Sunday sees the last round of the National Women's League (NWL) for 2017. Unfortunately for Capital fans there will be no finals football this season as two wins and three losses so far for the season sees them unable to gain enough points to break into the top three.

The latest loss came in a bruising encounter last weekend at the hands of Northern. It was a game which included a total of 28 minutes of added on time and due to an injury was actually switched to the ground next to it to complete it. There were game ending injuries for Rosie Wild, Katie Barrott & Northern's Saskia Vosper as well as the one field patching up of Capital keeper, Cushla Litchwark, who completed the game with bandage that looked like a collar to cover the cut on her chin, sustained in a clash with Northern's Sami Tawharu.

Despite the result, coach Emma Evans rated the game as her highlight of the season saying

"The determination and character shown by the squad to get through the game against Northern was something any coach would be proud of. Putting the result aside, it was one of the toughest games of football, both mentally and physically, that I have seen in the National Women’s League, and it tested every single person on the field. It is a highlight for me because it’s these moments where you realise sport is more than just a game, it reveals character, teaches you to be strong, to be resilient and defines what it truly means to be a team. That for me means more than any result ever could."

Sunday sees Capital come up against the surprise package of the season, Southern United, who before this season had managed just seven wins in 88 games over the 14 years of the NWL and only one of those in the last 10 years!!! This season they have beaten Auckland, Canterbury and Northern and have confirmed a spot in the finals for the first time ever. And if they manage to beat Capital, they will get a home final.

For Capital it's a chance to end the season on a high and possibly extract a little revenge. The way the draw has worked this season, Capital have followed Southern, and at least one coach has admitted using the shock loss to Southern United as motivation for their game the next week, which was against Capital!

So what's been happening at Southern United? Well a new coach in Terry Parle and a new attitude, it's not that dissimilar to what occurred at Capital last season when the new coaching team of Emma Evans and Sam Morrisey came in and instilled a belief in the team which saw them exceed expectations and finish runner up. Two players who were in that Capital team, have moved to Dunedin for university, and are now plying their trade with Southern United. I had a chat with Mikaela Hunt and Emily Morison about whats been going on down south.

Ex Capital players, Southern United's Mikaela Hunt & Emily Morison The JourneyFan

"There is so much belief amongst the squad and even outside the squad with supporters" says Emily Morison. Mikaela Hunt agrees, comparing it to last season at Capital. "Capital managed to go a long way last season simply because we believed we could, not only the players but also the coaching staff and community. The same feeling is present this year at Southern, we aren't the most star studded side on paper by far but that just proves again it's not about who you have and more about believing in the people around you and everyone coming together to get the result"

The core of the Southern United team come from the Dunedin Technical club, who both Hunt and Morison play for. They had an unbeaten season in the league and created history by becoming the first team from the Football South federation to progress to the semi-finals of the National Women's Knockout Cup. It was the quarter final game, a 3-2 win against Coastal Spirit, that Morison rates as one of the highlights of her footballing career so far and Hunt say's "...was when the belief started and they genuinely feel like it's the year of the south"

This is backed by the football community in the South, who have really got behind them, Hunt say's "We feel like we are not only playing for ourselves but for the whole Football South region, people are really getting behind us". This has been reflected in larger crowds, around 400 turned out at Forsthy Barr Stadium for their opening game against Auckland (a 3-2 win) and many have requested links for live streams for their away games.

Southern United with away fans! at Palmerston North's Memorial Park The JourneyFan

While unable to directly compare with previous season's at Southern, Morison said they had picked up from their teammates that there has been a big mind set change "where other years it was apparently more about damage control if anything. We go into every game wanting to win and knowing that we can win if we put our minds to it and play how we want to play." Hunt backs this up, "coming onto the first game there was a real buzz around wanting to cause upsets and prove the to the rest of the country that we can really play football down here. Terry (Parle) puts really high expectations on us as a squad and we go into every game treating it like a cup final, which I think you need to do in the NWL as it's such a short season and every game can be a make or break"

Southern United coach, Terry Parle, returned to Dunedin this year after a few years overseas and has likely been key in retaining a lot of talent who in the past would have departed Dunedin once university exams were over and before the NWL started. He is rated very highly by both Hunt and Morison for his technical ability, his analysis, understanding,  knowledge of the game and his work behind the scenes. Whether it be arranging extra gym sessions, organising practice's to one mid week and two at weekends before the game, which allows the Queenstown based players to attend or making each player aware of what's expected of them and assisting them to get it right. It seems as if he has put down solid foundations to build a great team culture and that success is showing through in the results and should go along way to removing Southern United from their tag of perennial cellar dwellers.

As for the game on Sunday both women are excited and looking forward to coming up against their old team, which includes some of their best mates. Although that familiarity can be a double edged sword as Mikaela Hunt says "It'll be especially hard to play against the likes of Emma Main, Kennedy Bryant and Mickey Robertson who I have known for years and will make my life hard at the back no doubt!"  Striker Emily Morison singles out goalkeeper, Cushla Litchwark saying "....Cush in goal will be one of the hardest players to play against as I know from playing with her for a number of years that she is a solid goal keeper and one of the most hardworking players I’ve ever met." 

The game kicks off at 1pm, Sunday November 26th at Petone Memorial Park
Thanks to Mikela Hunt and Emily Morison for their time
Mikalea Hunt and Emily Morison in action for Capital in 2016 The JourneyFan