Emily Hodgson celebrating scoring a goal against West Torrens Birkalla with her West Adelaide teammates (Image: Adam Butler/80Kms).

West Adelaide Women SC had a strong 2021 season but embodied the old phrase – “almost there but not quite”. Second best was an apt description and it showed come the season’s end, frustratingly for Hellas, disappointment always seemed to come against familiar opposition.

Come Round 16 of the 2021 installation of the WNPL and WSL Cup, West Adelaide was drawn against Salisbury Inter, a tough matchup that saw them crash out of the competition much earlier than what it was accustomed to.

“It was very annoying exiting so early, we are used to making it to the last few rounds, it was different drawing them so early. We had problems trying to beat Inter last year, it was something that we couldn’t quite do, so drawing them in the Cup was pretty hard and exiting the cup early was also tough because it was something we weren’t used to,” Emily Hodgson told The Inner Sanctum.

Hodgson went on to state that Inter was her side’s greatest rival in season 2021 and it showed on the table with Inter and West Adelaide finishing first and second respectively.

Salisbury Inter players celebrating winning the 2021 WNPL Grand Final with a dejected Harriet Burnett looking on (Image: Adam Butler/80Kms)

Frustratingly for Hellas, in the three meetings they had against Inter during the regular season, they could not muster a win, with two disappointing losses and a draw the difference between the two sides.

Come Grand Final day, few were surprised when the competition’s two best sides made it to the last game of the season. Despite Hellas looking like breaking their Salisbury duck, and even taking the lead twice on the day, they succumbed to a fourth competitive loss to the same opposition in a calendar year.

“It was super disappointing for us because we did take the lead twice in the game but we just couldn’t hold on in the end. It was disappointing because for the first time that season we were in front, we had it in our hands but we just got beat in the last few minutes,” Hodgson said.

West Adelaide entered season 2022 with a point to prove. Hellas secured the Premiership after sitting on top of the ladder for the majority of the season.

With a goal difference in the 50s and only a single defeat, West Adelaide coach Tracey Jenkins has her team firing on all cylinders and Hodgson has felt the team taking its commitment and performance to the next level.

“It has been amazing playing for this side this year. I think we’ve gelled together really well, it was something that we missed a little bit last year. The girls are amazing, everyone is so nice and encouraging,” she said.

“It’s been great that we’ve been able to score lots of goals which was also something we were lacking last year. I think everyone has unfinished business from last year, I think that’s motivated us a lot more.”

Emily Hodgson and teammate Annalee Grove celebrating the 2022 Premiership (Image: Adam Butler/80Kms)

The positivity was momentarily translated into a flashback of horror when Football South Australia conducted the draw for the quarter-finals of the WNPL and WSL Cup in season 2022. West Adelaide had once again drawn bogey side Salisbury Inter early.

“I think we were all a bit shocked and surprised that we drew them again so early in the Cup. It felt a bit like ‘oh no, is it going to happen again?’,” Hodgson said.

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It was not Hellas’ most prolific performance of the season, but importantly it managed to squeeze past a side that caused it lots of heartache in 2021, even if it was only by a solitary goal to nil.

“It was a huge positive and a very big relief that they were knocked out of the cup because they have been one of our bigger rivals this year as well. Beating them was a big positive.”

West Adelaide Women SC has gelled as a side according to Emily Hodgson and that is reflected in the team’s results (Image: Kelsey Zafiridis Photography)

A new year presents new challenges and despite currently flying high on the summit of WNPL SA, season 2022 did not get off to a flying start for Hellas who lost to rivals Adelaide City in an eight-goal thriller in the opening game. West Adelaide has not lost since that day and Hodgson believes the opening day reality check has helped spark her side.

“We didn’t want it enough. Second to the ball, not playing well as a team, it was Round one so it was kind of understandable but since that game, the girls have been more hungry and we have just wanted to win. We don’t want that to happen again as it was a big loss as well,” she said.

The two old rivals face each other in the WNPL and WSL Cup Final and unlike last year’s string of disappointments at the hands of Salisbury Inter, West Adelaide has managed to level the score with Angelo Paul’s Adelaide City.

In their second encounter of the season, Hellas overcame a slow start, that saw them a goal down to win the match in injury time thanks to a Nicole Blackett free kick.

“Nicole Blackett’s free kick was amazing. It was such a relief when it went in because we had been trying all game to get that second goal that we needed to win. She has hit a few free kicks like that before so you kind of expect them to go in,” Hodgson said.

The win against City may have been worth three points on paper, but for Hodgson and her teammates, it was more valuable than that. Beating City means that Hellas will be entering its Cup Final with the belief it can get the job done.

“It was good to get one up over City, so now we are even. I think the girls fought until the very end which led to [the] win. We just believe in ourselves, we believe that we can beat City which really helps with everyone’s confidence,” she said.

West Adelaide has overcome the ghosts of the past and this year’s challengers. The next goal for Hellas is to consistently convert this resilience and ability into silverware on the big stage with the first test coming against an Adelaide City side that will also be backing themselves in what is promising to be an enthralling final.

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