The Westfield W-League Finals are still a week away but according to head coach Dean Heffernan, they have come early for the Western Sydney Wanderers.
After 11 games and almost four months, the season has come down to a do-or-die 90 minutes of football as the Red & Black look to create history and crack the W-League Finals for the first time in the club’s history.
Standing in the way, however, will be the vastly improved Perth Glory with the Wanderers to play the West Australians in the final game of the regular season at Dorrien Gardens on Saturday night.
A win for the fourth-placed Wanderers will see them advance to the semi-finals.
But, defeat could see the dream shattered if fifth-placed Brisbane Roar, who are just two points behind, beat Premiers Melbourne City on Sunday.
Still, Heffernan, who has done a mighty job with the Red & Black in his first season as a senior coach, remains confident his team will rise to the occasion on Saturday.
“It’s really good, a really positive mood this week,” said Heffernan. “Basically, the message has been that our finals have started early.
“It’s do or die for us for the next three games if we want to win a trophy this season.
“We are ready, the girls are so driven and focused and you can see it in their eyes in every training session we have had this week. They know what it is for, what it is about and what is at stake.
“It’s exciting and we are up for the challenge.”
As a former Socceroo and someone who played overseas and locally, Heffernan understands the big game mentality and how important it is for players.
“100 per cent as a player these are the type of games you enjoy and want to play in,” said Heffernan. “For what’s at stake and knowing it is finals football for us already, I am sure the girls will be more than ready and up for the task at hand.”
Significantly for the Wanderers, who have had a rough patch with injuries, suspensions and the loss of key players, they will welcome back attacker Kristen Hamilton and midfielder Ella Mastrantonio from suspension and goalkeeper Abby Smith from injury.
Understandably Heffernan, who has also seen Denise O’Sullivan (end of guest period) and Lynn Hamilton (return to the USA) depart the club mid-season, believes it will be a huge lift for the team.
“They are good players for us, that’s for sure and they have had good seasons,” added Heffernan.
“It’s a big game for them to come into and those three are definitely big game players so we are really keen to get over there and get those three back on the pitch for us.
“They have made a massive contribution to everything we have done at the club this year and it is good to have them back and you can see it has given the other girls confidence as well.”
Heffernan admitted he is wary of a resurgent Glory side that has won their past three games, including a shock victory over Sydney FC, since losing to the Wanderers back on 19 January.
“They are on good run and as I have said repeatedly, there’s no easy games in the W-League,” concluded Heffernan.
“The thing with Perth is that they are playing the same way, but just a lot better. It has shown in their results recently. They are a very good side and very well coached.
“Having said that, I was so pleased with the performance of the girls against Melbourne City last week.
“Some of the stats and some of the things that came out of that game and what the girls achieved considering we had some debutant players, was outstanding.
“The girls really stepped up and did that against a team that hasn’t lost a game this season and has won the league so if we can carry that sort of desire and determination into Perth then we will get the result we deserve.”