As Kyah Simon and Lydia Williams shine a light on the quality of Indigenous footballers in Australia, the next generation of talent is being cultivated in a remote part of the Northern Territory.
Simon, the first Indigenous player to score for the Matildas, said she hoped her performances at the Women’s World Cup would motivate young women to follow in her footsteps.
“It definitely gives me an extra sense of pride to know that I am inspiring some young Indigenous girls out there,” Simon said after her brace against Sweden in Canada.
And she is.
Simon is inspiring seven Indigenous girls from the remote Gulf of Carpentaria, with the group on their way to represent the Northern Territory at the FFA National Youth Championships in Coffs Harbour next month.
The girls head to Darwin for a week before making their way to Coffs Harbour on July 6 to play against other state federation teams including Football NSW, Football Federation Victoria, Football Queensland and Football West.
They are part of an organisation started by the first Indigenous player to be chosen to represent Australia, John Moriarty, who was born in Borroloola – which along with the Robinson River is part of the area the John Moriarty Football (JMF) program locates Indigenous talent.
Borroloola has a population of less than 1,000 people and is located over 1,000 km from Darwin. The Borroloola Cyclones were recently in the news for being the first Indigenous team to play in the FFA Cup.
The John Moriarty program includes more than 60 six-to-16-year-old boys and girls who train most days of the week in these tiny communities.
Of the seven JMF athletes representing the Northern Territory in under-13s and under-15s at the national championships, Shadeene Evans and Jayika Thompson have been selected for the third time.
Last year, the two girls went to Vitoria in Brazil prior to Australia’s opening World Cup group match against Chile. They were in a group of 12 boys and girls that were part of the JMF program that spent time watching the Socceroos train.
Mark Wakeling, a former coach at Watford FC who also led the Borroloola Cyclones when they played in the FFA Cup, is one of the coaches of the JMF program. He says that with some extra assistance in the girls’ development there is no reason why the duo can’t make it all the way in football.
“I have no doubt that the girls could make it as W-League players or the Matildas one day,” he said.
“To make that next step the girls need to get into schools and soccer programs in different states where they can highlight and develop their natural ability and play against better players. That’s why they have to play against 16- and 17-year-old boys to be able to be challenged
“Given the right chances, we need the other states to take these girls to complement what JMF is doing and then we can get that conveyor belt of Indigenous talent where people then start looking at places like Borroloola and start looking at Indigenous players and know what they can do on a regular basis.”
Wakeling highlighted the kind of skill and talent that Evans and Thompson possessed and why they had been chosen to represent the NT at the national championships for the last three years.
“They’re both very one-on-one based, they see opportunities to go past players. Through what they’ve learnt at the JMF program and the technical game-play training that they have had, and tying that in with their own natural ability and the Brazilian-style natural ability that the Indigenous players have, it makes them very exciting,” the former Western Samoan national assistant coach said.
“Jayika Thompson is more of a defensively lined player, she has immaculate timing of when to make tackles and she has natural organisational skills. She’s the oldest child in her family and with the Indigenous family background she looks after her brothers and sisters. That makes her a good defender on the field, where she can see danger coming and she reads the game very well and is able to do a job which stops the other sides from scoring. And not forgetting her distribution qualities.
“Shadeene Evens is more of an attacking free-flowing player. She can knock a ball left or right and she can go past players with ease on either side which makes her particularly dangerous.
“These two girls have been standouts through their representative careers, whether it’s been through school sports, NT or thorough Football Federation Northern Territory. Last time at the national championships, Shadeene Evans scored four goals against Victoria country.”
For some of the U-13s girls like Brenda Hogan, Jorja Miller, Trishanne Miller, Shikyah Daniels and Shandy Norman, this is their first trip out of the Northern Territory and their first time on a plane – with local community organisation MAWA sponsoring their flights.
Wakeling gave an insight into some the unique challenges that players in the Northern Territory face when they are involved in playing in these tournaments and how JMF assists in the preparations before the tournament begins.
“I was one of the coaches for the Northern Territory and what we put in place was we started a camp before we go in, which helps the Indigenous players and the players from remote areas. It doesn’t matter if they’re from Borroloola or Gove or even Alice Springs, it gives the players a bonding experience,” he said.
“That’s what we’ve been doing this week, we’ve been getting the girls to understand what it’s going to be like when they get in town. So that kind of ‘shame job’ – their embarrassment – is not there as much, even if it will be a little bit still.
“The girls like Evans and Thompson haven’t got the same ‘shame job’ because of the work that the JMF program does with them. We try to extend them here in town, which helps when they get into to the team situation.
“What we try and work on here in their training programs is that they are more confident in their own ability. So when they get into these situations their coping mechanisms are much stronger than it would have been if we weren’t here in town helping them.”
This article appears courtesy of Four Four Two