The Future Matildas unearthing Australia’s next footballing gems

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When the Future Matildas program was launched in 2018 to help develop the next generation of Australia’s elite female footballers it was intended to produce Matildas and professional players.

The program is free and was the brainchild of former coach Alen Stajcic, and the hope was that one day these footballers would help Australia win another major trophy.

In conjunction with the NSW Institute of Sport (NSWIS) and Football NSW, the Sydney-based program is for selected young players from around the country and involves four to five training sessions per week.

The girls play a mid-week game against boys before playing for their NPLW club on weekends.

The program is run by former Matilda Leah Blayney, one of the leading coaches in Australia and touted by many as a future senior Matildas coach. She has ten members of staff who work closely with her to deliver the program.

Since 2010, when the Matildas won the Asian Cup, the trophy cupboard has been filled with a few pieces of silverware, such as the 2017 Tournament of Nations and the 2019 FFA Cup of Nations, but the big three prizes in world football have alluded us: the Asian Cup, the Olympics and the World Cup.

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

However, the Future Matildas program is unearthing a few gems, and if all goes to plan, the 2023 World Cup may well keep the 2010 Asian Cup company.

The likes of Kyra Cooney-Cross, Courtney Nevin, Charlotte Grant, Remy Siemsen, Mary Fowler, Jamilla Rankin, Karly Roestbakken and Bryleeh Henry all featured in the recent series against Brazil and are players who have come through the Future Matildas program.

“The best thing about Future Matildas is the depth in which this program goes,” says Brett Henry, father of 18-year-old Bryleeh. “From my first experience on seeing Bryleeh attend, I was shocked at how professional the set up was.

“The set up on the pitch, the rehab set up for injured players returning.– it was all amazing.

“The staff are exceptional and so professional, the way they conduct themselves. As time went on I got to observe training sessions at the highest level I have ever witnessed, and the girls were pushed to exceed. I observed the staff take the time to treat every player as an individual and push them to achieve certain goals.”

The program goes well beyond what happens on the field, and Henry admits he was impressed with how the ladies were prepped to deal with the pressures of a high-performance environment while juggling being young women moving into adulthood.

“The program goes way beyond just soccer training,” he says. “They had a wellbeing officer who would speak with the players about normal day-to-day issues to help them cope with everyday life stresses.

“They also had a sports psychologist, Robert Brown, who would conduct Zoom meetings and also attend training to observe the players and speak with them about thriving in high-pressure environments like the W-League or senior Matildas squads.”

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As well as technical on-field training, the ladies would partake in pilates and have education sessions. The program is run at Blacktown Football Park, with One55 gym at Rooty Hill also utilised.

“The training would constantly change and also include pilates sessions and access to first-class gyms and aquatic centres,” explains Henry. “They would run cooking sessions with the players to teach them about nutrition and how to prepare meals, so if they are to move from home, they can cook for themselves and have an understanding of good foods for professional athletes.

“The staff would constantly liaise with players about future goals and mentor them with schooling and home life when needed.

“The fact Bryleeh can pick up the phone and contact staff about a university assignment or advice about other issues is absolutely wonderful.”

One of the challenges of the program is interstate players moving away from home to a new city. However, a number of players often find a new family.

Kyra Cooney-Cross moved in with Courtney Nevin’s family and the pair are like sisters now. The story goes that Nevin found out about her recent call-up to the Tokyo Olympics squad when she was sitting at home on the couch with Cooney-Cross, who mentioned they both had been picked when checking her emails.

Henry’s family hosted Miranda Templeman, who hails from Perth.

“To also see the effort the program will go to give interstate girls an opportunity is unbelievable,” he says. “As we became a host family, I learnt how this works, and the effort the staff go to for these players is unbelievable to help ensure they are looked after and the transition is smooth.”

Henry admits seeing Bryleeh win two caps last week was an incredibly proud moment for the family considering all the sacrifices they had made, but he insists the program run by Blayney and her staff was the catalyst for Bryleeh’s success.

“Bryleeh has found the professionalism and high level of this program have changed her thought process, and she has learnt what it is like to be in a high-performance environment,” he says. “This was shown when she attended the Junior Matildas camps; she was very familiar with high expectations and being punctual.

“Bryleeh made comments to me last year during the W-League season – ‘Dad, Leah would not accept that’ – when making reference to something that may have happened during a game or training.

“Due to the program being at such an elite level and so structured, it has made Bryleeh have a professional attitude because that is what is expected in the program.

“Before starting in the W-League for Western Sydney Wanderers, Bryleeh was spoken to by staff and given the confidence to go and play at that level.

“Bryleeh would not have reached any of these levels without this program. This program is a significant contributor to Bryleeh’s success.”

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