

“For me, it was around how proud I was of the team in the way they finished the season: an eight-game unbeaten run and coming so close. There were tears in the room, but I pointed out there is more to life than football. It’s important to look at the bigger picture.”

Part of that bigger picture has been the development of the players as people as much as their football ability.

“We’re fortunate with the standard we have created in Canberra. We have developed a great culture. We’re in a really good space coming through with a number of very good young players,” says Popovich.

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Most of the squad has been retained for next season, including a number of experienced players. The exception to this is Ellie Brush who announced her retirement.

Michelle Heyman, who was in career-best form in the run home, is back for the second year of her two-year contract. Popovich said he is keen to retain Grace Maher, and she is, Popovich declares, “already a leader at 23-24 years of age.”

Grace Maher celebrating

Canberra United Grace Maher celebrates after a penalty shot. Photo: Canberra United.

The future, it would appear, is incredibly bright for Canberra United.

The culture created by Popovich and his coaching team is exactly what anyone would look for in a sports club.

There is, however, a sense of uncertainty with the looming change of structure with the proposal to bring the A-League Women under the same roof as the proposed A-League Men in Canberra.

My hope is that the women’s side isn’t swallowed up and forced to play ‘second fiddle’ to the men’s team.

Canberra is unique from most other centres where the women’s team has been the dominant presence for so long. It would be a travesty to spoil that.

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