A goal in each half was enough for Inter to claim the title for the fourth time in the last five years, with player of the match Anthea Vardakas opening the scoring, and substitute Alex Sinclair sealing the victory late in the game.
Warm and windy weather greeted the players at Bob Jane Stadium, and made for challenging conditions in which to play. The first half presented few chances, with neither side able to settle into its useful rhythm, and the game was a nervous and scrappy encounter, although certainly not lacking in physicality. Inter’s midfield looked to be missing Georgia Koutrouvelis, who broke her leg in a practice match in the lead up to the Grand Final, while Heidelberg’s Gold Medal winner, Melanie Camilleri, looked strangely out of sorts.
With both teams looking to rely on long balls to their strikers, it was a match dominated by the two defences, and they seemed to be coping admirably. It was, therefore, ironic that the first goal of the game came courtesy of a defensive error shortly after the twenty minute mark of the half. Heidelberg turned the ball over cheaply in its left-hand defensive corner, allowing Belinda Pacella to whip a speculative cross into the penalty area. With no Box Hill players in the box, there looked to be little danger, but a weak defensive header from the Heidelberg backline sent the ball back to the top of the box, where it was met by the on-rushing Box Hill midfield. Anthea Vardakas had time to take a controlling touch and set herself, before sending a fierce left footed shot into the net. Aside from the goal itself, her celebratory cartwheel was one of the best displays of skill in an otherwise scrappy first half.
Shortly before the interval, both sides had half chances that called the two goalkeepers into action. Box Hill’s Kat Smith sent Pacella through on goal, but United’s custodian, Katie Neville, came out smartly to smother the ball and avert the danger. Heidelberg then immediately mounted an attack of its own, with Belinda Pannella forging an opportunity, but Melissa Barbieri was equal to the challenge, getting down quickly to claim the ball before the speedy Pannella could get a shot away.
The second half saw more open, flowing play, as Heidelberg battled to find a way back into the match. After playing a very disciplined, structured game last weekend to account for South Melbourne, United this week seemed strangely disorganised, in particular lacking any real width to its play. With Camilleri struggling to make an impact, it was difficult to see where a Heidelberg goal was going to come from. Pannella was her usual industrious self, but she was well marshalled by the Inter defence, and was given little opportunity to get into a goal-scoring position. United’s best chance looked to be from set pieces, with Box Hill providing it with a number of free kicks in dangerous positions. Unfortunately for Heidelberg, Chrissy Baxendale’s radar was off target on the day, as she failed to trouble Barbieri despite having several opportunities.
With fifteen minutes of the match remaining, Heidelberg finally started to gain some sort of momentum, as Box Hill seemed content to sit back and absorb the pressure. The balance of play shifted, and most of the action was taking place in Inter’s defensive half. It appeared that an equaliser was in the offing. But, as is often the case, football can be the cruellest game. Box Hill made a rare foray into the Heidelberg half, which resulted in a cross from the right into the penalty area. Neville looked to have the ball comfortably covered, but, in landing, spilled the ball back into the path of the oncoming Sinclair, who blasted the ball home. The goal visibly deflated the Heidelberg players, who had just begun to play with some belief, and with only ten minutes left in the game, there was simply not enough time to respond. Box Hill added another premiership to its impressive tally, and Heidelberg is left to rue another season of falling at the final hurdle.