When Samoa missed out on the bronze medal at the XV Pacific Games in Port Moresby four years ago the side were devastated.
Having invested their blood, sweat and tears into the entire tournament it was tough to come so close, and yet go home empty handed.
But times have changed and Football Federation Samoa are investing more time and money into developing the women’s game than ever before, as English-born coach Nicola Demaine can attest to.
The former OFC Women’s Football Development Officer has been coaching the national side since 2018 when she took over the reigns for the OFC Women’s Nations Cup.
While that tournament didn’t quite see the team achieve all the objectives they set out to, it certainly set a strong foundation to build upon, a foundation which has seen them win their way to an historic Pacific Games final.
The journey is far from over however.
The side faces Papua New Guinea, the reigning “Queens of the Pacific” and a side Demaine knows pretty well. She worked with senior assistant coach Margaret Aka when Papua New Guinea took part in the Youth Olympic Games, with some of those players slowly starting to trickle into the senior squad alongside stalwarts like defender Deslyn Siniu.
“PNG are pretty fast, pretty physical and I know they will be organised,” Demaine said.
“I know the coaches personally, I’ve worked with them in the past and I know what to expect to a degree but we can handle it. We will come up with a game plan to make sure we do our best to get gold. It will definitely be physical, we have to be fast, organised and ready.”
While the focus is definitely on the final, given her background in football development Demaine is also hoping that this historic run will leave a legacy lasting much longer than a medal ceremony.
“We’re making history and I think every girl who has watched us so far should go out there and start kicking about with a football and become one of these women in 15 years’ time. It’s the best game in the world, it’s easy to organise and Samoa could be massive in the Pacific region if we can work in the right way after the success of this women’s team,” she said.
“Women’s football has always been a challenge, we know even men’s football is a challenge. But when we start having these successes, hopefully people start to notice and put some money in for the sports.
“People are wanting to play so they have to put their hands up and hopefully the federation can deliver the opportunities for those young women and girls to play so we have a chance in the future to solidify our nation as a contender – and I think gold or silver for these girls is going to help us do that.”
In addition to helping define the future of Samoan women’s football, on a personal level Demaine is enjoying being on the inside of the region’s largest sporting event which is a smorgasbord of Pacific culture and sporting prowess all in one place.
“The Pacific Games is a great event and in football especially, because New Zealand don’t come, everybody arrives thinking they can win a gold medal and it makes a massive difference to how teams prepare.
“The Olympic committee is involved and it’s a great spectacle for women’s football and it’s so important as an event because it provides a place we can all come knowing there’s a chance we could win it, while also spending time building up to close the gap on New Zealand.”
Samoa will play Papua New Guinea in the final of the XVI Pacific Games at 9.30am (Samoa time), Saturday 20 July.