The Westfield Junior Matildas recently returned from their three match, three nation tour of the Pacific, which acted as preparation for the 2019 AFC U-16 Women’s Championship in Thailand this September.
Queenslanders Charlotte Farmer, Georgia Beaumont and Jamilla Rankin were part of the 23-player squad that travelled to Tonga, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands earlier this month, accompanied by an expanded travelling party including Football Queensland (FQ)’s Kerry Hammersley.
While the Junior Matildas played a match against each country’s under 19 women’s national team on the tour, Head Coach Rae Dower said the experiences off the field were just as valuable.
“To escape the winter of Australia and play and train in hot and humid conditions like we will experience in Thailand was a massive benefit for all,” Dower said.
“It was an opportunity to broaden players’ and staff’s understanding of football in the Pacific region, display gratitude, and illustrate that people and their love of the game are the most valuable resources in football.”
The Pacific tour also offered an opportunity for six new players to represent Australia as a number of players scored their first international goal, while all players in the squad experienced unique match preparations including participating in a joint training session with the Tongan team.
The day before the Junior Matildas’ match against Tonga, the Australian players warmed up and trained together with members of the opposition squad, something that Dower said she had never experienced in preparation for an international match.
“It was a very unique experience and something that I will remember fondly for the rest of my life,” Dower said.
“At the end of the session, the players all stood together arm in arm and sang songs of joy and prayers as is customary in the Tongan tradition.
“The players shared training sessions, dancing, singing, meals and visits to their homes and villages and then played against each other in fierce competition; for them to come together before and after the matches was such a great display of sportsmanship and of sports diplomacy.”
FQ Women and Girls Development Officer Kerry Hammersley also accompanied the squad on the Pacific tour as part of an expanded travelling party that conducted a number of coaching and refereeing workshops and skill clinics while visiting the three countries.
Hammersley said the differences in lifestyle and resources such as equipment, apparel, staff and facilities available to the Pacific teams compared to the Junior Matildas was evident on the tour.
“The Australian players are in full time training programs and live, eat, sleep and breathe football whereas the Pacific team players have busy lives outside of football including cooking duties, shopping, caring for younger siblings and so on,” Hammersley said.
“The players from the other teams haven’t had the length of time playing the game and so their level of skill is not as developed as some of our players,” Dower added.
“Their fitness, agility and competitiveness though is of a high standard and provided some great physical contests for us.”
Hammersley delivered a coach education session in Tonga, before participating in a ‘just play’ session at a local school in Vanuatu.
“The kids were so resilient and happy in their own skin; often the less we have, the more we appreciate things and I really did enjoy giving my time to such beautiful people and engaging the kids in play,” Hammersley said.
The coaching and refereeing course in Tonga was delivered by Hammersley and Debbie Fisher, Football Federation Australia (FFA) Girls Youth Development Manager, as well as match officials Lara Lee, Sarah Ho and Joanna Charakis, who received positive feedback on the sessions delivered.
“One of the key take-outs for me was that all coaches and referees that attended really enjoyed the session,” Hammersley said.
“Having the opportunity to collaborate is always positive but to get to share knowledge and ideas overseas is even more rewarding, especially when it is valued.
“To know that you’ve even made the slightest impact on someone’s life is what keeps me smiling, and I will be forever grateful for the experience.”
Junior Matildas Head Coach Dower said the entire experience was incredibly valuable both on the field and off for all on the tour.
“The players and staff have taken away such an amazing, humbling experience, full of gratitude, and have been able to see football and life through a different perspective,” Dower said.
“These experiences will last long past their playing days and will provide fond memories as they transition to becoming leaders of the next generation.
“I’d like to thank Kieran Lilley, the FFA and the Australian Government for this wonderful opportunity.”
The Westfield Junior Matildas are participating in a camp on the Gold Coast this week, to be followed by a pre-tournament domestic camp and an acclimatisation camp in Thailand before the AFC U-16 Women’s Championship in September.
Images: Westfield Matildas