After making a stunning run during last year’s finals, Eltham women’s coach Darren Cardamone remains confident his side can repeat history in 2019.
The Panthers finished fourth on the Division 3 ladder last year, before scoring three consecutive finals wins to reach the grand final – where they were beaten by undefeated side Bundoora.
This year the Panthers finished fifth on the MC Security Division 2 Women’s ladder and have advanced into Sunday’s first semi final after defeating fourth-placed Darebin 2.7 (19) to 2.0 (12) in the elimination final at the weekend.
“To now come up into Division 2 and not only make the finals but to win a final, the girls now feel that they are up to the standard they need to be at to keep winning,” Cardamone told NFNL.org.au.
“We’ve always known our best is capable of making us a good side in Division 2, but we’ve had a lot of injuries and it’s been a fight.
“Finishing fifth, there isn’t a lot of pressure on us. A lot of teams will look at us and say ‘they’ve fallen into finals’, but we know that on our best day we can be competitive against anyone.”
Eltham’s elimination final win over Darebin was a huge turnaround on their previous encounter, which the Falcons won by 60 points.
The improvement is not lost on Cardamone.
“From where we’ve come from, to walk away with a seven-point win, it was a fantastic effort,” Cardamone said.
“The girls all gelled together. We got out to an early lead, but we were able to hold on with Darebin really testing us in the second half.
“We were waiting for the dam wall to burst at one stage, but the girls kept fighting which is what they’ve done all year.”
It has been a rollercoaster fortnight for Eltham, who was sitting in bottom place on the ladder at the commencement of the final round. However, a big win over Diamond Creek Women’s on the final day of the regular season allowed the Panthers to jump into fifth spot.
“We’ve been plagued with injuries and we’ve never been able to have a full team on the park but over the last month we’ve steadily been able to get players back onto the field,” Cardamone said.
“We’ve been able to put girls back in their proper positions the past couple weeks and been able to structure up better and have more depth run through the midfield.
“We had an improved effort against VU Western Spurs at home even though we lost by 50 points, which rolled into the Heidelberg game – where they beat us by two goals.
“The win over Diamond Creek was what the girls deserved because they’ve tried their guts out all year.”
Eltham now faces Heidelberg, where the winner will secure a place in the preliminary final against the loser of Saturday’s second semi final between VU Western Spurs and South Morang.
Eltham went down to Heidelberg by 14 points just three weeks ago. The Panthers led for much of the match before a three-goal final quarter by the Tigers saw them clinch a come-from-behind win.
“We’ll take a lot of confidence out of the fact that we were able to stay with Heidelberg for three quarters. A few things didn’t go our way in the last quarter, and we couldn’t get the ball out of our backline,” Cardamone said.
“If we can control the footy like we did for three quarters the last time we played, we’re more than confident that we’ve got the fire power to kick a winning score.
“Heidelberg are a good side. They’re very even across the park but if we can go out there with the endeavour we’ve had the last few weeks, we’ll definitely give it a red-hot crack.”
The first bounce of the MC Security Division 2 Women’s first semi final between Heidelberg and Eltham is at 11:55am on Sunday at Epping Recreation Reserve.