26 July 2023

Chance for next generation of Matildas to shine at WIN Stadium

| Graeme Burrill
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Kyani and Jynaya Dos Santos kicking a soccer ball.

Shellharbour sisters Kyani and Jynaya Dos Santos at the launch of the National Youth Championships at WIN Stadium. Photos: Football Australia.

While all eyes are currently on the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the Matildas, Illawarra football fans will have a chance to see up-and-coming stars in action in Wollongong in October.

The best of the best at a junior level will come together for 12 days in October for the 2023 National Youth Championships. It’s state against state with teams from Football Australia’s nine state and territory member federations taking part.

The under 14 and 16 girls matches will be played at WIN Stadium and John Crehan Park in Wollongong, while the under 15 and 16 boys matches will be played at Valentine Sports Park at Glenwood in Sydney.

It will be the first time in 16 years that the championships are held outside of former host city, Coffs Harbour, on the mid NSW coast.

Football Australia Women’s Technical Director and Junior Matilda’s Coach Rae Dower said the tournament was an important pathway for junior players.

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“It’s an important piece of our talent identification process and it has been a hotbed of talent that has seen the current Matildas shine for their home states,” she said.

“The players love representing their home states and there’s a lot of pride on show in fiercely contested games.

“Our game has evolved where it used to be the sole identification opportunity for young players, where now it’s only one part. We travel around the country hosting talent development matches to look at players across the whole year.

“The tournament also plays an integral role in the development of coaches and referees too, so we see it as one of the jewels in the crown of our development pathway.”

At the recent launch of the event at WIN Stadium, Football Australia’s Men’s Technical Director and Young Socceroos Coach Trevor Morgan said competitions such as this were vital for the players taking part.

Group standing near soccer nets at WIN Stadium.

Former Matilda and Football Australia board member, Wollongong’s Amy Duggan, with Kyani, Indiana and Jynaya Dos Santos and Young Socceroos Coach Trevor Morgan.

“They provide an opportunity for a young player who’s got some real talent to not only be identified by national team staff, but also to experience a tournament environment which is very, very different to club football,” he said.

“It’s coming together with players from different clubs, learning to connect very quickly, and then compete and perform and certainly the next step beyond that is starting to represent your country and doing that at all levels.”

Shellharbour sisters Indiana and Jynaya Dos Santos, who are already Young Matildas themselves, said they were looking forward to having the youth championships in Wollongong, getting to experience it in their own backyard and cheering on their younger sibling Kyani who will be playing.

“We’re used to always going up to Sydney to travel and play games, but to have a tournament here, it’s just great,” Indiana said.

While there will be plenty of goals kicked on the field, the tournament will be delivering goals of a different sort off it, with the economic kick it will give to Wollongong.

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Destination Wollongong General Manager Mark Sleigh said that as a proud football region, Wollongong was delighted to host the championships.

“Not only is it a great event for junior pathways, it will deliver a strong economic boost to the city and we’re able to show off our great outdoors, the diverse range of hospitality options in the city and our stunning stadium by the ocean,” he said.

And for those taking part, Rae Dower hopes that whether the players win, lose or draw, their love of soccer and whatever course that takes continues strong into the future.

“First and foremost, my hope is that they enjoy the experience and create lifelong memories and friendships from the tournament,” she said.

“Whilst these players won’t all go on and play for the Matildas, it’s my hope that they will be lifelong fans of football long after their playing days are finished and that they can contribute as a coach, referee, physio, doctor, sports scientist, analyst, administrator, media presenter, volunteer, fan or whatever capacity they want to aspire to in the game.”

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