FOR nearly two hours in last Sunday’s Women’s Premier League grand final, the Monaro Panthers handled everything Belconnen United star Michelle Heyman threw at them.
But in the end, it only took five minutes for the Australian Matildas striker to bring a heartbreaking end to the Panthers’ title dreams.
With neither side having proved able to break the 0-0 deadlock in regulation time and extra time ticking away, it appeared as though this year’s championship was set to be decided from the penalty spot.
That was until Heyman, who until then had been resolutely contained all match by 15-year-old Panthers defender Olivia Moore, finally managed to break the shackles.
With five minutes to play, the former W-League player of the year headed home from close range after finding herself free inside the box.
Heyman then sealed the win with the final kick of the match after sliding a shot past Monaro keeper Jocelyn Mara.
“It was the best game the girls played all season but how can you ask them to keep up with an Australian player for 120 minutes?” Panthers coach Angelo Maralit said of his side’s heroic but ultimately futile efforts.
“At the end of the day, Belconnen created their opportunities and they finished them.
“We created a lot more chances than them, especially in the second half and we just couldn’t put them away and that was the difference.”
After Heyman’s extra-time heroics proved the difference, the Panthers were left to rue a host of missed opportunities.
Monaro dominated large periods of the second half in particular, coming home the stronger of the two sides as sisters Ashleigh and Brittany Palombi combined brilliantly down the Panthers’ left side.
But after scoring 34 goals between them during the regular season, neither could find the back of the net on the season’s biggest stage leaving Heyman and Belconnen to steal the result at the death.
The loss however, could not take all the gloss off a brilliant inaugural campaign for the Panthers.
In the club’s first season in the Women’s Premier League, Monaro’s grand final run followed on from the side’s victory in the pre-season Federation Cup tournament.
“We’ve got a whole bunch of girls playing together for the first time and it’s tough becoming one unit in such a short time,” Maralit said.
“We were underdogs at the start of the season but to make it this far, regardless of the result [on Sunday] the girls really pulled it off.”
Maralit, meanwhile, confirmed he would be stepping down from the coaching role next season to instead take up a position with Capital Football’s high performance program.
He will be replaced by assistant coach Tilly Carbone.