Free-flowing attacking football highlighted the second day of the Girls' National Youth Championships as new powerhouses emerged to shake up the competition.
Wollongong served up another day of perfect conditions, enabling teams to play highly entertaining football and send the ball forward with plenty of vigour.
With just one day remaining group stage fixtures before semi-finalists are confirmed, and with teams recording several games under their belt, the quality went up a level with the finish line quickly approaching.
NSW Metro leads the Under-14s Group A, having won three from three, while the Football Australia Indigenous Invitational XI are the surprise packets of the competition, leading the Under-14s Group B.
NSW Metro is also leading the Under-16s Group A division as they are also yet to drop a game, with Northern NSW heading up the Under-16s Group B division.
Northern NSW Sides Blast into Top Two
NNSWF Technical Director Ryan Doidge is extremely happy with how the under-14s and under-16s teams are travelling, with both sides sitting in the top two of their pool at the end of day two on Tuesday.
The under-14s side remain undefeated, picking up a 2-1 win against Western Australia. Laya Sharpe and Sophie Johnson hit the back of the net to claim the victory and second position on the table. On day three the side will face NSW Metro and Victoria to secure their spot in semi-finals on Thursday.
The under-16s team also picked up points from each of their matches on day two. The side defeated NSW Country 3-1, with Ruby Jones Sian Wilde and Madeline Conn all putting their names on the scoresheet. The team next drew with Queensland Maroon 1-1, with Alexis Collins securing a crucial point to push the side to the top of the table. On day three, the team will face Tasmania to cement their place in the semi-finals.
“It was a huge day for the players, with big physical outputs, fantastic attitudes and determination,” Doidge said.
“The players were focused on trying to be proactive and playing forward as well as creating and converting goalscoring opportunities.
“I am proud of the efforts that the players displayed and have put themselves in a fantastic position heading into day three.”
Invitational XI Proving Anything is Possible
Having your first training session on a video call isn't ideal, nor is meeting your teammates in person for the first time just two days before your opening match. The Football Australia Indigenous Invitational XI have done more than just deal with these hurdles, they've rocketed to the top of their group and have sounded a warning to the rest of the competition.
In a National Youth Championships first, Football Australia is funding an Indigenous team in the Under-14s Girls Age Group, listed as the Invitational XI, aiming to provide a further opportunity for aspiring and emerging Indigenous footballers to shine on the national stage.
Northern NSW Football’s very own Aaliyah Kilroy and Kalani Ryan feature in the team, as well as Mick Hugo as assistant coach of the squad.
As well as all Indigenous players, the support staff are all First Nations from Head Coach Tim Aitken to assistant coach, medical and team management. After trumping both Northern Territory and NSW Country 3-0, the Invitational XI is certainly shining on the national stage, and Aitken couldn't be prouder. "This is probably the biggest achievement for me as a coach," Aitken said.
"I've done some good things; I've been to a FIFA Under 20 World Cup with the CommBank Young Matildas. But this for me, is the best one in terms of what it means to all of us, the people involved, and our ancestors and our families as well."
Despite many not knowing each other, it wasn't long before the group were like sisters with their close bond beginning to show on the field. Some members of the team have only been playing football for a couple of years, further highlighting how impressive their National Youth Championships run has been.
With the eyes of National Team selectors and coaches watching closely, Aitken is hoping they are starting to take notice of the talent in his team.
"They've done themselves really proud, I think there's plenty in the team that if they haven't caught the eye yet, they will soon,” Aitken said.
"Their confidence is growing, and you can see it growing game by game now they are starting to believe in themselves. It's been very special to be a part of."
Positive Influence Shaping Next Generation
Excitement has been in plentiful supply at this year's edition of the National Youth Championships with balls zinging into the back of the net left, right and centre.
For Football Australia's Girls Youth Development Manager, Debbie Fisher, this comes as no surprise and more the combination of long hours, long plane flights, and the success of the CommBank Matildas.
"It's been very different to last year in the sense of so much positive forward play in both Under 14s and Under 16s, culminating in lots of goals being scored, which is fantastic to see," Fisher said.
"Over the last 18 months, we've been travelling around to talent development matches, really trying to encourage our Member Federations to not be conservative in their play. So particularly with younger players, we want them to be confident enough to go forward and try things.
"I think the message is getting through and coaches are understanding that at this level, it's okay if they give the ball away if the intent is there. "It's really pleasing to see these young players trying things that 12 months ago they wouldn't have."
Underpinning the rainbow flicks and the curling screamers from outside the box is the high-quality competition from all Member Federations, suggesting that, much like was evident during the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the gap behind the traditionally bigger Member Federations is closing.
"The standard is getting raised in all Member Federations across the country, which is really good to see," Fisher said.
"There's some really, really exciting young players coming through in each Member Federation that are just so confident to try things in games, so that's really exciting to see."
It's easy to spot a Sam Kerr hairstyle or a player wearing Mary Fowler's gloves, and Fisher hopes the inspirational CommBank Matildas will continue to drive improvement in younger players.
"There was a young girl playing with her gloves on and it was like, oh, there's a little Mary Fowler. So you can start to see those things happening now," Fisher said.
"A few of them also have the Ellie Carpenter headband on too, so I can only imagine that off the back of a FIFA Women's World Cup on home soil, it's really inspired them to play positive goal scoring football."
Predicted Hot Weather Forces Draw Changes
Due to the extreme heat forecast for Wollongong on Thursday, 12 October, Football Australia has made changes to the match schedule for Day 4 for the National Youth Championships 2023 Girls’ Age Groups.
With temperatures expected to exceed 30 degrees and teams playing important Semi-Finals, the decision was made to change kick-off times to avoid the peak temperature during the middle of the day.
The updated timings only affect WIN Stadium (Field 1) with JJ Kelly Park (Field 2) remaining unchanged. View the updated draw below.
WIN Stadium (Field 1)
* Semi-Final and Crossover times are subject to change
Due to unforeseen technical issues, the competition website is not displaying the correct table and results information. A resolution for this is currently being worked on. Live and up-to-date ladder information is available via the Gameday App by completing the steps outlined HERE.
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