14/04/2024

APIA Leichhardt celebrate their Sapphire Cup victory at Leichhardt Oval. Photo Credit: Poletti/The Inner Sanctum

APIA Leichhardt looked to add more silverware to the trophy cabinet with the inaugural Sapphire Cup final, the women’s cup competition launched by Football NSW in 2023.

After a midweek semi-final loss to Bulls FC Academy in the NPL NSW Women Finals, APIA Leichhardt looked to claim the inaugural Sapphire Cup against the Northern Tigers, which they did with a 2-1 victory.

APIA could not have found a better start, as they put the pressure on the Tigers from the opening whistle, with the sustained pressure resulting in the opening goal, as Holly McNamara opened the scoring in the 16th minute.

The captain Rhianna Pollicina would double the lead in the 29th minute, and APIA would take the 2-0 lead into the break, with the Northern Tigers needing to find a boost for the second half.

The Northern Tigers captain Hannah McNulty would drive that boost in the opening two minutes of the second half, dribbling the ball into the box after picking it up on the halfway line without resistance from the APIA defence.

McNulty would take the shot, which APIA keeper Sophie Magus was unable to take cleanly, and it allowed Caitlin Doeglas to put the rebound in, halving the deficit for the Tigers.

With new life breathed into the game, it resulted in end to end action, with both sides having significant chances to sway the match in their direction, but both goalkeepers stood strong and APIA would finish as inaugural winners of the Sapphire Cup.

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Speaking post-game, APIA coach Spencer Prior was proud of his side’s victory.

“Today was really important for us. There’s only going to ever be one first-time winner of a Sapphire Cup,” he said.

“From having gone and played at Gosford, and then going to Mt Druitt, I love the Cup competitions, and I think it’s a great initiative.

“The efforts of everybody has been so good and the squad is, that’s the key, right, so it’s not just 11 players.

“We haven’t just gone out and loaded ourself with A-League girls, that there’s no legacy for the club for next year.

“We only brought four in that have played in the A-League, and now we’ve got maybe six or seven that are going to go out, so that shows that the program’s really good.”

The victory signifies a broader perspective for APIA Leichhardt, who along with their men’s side, have won three of the five first grade trophies available this season, with the NPL Men’s premiership, NPL Women’s premiership, and the Sapphire Cup.

As Prior mentioned, it is not just about the first grade this year. It is about the legacy the team leaves for next year, and for the younger members of the club, which has a flow on impact for the clubs overall future.

“We’ve got the 14’s in the final, the 15’s playing in the finals, and the clubs going really in the right direction.

“It really is about the club. When you have a strong club, you get to attract better sponsors and the clubs run on sponsorship.

“It’s a very good model, where we get good sponsors on board. We get girls who come in that really buy into the whole club ethos and it’s not just ‘come in, train two nights a week, and leave.’

“It’s the integration with the SAP kids. They’re our fanbase, they’re our players that are going to come through as well.

“We’ve got young kids that want to grow up to be a Rhianna Pollicina, or a Holly McNamara, or Tash Prior, and that’s what we’re striving for.”

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